Celebrating Women in Horror: Short Fiction

WiHM 2013 seal-blackIt’s award season. In the field of horror writing that means that the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards has been announced. Here are your nominees.  You’ll note that female nominees are pretty thin on the ground and you may wonder why. I know I do. In a recent discussion on Facebook, two editors of horror zines noted that only between 10 and 20% of their submissions come from women; a statistic that lines up pretty well with the number of women nominated for Stokers. I also find that statistic very interesting.

Are there so few female horror writers? Do they have a harder time getting published than their male peers? I’ve heard it said that many female horror writers tend to cover their butts by writing in other genres in addition to horror. That’s certainly true of me.  What might some other factors be? Please feel free to opine in comments. I’m all ears.

Dark Faith InvocationsI love horror fiction in its short form. There’s nothing I find so visceral as a short, hard punch of horror right to my solar plexus. For this reason I’m always particularly interested in the short fiction category of the Stokers. We have one woman nominated this year. Good luck, Lucy Snyder!


Boston, Bruce – Surrounded by the Mutant Rain Forest (Daily Science Fiction)
McKinney, Joe – Bury My Heart at Marvin Gardens (Best of Dark Moon Digest, Dark Moon Books)
Ochse, Weston – Righteous (Psychos, Black Dog and Leventhall Publication)
Palisano, John – Available Light (Lovecraft eZine, March 2012)
Snyder, Lucy – Magdala Amygdala (Dark Faith: Invocations, Apex Book Company)

I’ve been delving in some some short horror fiction from years past recently.

charlotte gilman perkinsThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is quite a famous story that, for some odd reason, I had never read. I LOVED it. The story works on two levels. Is it the story of one woman’s descent into madness? Or is there something supernatural at work? It’s never quite clear. I particularly love the pacing in this story. It builds… and builds… and builds. Gilman never rushes  the story; rather she lets it unfold. That’s considered quite an old-fashioned way of telling a story these days and I find that quite sad. Is it our modern short-attention spans at play, perhaps?

Margaret OliphantThe Open Door by Margaret Oliphant

A friend mentioned this story to me and I had to read it. The author was a Scot, famous in her time for her ghostly tales. Being a Scot myself I was most interested to read her work. I enjoyed the story, though I had some problems with it. It certainly started with a great aura of creepiness and, like the previous story, the author did a great job building suspense. The second half of the story, though, I found disappointing. The author didn’t let the story unfold, so much as she let it unravel.

Shirley_Jackson_PortraitThe Lottery by Shirley Jackson

I’ve read this story numerous times, the most recent being last night. It never fails me. Never. The horror of the ending rings true every single time. Is this the greatest horror short story ever written? How can I have read it so many times, be so aware of how it’s going to end, and yet shudder every single time? It’s a masterpiece of the short form and of the horror genre.

To return briefly to the topic at the top, and particularly what is said to be the low numbers of women submitting their horror fiction in what is generally seen as a man’s genre?  I admire these women.  I’ve spent time on that same roller coaster, and it’s one so steep and intimidating that it’s not surprising that many choose an easier path. But for the ones who don’t? I salute you.  Here are four of them. Please feel free to recommend, in comments,  any women you know writing on the darker side of short fiction. I promise I’ll check them out.

Elizabeth, Elizabeth by Rebecca Ann Renner in Underground Voices

Apart At The Seams  by Sealey Andrews in SNM Horror

Invitation by Siobhan Gallagher in Lovecraft E-Zine

Running Empty In A Land Of Decay by Damien Walters Grintalis in Niteblade

About Diane Dooley

Writer, Mother, Geek
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13 Responses to Celebrating Women in Horror: Short Fiction

  1. I haven’t read The Open Door yet, but now it’s on my list 🙂

    I can see you are at least a little familiar with Niteblade because you link to Damien’s story there (which is one of my personal favourites that we’ve published) but in case you haven’t done so already, take a peek through our current issue and archives. Our poetry editor and I were just talking about the fact that we publish more men than women in our pages. We don’t plan it that way, it’s just how it has worked out 🙂


  2. Sealey says:

    The Yellow Wallpaper was the story that inspired the one that you linked to of mine above! It was also what inspired me to actually write again after many years of *not* writing. When I read it the first time, I remember thinking, “Yes! Finally. A story that I feel I can relate to. A story that’s like the stories I have inside of me!” I’m so glad you loved it, Diane. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of stories I’ve read of yours, too.

    Elizabeth, Elizabeth is one of my most favorite contemporary short stories. I’m so glad to see it made your list, and I am honored to be listed with it. 😉 Thank you. When I read Elizabeth, Elizabeth, I had similar feelings as I did when I read The Yellow Wallpaper for the first time actually. It inspired me to write another story that I had been dying to tell, but didn’t have the courage to before (it’s currently on submission now).

