Posted on September 7, 2014
It sounds corny, cliché, but the truth is that when I saw my mother’s body in the coffin at the wake, she looked…good. Like she was taking a well-deserved nap. There was no trace of the pancreatic tumor that had swollen her belly so she looked 8 months pregnant, her skin was luminous and there was even a slight blush to her cheek. When I reached out a hand to touch her forehead, it was a true shock to find it cold. Cold because, after all, this body had just been pulled from a chiller, all to maintain the illusion that death was simply another form of sleep. A sideshow for the living.
Burial rites say a lot about culture. We like ours neatly packaged, a bloodless affair that approximates death about as closely as hamburger resembles butchering. The root of horror is tapping into that squeamish reality—the fear of our own death, the decay of our own bodies, that experience which, like every snowflake, is unique, unknowable. Although two hundred years from now, the likelihood that everyone reading this now will be dead is a pretty safe bet.
If this disturbs you, here’s a video of a baby goat playing with puppies.
For the remaining 10%, I want to tell you about a Tibetan lama who was stuck in Miami just as a massive hurricane was about to hit. All of his students were asking—no begging—for him to leave, but he had things to do in Miami, important things. My husband called him. He said, “Khenpo, it’s not safe. All the people are leaving.”
Khenpo laughed. “All the people who are afraid of dying are leaving.”
But his was a culture that practiced ‘sky burial’, a tradition at the polar opposite of our funeral productions. In Tibet, a body would be taken out to a field, hacked to pieces (to make it easier for the vultures to consume), and left as an offering. Even the blood would be collected and mixed with tsampa (kinda like oatmeal), so the vultures could eat that too. The skeletal remains would then be collected. Skulls were turned into kapalas, or skull cups, sometimes they were used for damaru (double-sided drums), and the marrow of thighbones was cleaned out to make kanglings (trumpets). I knew a lama who had a kangling made from the thighbone of a woman he’d befriended. It was one of her dying wishes, for her body to be used this way. In the Dzogchen tradition, bodies are just husks, the material thing that contains the spiritual thing, and only temporarily at that.
Which doesn’t mean they’re not scared of death too. But gripping it so closely is their confrontation of that fear. Lamas would spend nights meditating in the charnal grounds where the sky burials took place, working that fear out.
And in a way, that’s why I write horror. Horror is where I look at my own death, where I confront all the worst possible scenarios that can/could happen to someone in life, or even just in the wildest corners of my imagination. It’s where the memories of my mother’s wake lives, where I look down at the plot of ground she bought for my own body (New Englanders plan ahead), where I sit and lean against a tombstone that has space for my name. Try to deal. Horror is climbing into a casket, trying it out for size, and then climbing out again. The world always seems sharper afterwards. Clear.
Because death is the ultimate compass for how to live your life. Think about it long enough and you realize what’s important. It’s only by looking hard into the darkness that we see, and appreciate, the light.
Posted on June 15, 2014
This is what a haunted house looks like in most places:
This is what a haunted Safeway looks like where I live.
Tell me where it is (city and state) and you’re entered to win a signed copy of POE!
(one signed copy of POE available, contest ends July 4th, 2014)
Posted on February 14, 2014
This week I’m privileged to have my sister in horror Kate Maruyama talk about writing, writing in the horror genre as a woman, and our new band “King & The Spookettes” (so far we’re waiting on confirmation from Stephen’s people, although I have officially called alto).
My mother, having battled the notions of her times by being a woman newspaper reporter in the nineteen fifties (even after being told she should probably quit when she got married) manage to raise me with the fool notion that I could do anything I set my mind to.
As a result, it took me a ridiculously long time to recognize that there was any inequality between the sexes. Even working in 1990s white male dominated Hollywood, I looked around and thought, “Well, hey, I have a job as an executive at a major action star’s company. My boss is a woman and I play paintball with other action executives. Women are doing just fine.” I worked hard at finding the next job, and not recognizing that those jobs were going to “executive material” (meaning white dudes,) I figured the problem was me and I quit the executive life. And whatever the answer really was, I threw myself into screenwriting. Only years later did I realize that all of the romantic comedies (the genre I was working in) that were bought or greenlit—or at least 95 percent of them—were written by dudes. And, only years later did I look back at a photo at about fifteen of us action execs in our paintball outfits posing with our guns–to realize that I was the only girl in the picture.
