Author Spotlight: Barbara Rein

Women in horror month is in full swing. I just want to take some time to highlight an author I have recently enjoyed.

I came across a collection of short stories by Barbara Rein entitled Tales From the Eerie Canal. I was hooked after the first few lines in the opening story. Her stories deal with the paranormal and the more psychological aspect of evil as a part of human nature. I enjoyed the quick pace and variety of stories.

If you haven’t checked her out yet, please see the links below. Thank you for sharing your creative gift, Barbara!

Sisters in Horror

This month the spotlight will be on women horror authors. This isn’t to diminish male authors. Instead, think of it as women raising each other up and celebrating our accomplishments as writers.

I would be unable to list all of the fantastic female horror authors out there. What I do plan to do is highlight some of these women during the month of February.

Stay tuned for some links to authors who will leave you wondering why you aren’t already reading their work.

Feminism in the World of Horror

Ok. This isn’t going to be an academic essay. I do, however, want to talk about the portrayal of female characters in horror fiction. I am sure there are many other groups I could discuss who are marginalized in horror. As for today’s post, I will be focusing on those identifying as women.

I fully understand that in fiction we have the freedom to describe characters in any way we choose. I can apply positive or negative attributes or put characters into a multitude of situations. Here is what gets under my skin: authors writing about female characters in an absurd, and quite frankly, offensive manner. Let me give you an example.

My current wonderings all started a short while back when I began a novel by a highly recommended and recognized author. In the opening chapter, a girl of just shy of 12 sneaks out of the house and into the summer night. So far, so good. Next she is described as having her nipples erect due to the cool air which in turn arouses the not quite 12-year-old. She proceeds to then take her clothes off while walking around alone in the dark, despite the reader knowing she was clearly cold, alone and a child. I stopped reading there and thought: what the actual f-? I then began to really examine stories I have read and started to question what some authors knew of the female psyche. If you fail to see how this is wrong on multiple levels, then perhaps this isn’t the blog for you.

Besides the obvious creepiness of someone writing about a child in this manner, and the fact that it does absolutely nothing to advance the plot, there are so many things wrong here. This was clearly not a writer with any understanding of what it means to be a prepubscent girl. I understand it is a broad statement to claim I speak for all women, so I suppose I must be willing to take the risk and any criticism which may follow. I accept.

The greater problem in all of this is that this isn’t an isolated event. Numerous horror stories play upon the idea of women as objects, sex crazed or the old trope of the innocent virgin. Horror itself is all about the psychological when you boil it down to its essence. One of the most basic drives for all animals is sex. It is a basic instinct and I can appreciate why it is tied to the horror genre. What I can’t appreciate is the unrealistic representation of women.

We can, and should, move past this archaic drivel. Women can be sexual without being evil or easy. Women do not get aroused everytime our clothing brushes against our nipples. Seriously, I can’t even count how many times I have seen this description in a variety of genres.

The other thing that stands out to me is how female characters are viewed in the works of best-selling authors. I mean, have we all been reading their work and just ignoring the obvious because the story line is good? They can claim it isn’t their opinion but just that of their characters. All the time? Seriously?

One writer in particular, if you have read his work you will know who I mean, can never describe a female character without making reference to her breasts. It is constant. If he writes from a female POV that character is either hypersexual, although I am pretty confident in saying that most women (I am sure not all) don’t stare at a man’s crotch whenever they meet, or her character is the polar opposite and devoid of any sexuality. And if it isn’t every female character, then it is at least enough for someone to detect a pattern.

People are entitled to write how they want and read what they choose to. If your thing is half-naked vampires with a lust for more than blood- have at it. As they say, there is an audience for everything. I feel this type of horror is inmature, unrealistic (yes, I know vampires aren’t real) and basically just porn. Again, to each their own. I just think that as authors we can be more imaginative than that.

I think what I am saying is that the themes in horror can move past the objectification of women. It’s time. Perhaps it is just me. Maybe I am reading into something that isn’t there, but I doubt it. Instead I choose to do better.

If you can recommend any horror fiction with strong, realistic female characters, please write it in the comments section. I would be happy to share them.

A Community of Sharing

I just wanted to share a link for a YouTube channel called After Dark Fairy Tales. I was asked (ever so politely) if they could narrate my short story, Something Sweet, which had been posted via Reedsy. I just love how writers are so willing to support one another.

Check out their channel and subscribe if you enjoy it.

Also, if you do check out work on Reedsy, you should read stories by Skyler Woods. They are fantastic!

All Too Common

Earlier today I read an article by Dave Jeffery entitled, The Horror of Humanity: Brands that Serve to Dehumanize and Isolate (the link will be available at the end of this post). It accurately describes my own feelings about a theme seen all too often in horror stories- the mentality ill antagonist.