    It’s funny that there are so few submissions from women in the horror genre. And that there are so few nominations for women in the Stokers. Because, I feel like I *know* more female horror writers than I do male. And many (most?) of my favorite authors are women. Perhaps I gravitate toward the few that are out there. LOL

    • Diane Dooley says:

      I’m wondering if the theme of sliding into complete insanity is one that particularly scares female readers, and thus is a fave theme of female horror writers. I seem to run across it a lot, especially in domestic settings.

      • Sealey says:

        You may be right. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. And I wonder if it could also be the fear of someone thinking or accusing them of sliding into insanity, rather than their own fear of doing it themselves. Or some mix of the two.

  3. Dale Long says:

    I have a question Diane, do you think the draw of Romantic or Erotic writing, for women, is more enticing than horror? Is that maybe why we see less women writing in the macabre genre? I see more and more women writers in Fantasy now as well.

    You know my feelings on how horror lets the writer paint with all the colours on the easel and how the genre has been wrongly defined by today’s weak offings of “Splatter Porn” (Writing solely for the gore and not the story hence the porn connection). Could that be another deterrent?

    I think true horror writing transcends gender due to it’s complexities.

    • Diane Dooley says:

      Interesting question, Dale. I can only speak for myself. Both Romance and erotica have HUGE markets of passionate and voracious readers. Of my published romance stuff (and I’m on the harder edge of romance) I didn’t have to sub them more than a couple of times before they found a publisher.

      My horror shorts, though, tend to be rejected multiple times before they find a publisher. Of course, that could be because they’re not very good or I’m not writing stuff that appeals to their readers. I’ve had SO MANY rejections along the lines of “really enjoyed the story, but not right for our publication” that I think I haven’t quite found my niche in horror writing. Many of my typical themes are things that *I* fear as a woman. They probably wouldn’t appeal to the typically male horror readership.

      On the ‘splatter porn’ thing I thing there’s a bit of a difference between horror in film and horror in fiction. I’m not a fan of films which consist of women being gruesomely murdered and screaming in terror for the entirety, but do feel that extremely violent and blood-spattered films can still be thoughtful, have interesting characters and great stories. My particular difficulty is finding those stories without having to sit through the stuff I absolutely don’t want to watch.

      • Dale Long says:

        You aren’t the only one getting that response, “really enjoyed the story, but not right for our publication.” I think horror is just a hard market to break into commercially. I think, and I may be wrong, that the majority of horror published today is either by established big name authors or small indie type presses.

        For the record, your idea of scary, scares me as well. I liked your horror shorts. Stories, that is. 😉

  4. Thanks for the well-wishes, Diane!

    I think the lack of women in horror is due to a combination of factors.

    First, I think women are often turned off from reading horror in the first place because it often seems to be marketed exclusively to men (and therefore seemingly offers little reading pleasure for them), or they might have a social concern that they’ll be judged negatively by friends and family for reading something “icky”. If a person doesn’t read in a genre, he/she is unlikely to want to write in the genre.

    Second, I think women are steered away from writing it by various forms of family and peer pressure — I know that the reaction to my first horror stories was essentially “Why can’t you write something nice instead?”

    Third, the short fiction market is tough for everyone, but I do think there’s a bit of a boys’ club at work (this is gradually changing). But the upshot is that stories focusing on uniquely female horrors are often seen as less compelling than male concerns. I got a rejection once for a piece with a young teen female protagonist in which the editor told me that he couldn’t sympathize with her because she was fat (with the implication that if I’d just made her a hottie he’d have felt bad about what she was going through). I wish I was making that up. The piece later sold, because I’m persistent, but I can see a lot of women getting a rejection like that and deciding to quit trying to write for horror markets.

  5. Diane Dooley says:

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts , Lucy!

    Your rejection story reminds me of one of mine. I received a personal rejection on a story stating that there was already a horror story with a pregnant protagonist. Because, you know, there can be only one!

    Thank you, in particular, for your remarks on being persistent. It’s a quality required of all writers, but it seems particularly true for women writing horror.

  6. Paula Cappa says:

    Diane, I’m glad I found your blog. It’s great. I loved The Yellow Wallpaper and thought it was wonderfully written. I do think that the appeal of horror by either women or men writers boils down to if the readers like hard core horror or soft core horror. I’m not one for all the bloody slashing and prefer the atmospheric and mysterious stories. But I think more men buy, read, and write the hard core and thus dominate the industry. Anyway, I’m going to try The Open Door at your suggestion. I love the classics best! I’m a Susan Hill fan … The Woman in Black. Film was quite well done too.

  7. I read The Yellow Wallpaper last year about this time and it’s a story that has really stuck with me, glad to see you mention it. It’s a lovely creepy tale.

  8. Ahh, I feel so bad that I’m just seeing this post now. Thank you for recommending my story!

    I don’t know if you’re curious about my horror selling stats…but I’ve only sold one other straight-up horror tale since “Invitation.” I still write them, along with fantasy and science fiction, but I seem to have better luck with stories containing a dark bent, as oppose to strictly horror. Maybe it’s the market, maybe it’s me. Who knows.

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