Monday, September 14, 2009

The New Ladies of Horror

Throughout my life, the women in it have always been among the most important to me. From my mother to my grandmother, to all the aunts who looked after me as a child, to the brilliant schoolgirls I felt kinship, admiration, and adoration for, to my daugher, to the love of my life who I'm going to spend the rest of my life with, they have all served to inspire and motivate me towards bigger and better things, while grounding me in a state of introspection through which friendship, family, and personal exploration can grow. I love and cherish them all.

Having said that (or perhaps to expound the point), I am an equal opportunity observer when it comes to the matter of the sexes in the world at large. I find Ellen Degeneres as side-splittingly funny as Eddie Izzard, Jane Austen as overrated as Thomas Hardy, Carly Fiorina as amazingly adept with money and expanse as Bill Gates, Tracy Chapman as soulful as Jeff Buckley, Maya Angelou as gifted with prose as Robert Frost, and so on and so forth. Through this, however, I have noticed there is one arena where women - truly inventive women - are severely underrepresented. And this arena is one which is very close to my heart; horror literature.

As a teen I fell in love with Anne Rice. The Witching Hour was the first novel of hers that I read, over a week-long stay at my cousin's house-on-a-lake in New Hampshire, and it was most certainly not the last. I read each of her books up until she became a new-wave holy roller. She's right up there with Barker, King, Layman, and Koontz. But after her, what for the other popular women in the genre?

Not much.

So now we're left with the Stephanie Myers' of the world, creating dumbed-down versions of Rice novels. (Don't get me wrong, I applaud Myers for her success, but let's face it; she writes for twelve-to-fifteen-year-old girls. To include her in the genre would be akin to calling Judy Blume an example of post-feminist literature) There's a chasm of female frighteners out there that begs to be filled. I wish to, right now, start it off my pouring a couple drops in, myself.

I present to you two writers who carry with them as much talent and inventiveness as any I've read of late. Their names are Mercedes M. Yardley and Michelle Howarth, and it is a pleasure to read the both of them. Now, I'll take the opportunity to delve into each one.

Mercedes M. Yardley describes herself as a writer of whimsical horror, and I defy anyone to come up with a better description of her work than that. There is an ingrained mystery in everything I've read, a sense of witholding that sucks you into a story and threatens not to let you go, even after the tale has reached its conclusion. She can be haunting, quirky, and sometimes humorous, yet never lapses into self-mockery or confusion.

The three stories I've looked over - Murder for Beginners (Shock Totem #1), The Container of Sorrows (The Pedestal Magazine), and Water Boy (Whidbey Writers' Workshop) - are each unique in their voice yet consistent in their ability to captivate. Her writing has the added bonus of making one ponder the little things in life, the tiny needles which poke holes in our collective souls. And her as-to-now-unpublished novel, which I've had the honor of reading the first chapter of, will end up being quite the unorthodox little gem once it is published. From the small portion I was able to see, it reads like the lovechild of Doug Adams and Peter Straub. It is truly alluring.

Whereas I have only just recently been introduced to the work of Mrs. Yardley, one Michelle Howarth I have been ingesting for years, since the day she arrived at the Writers' BBS as a naive yet passionate young pup. My, how she has grown over these years; into a woman of vast talent at both finding the hilarity buried in the gloom and penning cringe-inducing horror, sometimes simultaneously. Her creations, while jocose, reveal a hidden depth and darkness, saying that once this particular author decides she will do away with pretense, we all best look out.

I have read most stories Michelle has created and published, and even many that haven't, and it is impressive how undeviating her voice stays throughout, capturing the reader, engrossing them and then grossing them out, until finally the rug is pulled out from under you, revealing the crux of a joke that has been played on you, the reader, with skill and aplomb.

So there you have it; two woman who have the potential to not only thrive in this genre, but transend it. They are a pair of the freshest and most creative minds I've had the pleasure of exploring in years. Read them. Enjoy them. Support them. They need this, from all fans, of not only horror but good literature, to thrive as they deserve to.

The website of Mercedes M. Yardley can be found here.

The website of Michelle Howarth can be found here.

Do it. Start exploring. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

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