You know the tropes. There is the sociopathic killer, the mentally disturbed homeless person and the “devil made me do it” character responsible for murdering their family, just to highlight a few.

I know that people will think I am being over sensitive or dramatic. The will say that “it is only a story” or it is “just a fictional character”, but frankly I don’t give their opinions much merit. I plan to use my voice to do better.

So many people have mental illness, myself included. We work hard to manage it and regulate our lives. When a character does some henious act because they have schizophrenia or dissociative personality disorder it creates a picture, an archetype, of evil, chaos and unpredictability.

I am fully aware that a sane human being would not commit most acts of depravity in a horror story. The headlines are filled with stories of individuals responsible for gruesome actions and that those individuals may indeed have a mental illness. I think we just need to consider that this does not represent the majority of individuals with mental illness. If this were the case, we would still be sending people to assylums in order to keep the public safe.

This doesn’t mean that characters cannot have mental illnesses, it simply means that their illness doesn’t need to be a negative driving force behind their actions. There are numerous ways to advance your character and plot without relying on such outdated ideas.

This is an important read for all authors, but specifically horror authors. Too often, evil characters are labeled as crazy. This does nothing to help destigmatize mental illness. We can be more imaginative than that. We can do better.

What happens when it isn’t Santa who shows up for cookies? Find out in this free story for my blog followers:

