I am very happy to welcome author Dale Long to my blog. He’s a gentleman, a Canadian, a good egg, and has been so very supportive of me and the dark and twisted tales I do so love to tell. I knew that I couldn’t celebrate Women in Horror month without a mention of our foremother, Mary Shelley. And this meant I had to go to the person who can barely get through a week of blog posts without mentioning her. Take it away, Dale!
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Writers are subject to categorization. The industry wants to cram us all into neat little pockets called genre and each pocket runs by its own rules. For example, women write romance. It is an industry that is hard to be taken seriously in if you are a man, because, quite frankly, we men have proven that we know very little about romance. Not all of us, mind you. While on the other hand, Science Fiction, and the genre closest to my own heart, Horror, is considered a man’s field. Only men can write horror; only men understand the technology for Science Fiction.
Is that so? I don’t know about you, but I read for the story, just like I write for the story. It is the most important thing. I don’t care who the author is, as long as they are able to make me not see a single word on that page, but instead fill my head with pictures, sound, smells, they will have done their job. Man or woman. So a science fiction story with a woman’s name on the cover will not deter me from reading it. I don’t read Romance, so it wouldn’t matter who wrote it.
The fact of the matter is, women have a hard time getting any recognition for their work, writing or otherwise. In the writing industry, women horror writers have a harder time being taken seriously, often being bypassed by a man with lesser writing skills just because he’s a man and it is perceived that he will instinctively know more about the genre. This is all before a single word of either manuscript is read.
This frustrates me. I spent a long time researching for my first horror novel. What I uncovered was Mary Shelley. Yes, the author of arguably one of the most recognized horror novels of all time predating Dracula by almost 80 years.
So, ok, I don’t consider Frankenstein a horror novel. For its time, I would consider it a Sci-fi thriller. Maybe even a political novel. It is many layered and well beyond what was being written at the time. Some even consider Mary Shelley to be a founding father of horror.
See how the equality issue raises its ugly head even here?
It’s actually not surprising that Mary Shelley was breaking new ground with her writing. One look at her family will show that she comes from a long line of “ground-breakers”. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was an advocate for women’s rights, in essence the first feminist, and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Her father, William Godwin, was considered the first proponent of anarchism and the author of the first Mystery novel. Even with all his political views, William was a staunch supporter of Mary’s mother as evidenced in Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), Even with all of this, Mary’s debut novel, Frankenstein; or The modern Prometheus, was originally credited to Lord Byron. The reasoning was that only a seasoned writer, such as Lord Byron, could have produced something of the calibre of Frankenstein, not some 21 year old girl, a mere child. Remember, this was a time before women’s liberation.
The thing is, Horror is actually a genre that encompasses all the other genres. It is complex, it makes you think and, if handled properly, will make the reader run the gamut of emotions.
Mary handled all of these when she set out to write a “spooky story” based on a challenge, in the company of men who saw her not as a woman, but as an intellectual equal. They encouraged her and prodded her. But Mary wasn’t satisfied with stories about skull-headed ladies, like Polidori, or deranged gentlemen like Lord Byron, but instead wanted to think of a story “which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awake thrilling horror–one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart” and the end result was Frankenstein.
Mary Shelley has haunted my dreams since my first writing class. I re-read Frankenstein as an assignment and from that I was to write a “creative” book report. I’ve told this story numerous times, but what I have never told anyone is why I felt so compelled by her after reading about her journeys, her tragedies, her accomplishments. It was her attention to fact, or more precisely, the slight bending of that fact to suspend disbelief. She wrote with realism that made me, as a reader, believe this story could and actually did happen; a method I employ myself. As well, Mary was not afraid to pull in the elements of her real life, to see to the core of each person, place, or event and to distill that down to the emotion. She drew on the literature that inspired her, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, John Milton’s, Paradise Lost, Ovid’s Promethean myth as well as the writers she surrounded herself with, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Polidori, Mathew “Monk” Lewis.
She didn’t write down or to a particular audience, she wrote for the story.
And for that reason I hold Mary Shelley as shining example of what I strive to be with my writing. Not because she was a woman, but because of her skill and tenacity. In a time when there was no equality to speak of, she didn’t see the boundaries.
And after-all, in the professional world, isn’t that what we should be measured by, our skill, our ability, not our ethnicity, religious choices, sexual preference and, most definitely, not our gender.
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Well said! You can check out Dale’s diverse, thoughtful, and entertaining blog here.