Women in Horror Month

If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about women making horror media, this is your month.  Women in Horror Month is going strong for February; you should take a look at their fun and often knowledge-filled hashtag on Twitter.

Being a single blog post, this is only going to be a drop in the bucket of the fucking amazing work being done by women in the world right now with horror, written or cinematic. But I keep running into folks who haven’t had a chance to dig into the work of women in horror, so consider this a bite-sized intro.

  • To follow some amazing women working with horror as directors, bloggers, writers and journalists, The Horror Honeys has a list to get you started.
  • Last year, SF Signal had a great horror edition of their feature MIND MELD, which you can use a well of horror picks to refill your towering to-read pile. All the books mentioned in that MIND MELD are by women!
  • If someone ever told you black women haven’t written horror, here’s a list of books that proves they’re obviously from an alternate and less awesome timeline than our own.
  • Should someone ever tell you that women don’t write Lovecraftian horror, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has a list that would demonstrate otherwise. Speaking of…
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a great writer, and an equally talented publisher. The Innsmouth Free Press puts out books that go beyond the U.S. borders many of us are familiar with from prominent genre books, bringing in a harvest of horror from places you may have never been. Fiction is one of the gateways we have to a bigger world than our own, and that includes horror. So. Go visit those links and buy every book in sight. You will be better for it. Accept the ensuing nightmares as part of your mental chrysalis to a stranger, creepier, and more well-read being.
  • If you’ve never heard of @GraveyardSis, go find them on Twitter. Horror ceases to be entertaining, or teach us about our world, unless we continually seek out horror that is unfamiliar to us. If you’re not familiar with horror cinema created by women, particularly black women, then following them on Twitter or their blog is going to be time well spent.
  • Like historic flavored oddities? In one book of fiction, you can find an autobiography, a murder mystery, and a trail of tantalizing occult secrets. If you’re into tabletop or live action roleplaying, you can also use it as a slender tome of inspiration. Paula Dempsey’s The Book Of The Smoke won a Gold ENnie in 2012, and it’s not hard to see why once you read it.

 

Leave info and links on your favorite women working with horror. I gotta add to my to-read/to-watch pile, and I’m not waiting till October to get recommendations.

Why You Should Listen: Welcome to Night Vale

Night Vale is a little town out in the desert, that at least claims to be nestled inside our beautiful United States. When you turn your dial to NVCR, you are guided through the day by the voice of Night Vale Community Radio, Cecil Palmer. If you choose to listen to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast in the background, much like I do with NPR, you will eventually suffer repeated mental whiplash, like I did when Cecil informed listeners about the consequences of a PTA meeting.

That whiplash, by the way, is a selling point.

What Is It: A free, twice a month podcast put out by the fantastic souls over at Commonplace Books. But you can donate to keep the dulcet tones of Cecil on the air, thus helping subsidize endless nightmares for the loving listeners of NVCR.

Genre: It’s tagged under “Comedy” on SoundCloud, and if you have what many would call a “twisted” view of comedy’s definition, then yes, it is certainly a comedy. Night Vale is obvious and up front in episodes about the supernatural, occult horror Night Vale residents encounter daily. But Cecil will often make an  impassioned speech about the wonder, joy, brilliance and terrible beauty of human existence. Think of it as hopeful cosmic horror, with a pinch of small town terror. Like a Cozy Mystery after it runs amok in my liquor cabinet and left my house to paint the town red.

Really, really red.

Why Listen, 1A: If you’re here strictly for the chills, you’ll be in the right place. Episodes have great replay value, and if you’re desperate to know what happened without rewinding, there are a number of fan transcripts out on the internet. The podcast has solid scripting, which I’d define as excellent plot execution, consistent world building, and characters that can hold your interest. Episode 19, both A and B parts, scared all conception of calm out of me for the night after I gave them a listen.

Why Listen, 1B: If you’re a creator of art, serial shows, stage work, games, or fiction, Welcome to Night Vale is something to both study and enjoy. Good creative work teaches us more about our own execution of our work, and feeds whatever bizarre monsters that live at the bottom of our subconscious, who in turn whisper sweet, terrible nothings into our ears that eventually become income. For me, the podcast both inspires terror in me as a listener, and appreciative observation of the craft as a creator.