Cookies for Santa    by Blaise Langlois
    “This belonged to your great grandmother. It came to us all the way from Austria after she passed away,” Felix’s mother said, placing the bundle of golden sticks on the mantle.
    “Urli sent those?”
    “No, not exactly, honey. I used to spend every Christmas with her, so she wanted my family to have them after she died.”
    “What are they, Mommy?”
    “Ruten. These branches remind us to behave around the holidays, otherwise Krampus will beat you with them.” She laughed and gave him a wink.
    Felix’s eyes widened, and trembling he hugged his mother’s legs tightly. She hugged him back and looking down at his innocent face, she said, “Don’t worry, buddy. Krampus only comes for bad boys and girls. Santa will leave you a gift tonight.” 
    Felix sighed with relief. “Do you think he’ll like them?” he asked in earnest. Reaching into his housecoat pocket he withdrew a small card. He tented it and set it next to a plate of fresh vanillekipferl, a crescent shaped vanilla cookie, a recipe passed down by Felix’s great-grandmother.
    In a childish, painstaking scrawl, he had written: For Satan. His mother smiled, and stifling a laugh she said, “He’ll love them. Now, get to bed.”
    “Can’t I stay up?”
    “Do you want Santa to leave you gifts?” 
    Felix nodded his head solemnly. 
    “Or coal in your stocking?” 
    He shook his head rapidly back and forth.
    “Then bed,” she said, pointing toward the stairs.
    Climbing the stairs to his room, Felix thought about what his mother had said. Surely Santa, St. Nick himself, wouldn’t leave him coal simply for staying up to meet him.  An idea began to take form within his 6-year-old mind as he hatched the perfect plan.
    The grandfather clock echoed its melancholy chime throughout the silent house. Peeking out from beneath the covers, Felix slid out of bed into the darkness. He paused for a moment, briefly startled by his father’s deep snore. Creeping down the stairs, he headed toward the living room, its Christmas-coloured lights cutting through the night and spilling out onto the tiled entrance way.
    Shadows danced by the fire as Felix tiptoed into the living room. Partially hidden behind the Christmas tree was a figure, tall and red. Santa! he thought. The floorboard creaked, and the figure turned. Shining in the firelight were two glistening, black horns.
    Felix stood, rooted to the spot, his eyes wide and jaw slack. 
    “S-S-S-Santa?” he murmured with uncertainty.
    The figure shook with a laughter, full and resonant. 
    “Of course not. Please, I am somewhat offended.” He stepped out from behind the tree, brushing crumbs from his v-shaped goatee. “But I will tell you what isn’t offensive—these cookies!” he proclaimed, as he flashed a brilliant, sharp-looking smile. 
    Felix remained frozen as the figure approached him, card in hand. Turning it over, Satan said, in a surprisingly soft tone, “You left these for me?”
     Felix nodded dumbly. 
    “Boy, I have had many gifts laid out for me over the centuries.  Chickens, goats, cows … even children.” He was no longer smiling, but glaring at Felix intently, his left eyebrow arched. “This is a first,” he said, gesturing toward the crumbs on the plate. “I’ll tell you what.  I am feeling in a generous mood, you might even say, I’m feeling sentimental.” Reaching out, he pressed the card into Felix’s slack hand. “Call me if you need anything.”
    Felix blinked, and the demon was gone. His hand felt unnaturally warm and looking down he realized it was clenched into a fist. He opened his hand and revealed the card, now slightly crumpled. On one side were his words: For Satan. On the side opposite, written in a fancy, shiny, black script, were the words:  Venit Satanas.
    Years passed, and the world changed with the seasons. Felix had changed too. He was no longer a wide-eyed child, but now just barely thirteen, he was already apathetic. After his parents’ divorce six months ago, he found that he was often angry and bitter. He had been picked up for a few minor offences with vandalism, shoplifting, and under aged drinking being the most recent. He felt like the world owed him happiness and he would bring his wrath upon those standing in his way. Few things brought him joy—save Christmas. Traditions were still important to him and today he woke to the sweet, fragrant smell of his favourite Christmas cookies. 
    His mother had risen early to bake this morning and it was apparent that time had passed for her as well. Felix noticed that she always looked tired, dark circles on top of the bags under her eyes. This morning was no exception. He hated himself for the trouble he had been causing, but anger and pride prevented him from showing contrition.
    Felix’s mother, despite her weariness, loved Christmas as well. The house was decorated and this year she had decided to purchase a live evergreen tree. He could hear her humming along to Michael Buble’s Christmas album while she unpacked a bin of decorations. A flash of gold emerged from its tissue wrapping. The corners of her mouth turned down slightly as Felix’s mother glanced at the ruten in her hand. She placed it gently on the mantle, looking up as Felix entered the room.
    Motioning to the bundle she said, “I suppose you are too old to believe in things like Krampus and Santa now.”
    “I guess,” he said, shrugging.
    “Well that’s good, otherwise you’d be getting coal this year and a bit of something else.”
    Felix crossed his arms and rolled his eyes.
    “Oh, come on,” she joked. “Help me with this tree.”
    Unpacking a box, Felix came upon a small, crumpled piece of cardboard. He thought for a moment, remembering a dream from long ago. Shrugging, he shoved the card into the pocket of his jeans. Soon the tree was complete, and Felix’s mother wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close. Felix squirmed, embarrassed by her show of affection. He could see her eyes were glistening, but before he could say anything, she quickly turned and headed upstairs, leaving him alone. 
    With less than three weeks to Christmas, Felix began to wonder if he should get his mother something. He knew that she wouldn’t expect it, but this was her first (their first), year alone. He considered Jackson’s Market. They had a little shop in there that sold costume jewelry and the kid at the counter was about as observant as a bag of bricks. Once he convinced himself that he could swipe something easily enough, Felix settled into the chair by the fire and drifted off watching Alastair Sim as Scrooge, in an old back and white version of A Christmas Carol. 
    It began softly, an almost muted jingling, causing Felix to briefly stir. It rang out again, this time calling him out of sleep. Sitting up, he reached for the remote and turned off the television, plunging the room into near darkness. Bathed in the soft glow of the Christmas tree, his eyes moved to the ceiling as he heard a heavy tread above him, along with the clear jingling of bells.
    He shook his head in dis-belief. I must be dreaming, he thought listening to the unmistakable melody of Christmas bells. “No way,” he whispered aloud. Pinching himself to be sure, he rose from the chair and moved toward the sound, which now appeared to be coming from the fireplace. It isn’t even Christmas Eve, he thought.
    The jingling ceased. Next came a whooshing sound, thick and heavy, followed by a solid thud. Peering into the fireplace, Felix could make out what appeared to be a large, hairy foot, and next to it, a cloven hoof. A pungent odour, musky and putrid, penetrated the air, causing Felix to force back bile.
    The moisture now gone from his mouth, Felix could feel every hair on his body stand at attention. The moment was broken by the sound of heavy chains rattling, then a clatter as they hit the grate, spilling from the firebox onto the stone hearth.
    A large hulking figure emerged from the mouth of the fireplace. As it rose to its full height, it filled the room. Horns, like a ram’s, sat upon its head, set above a pair of red, glowing eyes. It opened its huge jaw, revealing razor sharp teeth as its long tongue lolled against its chest, flicking in the dim light.
    Felix pat himself down, trying to find his phone. Diving a hand into his pocket, he withdrew the crumpled card from earlier that evening. A flash of memory overtook him—a creature, red and powerful. Holding the card close to his face, Felix shouted out with growing intensity: Venit Satanas. Venit Satanas! VENIT SATANAS!
     A malodourous scent, like sulfur, ash and carrion, snaked into the room as the Devil himself appeared. In pure panic, Felix put the demon between himself and the beast, and screeched, “Fight him!”
    The Devil smiled a slick grin and he turned toward Krampus. The fireplace exploded into flame, its tongues licking the air, searching for fuel. The beast charged at him and he stepped lightly to the side. Again, it charged and this time the Devil sidestepped it and, almost playfully, swatted its backside. Krampus bellowed in frustration, his yellow daggers seeming to elongate as Felix watched, transfixed. 
    With his hulking arm, he lifted the giant chain and swung it toward Satan. The Devil laughed jauntily and leapt out of the way. Turning, he smiled and winked at Felix. His arrogance cost him as Krampus swung the chain again, this time its long, hooked end grazing the fallen angel and tearing open a shallow gash across his chest. Blood, black and oily, splattered across the evergreen boughs and glistened in the fire light. Krampus paused as the Devil eyed the Christmas tree and then flicked his eyes toward him, as he sized up his chances. As Satan tentatively stepped toward the tree, Krampus howled then made a deep, guttural sound. A voice, low and almost lupine, emerged.
    “Why are you here on my night, demon?” he spat. “I’ve rights to this boy.”
    “Oh, just following through on a promise. You know me, always keeping my word.”
    The creature’s clawed hand rubbed thoughtfully at its beard.
    “You like bargains, yes?”
    “Indeed,” the Devil agreed.
    “You want his soul, I imagine?”
    The Devil’s face lit up knowingly. “You’re not suggesting that you take the boy now and I get his soul when you are done with him, are you?” 
    “I am.”
    “Well, then. Deal.”
    Felix, who up until this point had been watching in sick fascination, stared at the Devil, eyes wide.
    “You … you made a deal with me. You have to keep your word,” he stammered.
    “Certainly, my boy. You asked me to fight Krampus and I did but …  I lost,” he said with a mock frown.
    “You can’t do that!”
    With those words, he gracefully stepped out of the way as Krampus lassoed the thick chains around Felix. They circled around his body, constricting and digging into his cheeks, neck and torso. He screamed in both terror and agony as the hooks bit further into his skin, tearing out fleshy, dripping, chunks. 
    Krampus hauled Felix toward the chimney, leaving a trail of crimson behind him. Felix continued to scream, the whites of his eyes a stark contrast to the blood streaming down his face.
    The Devil stood, amused, watching the spectacle play out before him. He was going to cash in sooner than he thought. He held up a hand and Krampus paused. Felix was no longer screaming, instead a low moan was shuddering out of him. “Don’t worry about spending him too quickly, friend. I have all the time in the world.”
    Krampus grunted and stooped into the fireplace where the coals glowed beneath blackened logs. A scraping sound was heard as he disappeared from sight, dragging Felix behind him, jingle bells ringing.
    The following morning, Felix’s mother walked into the kitchen to find a rather red gentleman seated at her table. He was finishing off a large platter of cookies and popped one last piece into his mouth, dusting off his hands before looking up. Feigning surprise he asked, “Oh, these weren’t for me?”

