This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.
My next guest is Michelle R. Lane who has a debut novel releasing this year! Read on to find out more.
Michelle R. Lane writes dark speculative fiction about women of color who must battle their inner demons while falling in love with monsters. Her work includes elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and occasionally erotica. In January 2015, Michelle graduated with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Her short story, “The Hag Stone,” appears in the anthology Dark Holidays, available from Dark Skull Publications. She lives in South Central Pennsylvania with her son.
ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)?
ML: My primary creative outlet is writing, but horror almost always finds its way into other things that I do. Even if I’m decorating Christmas cookies, I use cutters shaped like tombstones, conjoined twins, bats, and witches. Each year I attend a cookie decorating contest with friends, and several of my cookies won this year, including an Illuminati-themed eyeball cookie and a voodoo doll. One year, I made stuffed voodoo doll ornaments for my friends and family and I still hang mine on the tree. My interest in horror was groomed by my family who were avid readers of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and later, thanks to me, Clive Barker. Saturday afternoons were spent watching Hitchcock films or Hammer Horror on Creature Double Feature. I remember writing some stories with dark subjects as a kid, but I don’t think I wrote my first horror short story or poetry until I was a teenager. At that time, I started devouring every vampire novel I could get my hands on and I’ve never stopped.
ST: Congratulations on your forthcoming novel Invisible Chains with Haverhill House Publishing! That’s very exciting and I can’t wait to read the book. What are your favorite elements that you’ve incorporated into the novel? What was the most challenging?
ML: Thanks, Sara. I’m excited about having my first novel published, but also very nervous. Invisible Chains is a horror novel, but the elements of horror are primarily based in the horrors of historical slavery in America. The novel is a fictional slave narrative told from the POV of a young slave who experiences a lot of terrible things first-hand and witnesses other slaves being tortured and killed. This is an uncomfortable topic and I look forward to and dread having people read the novel.
There were a lot of challenges in writing this book, and even though slavery is obviously horrific, I struggled with whether it would be considered a horror novel by mainstream readers. There are monsters, human and supernatural, there’s magic and rape and torture. All these elements come together to create a horror story in my opinion, but as a woman of color writing about a woman of color, it isn’t always clear where my stories fit even when they have elements of horror in them. I think the challenge for many women of color writing horror, is to simply be considered horror writers and published as such. Fortunately, Haverhill House recognized my work as horror, and have been kind enough to publish Invisible Chains.
ST: Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?
ML: Well, aside from being raised on a steady diet of horror fiction – novels, film, and television – being black and female in America can be a horrific identity to occupy. Writing horror seems natural to me. I wouldn’t say that I’m a pessimist, but I often see the darker aspects of life and I tend to expect the worst-case scenario in most situations. Racism and sexism are simply part of being black and female in America. Navigating this landscape can be treacherous at times and when people reveal their true faces, like monsters hiding behind masks, life can seem very much like a dark fairy tale or a horror story. Who do you trust? Is it ever possible to feel “safe”? So, telling the stories of women of color surrounded by monsters seems like the most natural thing to me. But, my stories, no matter how dark the subject, still have the possibility for hope and strength and growth and survival.
Horror, unlike any other genre, allows you to really dig deep into your emotions and show the world through a skewed lens that may make sense to someone going through similar struggles. Horror opens itself to allegory and gives writers a space to explore the darkness inside and outside, and no matter how bizarre or terrifying, you can almost always find a nugget of truth about humans and the society they live in.
ST: Those are wonderfully profound points for all of us to think about. The threads between horror and identity, especially for women and minorities, can truly change how a story is written and how it is perceived to different readers, too.
What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?
ML: Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Don’t worry if your story is going to upset a particular demographic. Write the story you need to tell and don’t be afraid to tell the truth. Tell the truth, because there’s probably someone out there who needs you to tell that story and they might not have the words to tell it themselves. I still struggle with this myself, so it’s a work in progress. Each story I write makes it easier to tell the truth. So, keep writing and don’t worry if your story makes people uncomfortable. That’s kind of the point.
ST: Great advice! I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?
ML: At the moment, I’m reading Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth, and I am connecting with this story in ways that are both comforting and disturbing. I’m only half-way through the novel and I am seeing myself in Suzette. While my son isn’t maliciously trying to get rid of me, I see a lot of parallels to what I have experienced in terms of raising a child with behavioral problems that aren’t easily diagnosed. My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder roughly two years ago, but we are still struggling to get him all the support and resources he needs. I need. I can really relate to Suzette in terms of witnessing behaviors that others may not see and having to fight to get an appropriate diagnosis and support. This is especially difficult as a single mother. So, even though Suzette is living a nightmare, I resent the fact that she is financially secure and has a reasonably stable partner. How screwed up is that?
So, what speaks to me about this novel isn’t just that I can directly relate to the characters, but Stage has this remarkable ability to depict the horrific in everyday life and take it to a level that makes it scarier because you realize that lots of people are living this horror in our current society. And, she does a great job of showing the imbalances between women’s work and men’s work and how women are expected to be perfect no matter what traumas they face. I think it is a wonderfully written modern tale of the horrors of being female in America without relying too heavily on the trope of motherhood and insanity like so many horror films seem to be doing these days. You’d think the only people going crazy in our society are upper-middle class white mothers. I’m here to tell you, that just isn’t the case. Just once, I’d like to see a horror film that features a single black mother struggling to pay her bills while seeking help with her child’s behavioral problems and simultaneously being blamed for them. That will make you crazy.
ST: One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?
ML: I’d like to read more horror fiction written by women of color, trans women, any woman who has a unique perspective on horror and how they relate to it. I’m a bit of a voyeur and I want to see inside other people’s minds and experience their fears through the lens of different cultural experiences and realities.
ST: What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?
In January, my short story, “Crossroad,” was published in the anthology Terror Politico: A Screaming World of Chaos, from Scary Dairy press. The anthology is loaded with great stories that follow the theme of political horror.
My goal for 2019 is to draft the sequel to Invisible Chains, and I’m currently working on a story for an anthology coming out later this year that looks at the monstrous feminine.
If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know all there is to know about me and what I’m working on. I also have a blog, Girl Meets Monster, where I feature the work other horror writers and review horror fiction, films, and TV shows.
ST: Thank you so much to Michelle for joining us. I so enjoyed reading her responses and thoughts on women in horror. I encourage everyone to follow her delightful blog and keep up with her work. Looking forward to reading Invisible Chains!
Check back on Friday to read about my next guest!