To Learn More: Go to the WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE website, which will also tell you where you can subscribe to the podcast. If you become smitten with the little southwestern town and its unknowable horrors, and want to wear your support, they have merch over at TopatoCo.

Hugo Awards

I have a story eligible for the Hugos this year; you can track down the anthology it appeared in on Amazon.

“Goblin Market” -By Faerie Light anthology – Zombie Sky Press, December 2013.

If you’re not nominating fiction for the Hugos this year, I still recommend that you pick it up. It’s a dark, strange, lovely anthology for fans of the grim folklore surrounding faeries.

I’m not even supposed to be here today

I’ve tried to write about this every which way but fictional. I’ll try for brief.

My entire life, I’ve been sick.  As a little girl, I became so ill that my family withdrew me from school in a last ditch effort to make sure I’d live past third grade. My teens were littered with medical issues. The majority of my 20s has been spent on exam tables or on gurneys. Perpetually surrounded by doctors trying to save my life, all while telling me I was probably going to die in a year or so, so don’t make any fucking plans. I can say from experience that living your life like an extreme of the Dennis Leary dictum about taking Nyquil is a weird way to live.

Doctors have told me not to get married, have children, or expect to survive. I haven’t planned for life past the year I was living in for a long time. But next weekend, after we’ve shaken off the confetti of 2014′s arrival, I’ll turn 30. The age they said I wouldn’t see. Next year, while living the age I didn’t expect to reach, I’ll be getting married.

I still don’t know how long I have, but that’s an uncertainty as familiar to me as my own birth marks and biopsy scars. Next year, embrace fragility, and the great unknowns. Don’t let not always having a plan scare you. And take my mentor’s great advice: don’t waste your heartbeats.

 

 

Post-Mortem: Metatopia 2013

I got back from Metatopia in the wee hours of Monday morning, due to a backup of planes at Newark so awful that the Captain said it was the worst he’d seen in years. We got home, tossed our luggage on the couch, and embraced our cats. I went to bed for a blessed ten hours of sleep, which may rival all the sleep I got at Metatopia.

Top of the RockThis trip was really big for me, in a lot of ways. The farthest I’ve been from home (Washington State) into the EST is GenCon. But this trip I went all the way to New Jersey, and even snuck in a few hours to see Manhattan.Getting to be a tourist somewhere new is a hard to come by (because of finances) experience in my life, and tends to leave a lasting impression on me. Manhattan was gorgeous.

So, the professional new experiences. I’ve been an attending pro at conventions before, but this was my first time as a Special Industry Guest. I did playtests, panels, was interviewed live, and recorded four interviews for the oral history archive. I don’t expect people to know who I am at large events, but perfect strangers introduced themselves to me, telling me about what part of my body of work they’d encountered before then. I didn’t expect people to ask about how I got where I am, and maybe that’s a post of it’s own, later, though I’ve addressed that question from different angles in the past.

Metatopia has a similar sense of calm pacing and environment as BigBadCon in Oakland, and GoPlayNW in Seattle. But because of the emphasis on playtests, focus groups, and panels, it’s also a deeply professional and educational experience. If someone has the opportunity to attend Metatopia to learn more about the hobby, professionally and personally, I can’t fathom why they wouldn’t go.

Still having a hard time disentangling some thoughts I have, post-con.

SampatOne of my friends made sure I made it to a friend’s panel during the con. I often duck out of friend’s convention panels, and I think it’s because I feel like they don’t need my ‘moral support.’ Most of my friends are seasoned pros, and I’ve often been afraid of being the dorky friend who shows up for people’s panels/release parties/events, like some sort of maternal instinct to be supportive gone awry. And after this weekend, I’m pretty sure that inclination may be largely bullshit. I went to a friend’s panel, and I learned a lot. I took pictures of slides. I made notes in an email to myself. You are not the sole intended audience of your friends, and until you remove yourself from the headspace of friend, you might miss out on a ton of useful info your friends can give you.
That previous point was hammered home by interviewing peers/friends for the oral history archive. Did I know some of them before that weekend? Yup. Did I know all the things they’d tell me before, during and after their interview? Fuck no. One of my friends compared to the process/experience to “This American Life,” which was flattering/unexpected. The sense of detailed, spoken bibliography being delivered by a primary resource was mind blowing for me as an interviewer. Women were giving me incredibly contextualized, in-depth looks at their work. I’m fairly confident some of what was relayed doesn’t exist in that detail elsewhere, and I’m humbled to have built the trust to be given incredible access to the lives and work of others.