Audience Matters

So today was my first experience with working with an editor (besides my loving, already published, brother, Stephen). This post will likely ramble a bit, but it is cathartic for me. What I can be clear about is that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for this.

First off, I hesitated to open the email. I was baffled by this feeling. It actually gave me acid indigestion. After mustering up the courage, I did it. I am not sure what I was afraid of. I mean- they chose my story so it must be good, right?

My ego took a hit (initially, anyway). I felt vulnerable and like a fraud. Who was I to think that I could be a writer? Highlighted areas seemed to over take my vision and I felt panic rising.

Then I read it over and relaxed a bit.

The changes weren’t awful. The editor kept my characters intact and my story line was the same. Some of my more poetic language was replaced with something a bit more marketable. A few paragraphs were altered and some parts removed. I had a decision to make. Do I sign off, or do I walk? I don’t mean to sound melodramatic here, I just felt as though it was no longer my story. The thing that I had worked so hard to craft had now been touched by someone else.

After re-reading the changes a few times, my reptilian brain slowed down and I began to think rationally. I thought about what I really wanted out of this experience. The answer was … to grow as a writer. My story was still intact and admittedly improved upon in some ways. It came down to my own stylistic choices versus what the editor felt worked for the book. It became pretty obvious that this was the nature of the “biz” and I would have to accept it.

Later this evening, while watching a Q&A with best-selling author, Jonathan Maberry, I received some very poignant advice. To paraphrase, he said: Use editor feedback to help develop your own style and use it as an opportunity to study your own work. Mind blown. This truly resonated with me and I will definitely follow his advice. The editor didn’t want a rewrite, she was just doing her job. I plan to focus on what she kept versus what she changed. I think that will help me solidify my style.

Okay, end of rambling. This is only one story. I am sure I will eventually find an audience, editor, or publisher who is looking for a more poetic style. This just isn’t it and I am alright with that. I will definitely not walk away from this opportunity due to my own fragile ego.

If you would like to hear what Jonathan Maberry has to say about short fiction (he really does say it well) then follow the link below. This particular advice happens near the end of the video.