An Interview with the Women Who Wrote ‘Monster, She Wrote’
One of the best ways to celebrate Women in Horror Month is by reading women horror authors you haven't yet made time to try. Most people know that by now, and more and more are game to do it, but how do you discover female authors who are new to you? The annual influx of blog lists is a good start, but can be overwhelming and too, well, list-y to be of much use. No worries. This year, I found the mother of all solutions.
Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson is a nonfiction compendium of the amazing, talented, unsung heroes of horror. Here's the book description:
Satisfy your craving for extraordinary authors and exceptional fiction: Meet the women writers who defied convention to craft some of literature's strangest tales, from Frankenstein to The Haunting of Hill House and beyond.
Frankenstein was just the beginning: horror stories and other weird fiction wouldn't exist without the women who created it. From Gothic ghost stories to psychological horror to science fiction, women have been primary architects of speculative literature of all sorts. And their own life stories are as intriguing as their fiction. Curated reading lists point you to their most spine-chilling tales.
Part biography, part reader's guide, the engaging write-ups and detailed reading lists will introduce you to more than a hundred authors and over two hundred of their mysterious and spooky novels, novellas, and stories.
Lisa Kröger (LK) holds a PhD in English. Her short fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine and Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road (Crystal Lake Publishing, 2018). She co-hosts the Know Fear Podcast.
Melanie R. Anderson (MRA) is an assistant professor of English at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS. Her book Spectrality in the Novels of Toni Morrison (Tennessee Press, 2013) was a winner of the 2014 South Central MLA Book Prize. She co-hosts the Know Fear Podcast.
I'm finishing up Monster, She Wrote now, and I could not be more in love with this book. I've made more to-read notes in it than in any other book I've ever read. It's engaging, educational, and an absolute necessity for anyone trying to learn about the horror genre.
Hi ladies! I’m so excited to talk with you two today about your incredible nonfiction book. I absolutely love it. At first I was putting a sticky tab on each new author I wanted to check out, but I quickly realized there were far too many; I’ll just have to bring the whole book shopping! I thought I was decently educated about women horror writers, but now I see that I’ve barely scraped the surface. How hard was it to discover so many underknown and underappreciated authors? Did it take months, years, or had you both already found most of these women in your previous reading/studies?
LK: Thank you for the compliment! I love to hear that people are using the book as a reading list! It makes me so happy. To answer your question, the research for Monster, She Wrote wasn’t difficult (we were already reading many of these women for other projects), but it was incredibly hard to decide who to include (because we didn’t have the space to include them all or it would have been a monster of a book). Both of us have an academic background, and a lot of the reading for this book began as we worked on our dissertations. Melanie and I had been reading women horror writers for both pleasure and scholarship for many years, and writing a book like this had been something we had discussed many times before the idea for Monster, She Wrote was born.
MRA: I’m so happy to hear that you loved the book! Monster, She Wrote is the beginning of an exploration of all the women who have been and are writing horror. I think the breadth that the book does have, particularly the time span it covers, comes from our different interests. In graduate school, I focused on American writers, and Lisa focused on British writers. We studied different time periods, and we had different interests within the horror genre, which is a broad category in itself. Together, we had a large store of reading and academic study to draw from. As a researcher, I go down rabbit holes, and I’m always stumbling upon other writers or connections between writers.
On that note, how did this project come to be? How did you partner up, pitch the book, and collaborate to bring it together?
LK: Melanie and I met in graduate school, where we shared an office. Most of the time, our students never came to our office hours, so we ended up talking about our favorite books and discovered a mutual love of ghost stories and supernatural fiction. In that way, this book was over a decade of research for us. It was only a few years ago—after our essay collection on Shirley Jackson—that we started talking about a new project. We weren’t sure about what exactly it would look like, but we were fortunate that Quirk Books was open to our ideas. We pitched the book to them and wrote the first draft in about seven months.
MRA: Yes, we had been thinking of a project about women horror writers for several years. After graduate school, we co-edited two collections of academic essays, and we wrote the introductions for those projects together. I think that work editing and writing together helped our later collaboration on Monster, She Wrote tremendously. Getting words on the page is always daunting, but we feel comfortable enough writing together to share a messy first draft and trust that it will improve as we pass it back and forth and keep revising it.
What was the hardest part about bringing MSW to fruition? What was the best surprise?