I saw a few folks in traditional dress at Metatopia (I’d define that as clothes that aren’t necc. Western, is from someone’s religious/cultural/ethnic background) and it made me so damn happy. In my own emotional/ethnic/religious context about this, I can usually spot a few guys wearing kippot at, say, GenCon, but that’s it. I never wear mine at conventions because I don’t want to deal with potential bullshit. Metatopia is clearly a place I could visually convey my religious/ethnic background without worrying about it.

The unisex/gender neutral bathrooms were probably the ones I used the most, and that they were arranged by the con is wonderful. Hoping that becomes a trend in the future at other cons.

Going back to unexpected things, I didn’t anticipate getting thanked for work I’ve done, let alone my Twitter account. But it happened multiple times, and every time I shook hands with a Twitter follower saying they enjoy my feed, I did my best to accept it, and not stumble over my words in a sudden moment of “gaping fish face.” When people say you did great work, the most frequent response you should reach for is accepting it, and thanking them for being a part of the people who enjoy your work. When you fight those who compliment your work, you often devalue their emotional experience and engagement with what you do, which is both a dick move and really chancy if you want to keep those who enjoy your work…well, continuing to enjoy your work. Their compliment is not solely about you.

There needs to be a lot more dialogue/conversation going on about emotions and politics when it comes to pushing for positive change in gaming. I’d never had the words for why the notion that we must “politely” present our arguments for equality until Elizabeth Sampat gave me the words during a panel. To insist on people approaching a group in power about the inequality between them is to say to the oppressed that they must approach their oppressors from a subservient place. And that is so very not okay.

Playtesting is quite possibly one of the coolest, most essential stages of developing a game. I never clicked on just how important it is till playing in playtests this weekend.

I’ve got other thoughts, probably dozens, but this is what I could get out right now. Hopefully the rest will untangle over time. And if I met you at Metatopia, feel free to say hi on the blog or over Twitter. There’s no sense in falling out of touch between now and next year.

 

 

My Metatopia Schedule

Metatopia is this weekend, and I’ll be on a few panels around my interview recording schedule for Makers, Schemers, and Dreamers. If you’re interested in being interviewed, drop me a line! I’m looking forward to the panels, recording sessions, and meeting a ton of new folks.

Metatopia

Thursday, October 31 – Sunday, November 3, 2013
At the Morristown Hyatt & Conference Center in Morristown, New Jersey

D017: How To Manage Adult Content presented by Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, John Stavropoulos, Ajit George & Shoshana Kessock. Not every game is meant for every audience. If your game involves concepts that might not be for the kiddies, what are your responsibilities (to players, parents, and the marketplace) and what are the best strategies for making sure you do get to the right audience? Friday, 2:00PM – 3:00PM; Serious, 18 & Over ONLY.

D030: Collecting The Oral Histories of Women in Gaming presented by Lillian Cohen Moore. Avonelle Wing sits down with Guest of Honor Lillian Cohen-Moore to discuss her latest project, an oral history of women in tabletop and live action role playing games, called “Makers, Schemers and Dreamers”.Friday, 8:00PM – 9:00PM; Fun, All Ages.

D051: Inclusivity: Inviting Women To The Table presented by Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Elizabeth Sampat & Shoshana Kessock. During last year’s Gaming as Women panel at Metatopia, the conversation turned to how men can be good allies, encouraging women to join their gaming groups and supporting safe, inclusive space in their communities. Join us for more conversation on this topic. Shoshana Kessock will facilitate this round table, populated by our women Guests of Honor and other women from the community. We invite you to join us for a detailed conversation with practical advice on how to foster communities that are inclusive to women rather than alienating. Saturday, 4:00PM – 5:00PM; Very Serious, All Ages.

 

I Played Gone Home and it Kicked My Ass

If you would like to avoid Gone Home spoilers, you should hit X on the blog now. Don’t worry, I’ll post content again soon and bury the spoiler-filled post from your eyes. I’m pretty sure that everyone who has ever played Gone Home has, at this point, posted their spoiler filled feelings about it. Call me one for the crowd, in this case. I finally bought it this week because it was on sale, and $10.00USD was an amount I could let myself part with even with bills to take care.

So.