Awake now, I took this new perspective into my writing life. There are a lot more novels being published by women than screenplays are being produced, so it’s a more equal arena for women, right? But the inequalities soon became apparent, mostly thanks to organizations like VIDA who had the brains to count, and articles by those paying attention, like Roxane Gay and Elissa Schappel.
So why Women in Horror Month? Why not just horror month?
Mary Shelley entranced the human imagination with Frankenstein. Dealing with the death of a newborn, groping in the darkness for answers and in twisted fiction, she came up with the grandfather—mother? of all horror novels.
Despite its origins, horror is currently a male-dominated genre. When J. Lincoln Fenn first reached out to me, calling me a ‘sister in horror’ I didn’t quite get where she was coming from. Our titles were coming out from the same publishing company, 47North within a month of each other. To tell you the truth, I felt a little competitive with her!
But as I started watching the charts as our books climbed them, I became increasingly aware that we were pretty well surrounded by dudes. There were a handful of fabulous female names to pass, (Anne Rice, anyone?) but once each of us, on separate days, managed to dethrone the King (show screen-captures) I realized that we were sisters in something quite unique. And I was so grateful Fenn had the brains to see that.
Both of us have written books with male protagonists, which is another peculiarity. But the point of this month, I think, is to help a sister out. If there’s a horror book you’ve read, written by a woman, write up an annotation for my site annotationnation.com or a review, or an article, or simply give it a nice rating on Goodreads. Celebrate all of the women who have, consciously or not, swum against the male tide and persisted in writing what they were best at, regardless of the number of men surrounding them.
I adore guys, and I’m always ready to promote the writing of my male counterparts. I can’t say that I wasn’t influenced by my teenage reading of Steven King’s fabulous prose. But the point of this month isn’t boys vs. girls. This is a month to celebrate women in horror. The trick is to find the woman horror writer who may not be getting a boost, whose book publicity may not be up to the standards of the males standing next to her, and to give her some notice, or a mention, or a like. Because, you know what? Likelihood is she could probably use a hand.
FOLLOW/LIKE/APPRECIATE Kate Maruyama
buy: Harrowgate on Amazon
Author Kate Danly chimes in for Women in Horror Month. Her debut novel, The Woodcutter (published by 47North), was honored with the Garcia Award for the Best Fiction Book of the Year, 1st Place Fantasy Book in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and the winner of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her book Maggie for Hire hit the USA Today Bestselling list as part of the boxed set Magic After Dark.
I am not a horror enthusiast. I do not enjoy the sensation of fear. When I was probably three-years-old, my friend convinced me to watch Bella Lugosi’s Dracula. She said that if I got scared, I could hide beneath a granny-square afghan my grandmother had made. She didn’t tell me that I should close my eyes, though, so I saw the entire movie through the crochet holes. And from that point forward, vampires lived under my bed. The scariest movie I willingly watched was Jurassic Park, and even that I watched with my fingers over my face. I don’t understand Halloween. There is so much death and destruction already on this earth, I don’t understand looking upon pain as entertainment.
So it is strange that as an adult, I find myself writing horror. What is it that causes all of my creative impulses to want to dig into this genre?
And I think that, for me, it is about overcoming fear. As a woman, in particular, I find society tries to tell us to fear the world, to seek shelter in others, to place our trust in some big, strong someone who will make all the monsters go away. So, what is the most frightening trope which horror employs? That a woman will be left to face the monsters on her own. That everyone who should be there to save her has not just gone away, they have died horribly.
But there is a twisted lesson of hope in horror: if she is willing to stand up for herself and fight, she will survive.
And so, when I really think about the reasons I write horror, it is about this fight. I defang the monsters that have frightened me my entire life, both real and imaginary. It is about digging deep into their psyche, looking at them from all angles, and ultimately coming to a point of understanding… perhaps even affection… for my creatures. In world mythology, there is a common idea that to defeat a monster, you need only find out its true name. And so I name them “vampire” and “ghost” and I am not afraid. I mean, we wouldn’t sit down to have dinner anytime soon. But monsters do not live under my bed anymore. And when one does try to sneak in? We have ourselves a little chat and I find out his name, and I bring the story to you so that you might know his name, too. And together, the boogeyman can’t get us.
Kate’s latest horror project is her story Queen Joanna, a retelling of the Bloody Mary ghost story in the anthology From the Indie Side, on sale for the next few days for 99-cents.