June 10th, 2012

Why WILD GIRLS isn't just a lark

Last weekend, I hosted a booth for HWA at an event called The Great American Pitchfest. Over the course of eight hours, my pal and fellow member Brad Hodson and I spoke to hundreds of writers, and certain questions came up over and over. One of those went something like this: "Is horror just all blood and guts?"

How sad that this is the perception of the genre among the wider public. This is, I think, due largely to the immense popularity of certain cinematic franchises like Saw and Hostel, but the literary side is hardly blameless. Pick up any horror title published by the small press, and there's a good chance you'll be subjected to lengthy scenes of rape-mutilation-murder. (And please note, I'm saying "good chance" - I most certainly do NOT think all small press horror books feature extensive scenes of rape.)

These books are now classified as "extreme fiction", but you've probably all heard my own name for the category: "Fuck the stumps fiction", or FTS for short. You know by now that I'm not a fan of FTS fiction. You may think I'm going to bring up the dreaded word "misogynistic", and you'd be right...but it's not the only problem I have with FTS. Here are five reasons I dislike FTS:

  1. It's unimaginative - hey, if I read five books in a row in which people throw cupcakes at ghosts, by about book #3 I'm going to think this ain't as clever as it was in book #1. Now try reading it about 500 times.
  2. It's usually found in bad books - I'm sorry, but it's true. Rape-mutilation-murder is easy to write when you don't have any better ideas.
  3. It's impossible - okay, y'know what? You cut off somebody's legs, and they're gonna bleed out long before you can fuck the stumps. People don't live for hours (or days - yes, I've really read that) after being hacked up. And don't give me ridiculous items for weapons, like corn cobs. I'm going to laugh, and then - now that my suspension of disbelief has been completely shattered - I'm going to stop reading.
  4. It keeps women from writing more horror - yes, really. If you pick up ten books that all deride and humiliate your gender (let's not forget that women are often called derogatory names as they're being raped/mutilated/murdered in these books), it's not exactly a whopping big surprise that you'll be somewhat disinterested in writing to that market.
  5. (Surprise!) It's misogynistic.
A few years ago, I had a particularly unpleasant run of reading that turned out to be FTS on overdrive. I got so disgusted that I promptly started imagining an answer to these books - an answer in the form of a literary tale. Tit for twat, you might say. What would it look like, I began wondering, if I took those five reasons and flipped them all around and turned 'em inside-out? Here were my answers:
  1. I'd make it imaginative - I'd offer up an uncommon scenario of female serial killers, and leaven the whole enterprise heavily with (pitch black) humor.
  2. I'd make the book good - This was a hard one, because I wanted the writing style to parody some of the ridiculous language and situations found in FTS books, but I didn't it want to be badly written. I ended up deliberately making some of the dialogue terrible (especially among the drunken frat boys in the beginning), but trying to keep descriptive passages as well written as possible, and tell a reasonably compelling story.
  3. It's really impossible - what better way to mock impossible violence than make it really impossible (or simply ludicrous)? This is why, in Wild Girls, the "weapons" employed include high heels, cell phones, and pine cones. Yes, that's right - like the pine cone on the cover.
  4. Maybe women might read this and want to write horror - or maybe it's just me. Too early to tell yet.
  5. It's not misogynistic - but I bet some readers will accuse it of reverse sexism. And I will laugh my ass off.
So, that's how I came up with an over-the-top novella about two female serial killers and the cool girl detective who's onto them. I had a little fun with some other tropes, too - I'm fond of reading essays about the "final girl" of slasher movies, so I included a "final boy", a sexual innocent who ends up in the climactic showdown. I also included the big mutant hulk that often appears in bad horror, and a bit of back-story just to give the whole absurd thing a tiny bit of credence. Somehow, a little of my affection for noir also found its way in there.

I'm pleased with how it turned out, and I'm happy that readers seem to be enjoying it, both as an entertaining tale of horror and as a little bit of black satire. I originally released it as a free Kindle download for three days, and during that time it racked up nearly 900 downloads. One of those who grabbed a download was Liz Scott of Bad Moon Books, and as soon as Liz finished reading it she wrote to ask about the possibility of Bad Moon doing a limited hardcover. The book is now no longer available in e-format, and pre-orders are progressing for the signed and limited hardback. At just twenty-five bucks, I think it's a steal.

If you read Wild Girls (as I obviously hope you will), feel free to tell me that I'm a man-hating hack, or that you totally got it. Either way, we're having a conversation about the place of women in horror - both on the page and behind the page - and that ain't a bad thing.