Gone Home is a game. You arguably have a character you play, but really, Katie isn’t a character. She’s an observer, whose feet and eyes you borrow to walk around in. Katie ran out of money while abroad and hopped the cheapest, fastest flight she could to get home. When she gets home to the house her family has only just started moving into, there is no one to greet her. And there’s a strange, mysterious letter from her younger sister Sam on the door.

The only sounds in the house are the emergency broadcast on the television warning you about the weather, your too-loud footsteps on the floor, and the sound of the storm outside. Bags abandoned on the porch, you wander this new, strange home, looking for answers.

What I knew going in

  • that Gone Home is about going home, exploring a house that isn’t yours, not really, and riot grrl music like my sisters listened to in the 90s that expressed feelings I didn’t understand and that for some secret reason, it was a game that touched people deeply.

What I expected on an emotional level while playing

  • that Gone Home was some sort of horror game. Every dark corner, broken lightbulb and creepy as fuck room did its’ best to convince me that terrible, unspeakable horrors awaited me. When I found the red-spattered bath tub and the bottle of hair dye next to it, I actually cracked up with laughter. Catharsis. And then Sam’s journal plays, and you hear about the intimate vulnerability of helping her best friend Lonnie dye her hair.

As Sam and Lonnie’s love story unfurls in the objects you find and Sam’s journal, I kept expecting things to go bad. Murder. Suicide. Murder-suicide. Super MASSIVE murder-suicide. Maybe some ghosts. Maybe some murder-thirsty ghosts. The folks behind Gone Home know what bullshit we’ve internalized from horror movies and survival horror games. People don’t get happy endings, or even really get to be happy, and cast attrition is expected. Particularly anyone who isn’t white and heterosexual.

Gone Home gives all that internalized genre learning a big ol’ middle finger, and I love it twice as much for that. What do you find instead of murder and ghosts? Your Mom is trying to find herself, and briefly teetering (maybe even giving in?) to an affair with a coworker. Your Dad screws up his gig as a reviewer after his writing career tanks, but his career makes a comeback rally while you’re gone. Your parents off at a couple’s retreat, trying to find their way back to each other.

But your sister’s gone. And among her mix tapes and secret notes, you get to watch her and Lonnie fall in love, even though you weren’t home to see it. The bullshit they put up with at school, the disciplinary letters, the looks from other kids. You fear that the setting is going to crush them, but you’re rooting for them. For something that isn’t heart breaking to happen to them, together, as a couple.

I sobbed when I was done. Because Sam’s queer fantasies, that sense of inseparability from someone you love, the mix tapes and punk girl hair and the feminist zines and her magazine cut out collages, that was my 90′s too, at least a little. Trying to figure myself out, and figure out what being queer meant to me and being afraid it was going to fuck my life and my family up.

Gone Home is not a game where everyone lives Happily Ever After. But when it ends, you have the biggest, brightest hope that two young women in love will at least get their chance to live.

Happily.

Together.

 

Going to Metatopia

This year I’m a special guest at Metatopia! The convention’s in New Jersey, and the slate of panels this year is amazing. If you’re able to get away for a few days, I’d highly recommend going and devouring some sweet games related knowledge.

My panel schedule is fairly light, because I’ll be devoting as much time as I can to recording interviews for the Makers, Schemers and Dreamers oral history archive.

 

Friday

How To Manage Adult Content 2:00-3:00 P.M.

Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, John Stavropoulos, Ajit George.

Not every game is meant for every audience. If your game involves concepts that might not be for the kiddies, what are your responsibilities (to players, parents, and the marketplace) and what are the best strategies for making sure you do get to the right audience? One Session; Serious, 18 & Over ONLY.

 

Collecting The Oral Histories of Women in Gaming 8:00-9:00 P.M.

Avonelle Wing sits down with Guest of Honor Lillian Cohen-Moore to discuss her latest project, an oral history of women in tabletop and live action role playing games, called “Makers, Schemers and Dreamers”. One Session; Fun, All Ages.

 

Saturday


Inclusivity: Inviting Women To The Table 4:00-5:00 P.M.

Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Elizabeth Sampat, Shoshana Kessock.