LK: The most difficult part for me was knowing that we couldn’t include everyone in the book. There are truly so many women who have built up the horror genre. We tried to include a mixture of familiar names (like Shirley Jackson or Mary Shelley) and women people might not know about (like Margaret St. Clair). The best surprise was seeing how early a lot of these genres were developing. I loved learning about Pauline Hopkins, whose novel Of One Blood was exploring issues surrounding the treatment of African Americans and women (like the problematic diagnosis of hysteria) in 1903. I also love the final chapter, which is more of an extended reading list than anything else. I wanted that chapter to be an invitation for readers to go out and find more of these women. Plus, it gave us a space to include a lot of the women writing today. We didn’t want to do a full entry on women who were still actively writing today, not because they don’t deserve it (they do!) but because they are still in the process of creation. So we gestured at broader trends in the genre, instead of focusing on individual women, at least for the most contemporary writers.
MRA: I think another difficult part of writing the book was the lack of information about some of the writers we were reading and researching. Several of the names we encountered of women writing in the pulp magazines were just that, names and whatever stories they wrote that are still in archives, but otherwise, we couldn’t find out much about them. We discuss in the book a few of the resources we used to find what information we could about writers like Eli Colter, for example. I really enjoyed seeing how the picture of women in horror throughout time developed as we put these women side-by-side, and there really is no shortage of women-authored dark fiction out there.
In all of your reading of these authors, do you have personal favorites? And did those favorites change at all with the creation of this book?
LK: Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and Helen Oyeyemi will always be personal favorites of mine. In researching the book, though, I read Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer and absolutely loved it. I can’t wait to see what else Braithwaite does. I also developed a deeper love for Margaret St. Clair. Her story “The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles” has always been one I liked, but I loved reading her other work.
MRA: Toni Morrison and Shirley Jackson are favorites and the ones I return to most often in the classroom and in my academic work. Reading Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House for pleasure when I was in college sealed the deal on my love of haunted house fiction. I also, like Lisa, have grown to love Margaret St. Clair. Her short stories are so much fun. I’m a fan of “Horrer Howce” in particular, but it’s hard to pick a favorite. While reading for Monster, She Wrote, I enjoyed Cherie Priest’s Family Plot, a very creepy haunted house tale, and Tananarive Due’s collection Ghost Summer.
One of the many things I love about this collection is the bringing together of the authors’ works and lives. I personally have never been huge on author biography, but in this context it really fascinates me and makes me even more interested in seeking out some of their works. Did any of the women’s lives surprise, delight, inspire, or especially intrigue you?
LK: Well, I laughed quite a bit at the number of women in the nineteenth century who took up writing as a means to support their families. I can’t imagine thinking, “I need a lot of money fast. I think I’ll write a book.” Most writers I know today have a day job (or two) because writing is infamous for not making money. But I also was fascinated and inspired by the women who lived the adventures they wrote about. Amelia Edwards is a great example. She wrote some fantastic ghost stories, but she also was an Egyptologist who wrote about her trip down the Nile. She traveled solo with a female friend in the 1870s, when it was customary for women to only travel with male companions.
MRA: Dorothy Macardle’s novel The Uninvited is a wonderful haunted house book that includes both real ghosts and psychological trauma connected to them, rather than choosing one path or the other. Learning about Macardle’s life was just as rewarding, as she wrote novels, stories, theater reviews, journalism, and history; plus, she was an ardent feminist, who was actively involved in Irish politics of her time. I also found Margery Lawrence’s fierce independence fascinating. She was very interested in the supernatural, which deeply influenced her writing. In 1929, she wrote an article for Cosmopolitan titled “I Don’t Want to be a Mother,” and I think it’s clear that, like many of the women in the book, she was trying to be true to her own ambitions and imagination in the face of societal pressures.
And finally, if you could only tell your readers one thing, what would it be?
LK: Our book is not comprehensive—it’s a starting point! There are so many women writers out there to discover. Go out and read!
MRA: I hope our book expands readers’ definitions of what horror fiction can be and serves as a gateway to discovering the work of even more women writers.
Thank you both so much for talking with me today!
So horror fans, go get your copy of Monster, She Wrote today. And huge thanks to my writing buddy Lisa Bubert for gifting me this book. It was on my to-read list already, but she gave me a signed copy from HerBookShop.com's event and an excuse to start it sooner. (Wo)man am I glad I did!
Fellow horror lovers, how are you celebrating Women in Horror Month this year?
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