During last year’s Gaming as Women panel at Metatopia, the conversation turned to how men can be good allies, encouraging women to join their gaming groups and supporting safe, inclusive space in their communities. Join us for more conversation on this topic. Shoshana Kessock will facilitate this round table, populated by our women Guests of Honor and other women from the community. We invite you to join us for a detailed conversation with practical advice on how to foster communities that are inclusive to women rather than alienating. One Session; Very Serious, All Ages.

 

I hope to see (and meet) a lot of folks at Metatopia this year. I’m filling slots for interviews as fast as I can, so if you’d like to volunteer to be added to the archives, let me know soon!

 

Moderating at GGC

If you’re going to GeekGirlCon this year, you can find me moderating Crowdfunding Without Losing Your Mind on Saturday, October 19th, in LL2 from 6:00-6:50 p.m. I’ll be joined by Julie Haehn, Nicole Lindroos, and Shanna Germain. If you’re interested in using IndieGoGo, Kickstarter or GoFundMe to get a creative project off the ground, we’ll be there sharing our experiences from our own crowd funding campaigns.

The Possession

I recently watched the 2012 Sam Raimi movie The Possession. The basic plot is that a young girl comes into ownership of a curious carved box via a yardsale, and is quickly besieged by a terrible spirit unleashed from the box, which is bent on her destruction. Why’d I force myself to watch the movie? Because years ago, I tried to bid on a strange box on eBay. While my boyfriend at the time began to argue against doing this, our power went out. I don’t ascribe anything supernatural to that (we lived in a house with terrible wiring) but it did make the box stick in my mind. Great story to get a free drink, but I had no idea what had happened to the box once the auction ended.

Fast forward. In 2011, Truman State University Press publishes a book by a man named Jason Haxton, called The Dibbuk Box. A museum curator, Haxton is the newest owner of the strange box: the dybbuk box. In the book’s opener he tells the reader it’s up to them to decide if they feel the events surrounding the box are true, or fake, or some mixture in between. Haxton isn’t a writer by trade, so the book was rough going at times.

But he does his best to chronicle life with a strange, purportedly Jewish artifact in his house. It’s an outsider’s tale of dealing with an insider’s problem, an artifact created by a people he doesn’t belong to, but one he must learn to deal with. Though the film, based loosely on his books, plays merry Hell with the details and circumstances in the book, that basic theme is retained.  There are, however, events and details that remain identifiable as being from the book, which are a nice nod to the movie’s source material.

 

  • The stroke suffered by a woman who comes into contact with the box triggers one of the sales of the box, putting it into a new owner’s hands.
  • Health problems plague people surrounding the box, particularly the victim of its malevolent attentions.
  • The father in The Possession takes on Haxton’s role as researcher, trying desperately to learn how to keep the box and the entity it contains in check.
  • The box has a Hebrew inscription. In the movie it’s a warning about the dybbuk within, and a caution to not open the box. In real life, the inscription is the opening words of the Sh’ma. There are deliberate changes in the spelling and rendering of Adonai and Eloheinu, which take the box from something that would require a great deal of care and respect due to the holiness of the words carved into it, to a less holy object. This is important, because that ‘loophole’ could be used as an ‘out’ for anyone who had to destroy or bury the box. Had the names of G-d been spelled correctly, such an artifact would be far more difficult to dispose of in a holy and respectful manner.
  • The box’s purpose is to contain something far more frightening and powerful than any human being should attempt to trifle with.
  • The box used during filming is a replica of the box currently in Haxton’s possession.

At the climax of the film, Hannah, the daughter possessed by the spirit within the box, undergoes an exorcism at the hands of an Orthodox Jew willing to help the family, named Tzadok. The name pops up in the Tanakh, and it springs from its root, Tzedek, which you can express in English as justice. That root underpins some interesting concepts within other words, like tzedakah and the Tzadikim.

I think the movie was less scary for me as a Jew because it’s set so firmly in an outsider worldview. Visually I found it a bit similiar to Unborn, and The Ring; very bleached out colours, tight scene shooting, an almost claustrophobic sense of being confined in a small space with the plot and no escape of the characters or viewer. Unlike The Unborn, this is not a Jewish film disguised as a horror movie.

The Unborn, which also revolves around a young women who is possessed, did scare me some. But that was primarily because of its insider themes surrounding faith and the dangers that can come for us when our faith is gone. The Possession was ridiculously weak in scares for me, but that helped make it more of an eye rolling, palatable slog than an untenable chore to watch.

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