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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I write horror. Yes, I write about zombies. Deal with it.


This weekend I appeared at the Shreveport Zombie Walk with the fabulous and extremely talented Joe McKinney, author of Dead City. He is one of my favorite people in the world and a favorite author to boot. Last year we had fun sitting on the zombie panel at the Aliens to Zombies Convention in Hollywood, and hung out later in the day with our spouses and the producer who optioned AS THE WORLD DIES. The Shreveport Zombie Walk is organized by a friend of mine, author Michelle Suhar-McCrary, who edited the Dead Set anthology with Joe McKinney a few years ago. Seeing my two friends again is enough of a reason to drive seven hours to Louisiana, but the Zombie Walk also supports the Shreveport Food Bank. All the shambling zombies donate canned goods to be a part of the walk.

Soooooooo...the hubby and I loaded up the SUV and drove to Shreveport on Friday night.

I had a lot of fun during the event. It's always fun looking at the costumes and enjoying the company of friends. But one thing did bother me: I was virtually ignored by some of the zombie fans.

Joe McKinney and I had our own tables set parallel to each other. I fixed up my table with the usual skulls, etc and gave him a few things for his table, too. As the day wore on, I noticed something that started to bother me. Though I did have some really nice people come by my table to chat with me, ask about ebooks, and a few even bought a book or two, I was ignored by the majority of people who walked up to Joe McKinney's table. I watched as most of the male zombie fans utterly ignored me, not even looking at my books or at me. I began to feel like I was invisible and went out of my way to greet people.  I was ignored.

And then there were the comments:

"I read ADULT books."

"So is this book gonna to replace Twilight?" said in a mocking voice.

"I bet all your fans are teenagers."

"Just women like your books, huh?"

When I corrected this person and explained that my fans are diverse from housewives to active duty soldiers  I got this response:

"Oh, soldiers like your books? Really?"

I answered these questions/comments with a smile.  Even when one man went out of his way to mock me as a horror writer, making sure I knew that he doesn't believe in female horror writers, I just kept smiling. It slowly sank in that I was being disregarded due to my gender and my profession.

Though I had a good time overall, on the way home last night, the fact I was completely ignored by most of the people who made a beeline for the male zombie writer really started to sting. Add in the barbed comments and I was left wondering if I can find my success in my choice of genre. I was really shaken for a bit.

In the past I have had men and women tell me they were SHOCKED a woman could write a good zombie book and were surprised when they liked mine. I have been told by readers I shouldn't write horror but paranormal romance, YA, and urban fantasy, which is to me the equilvant of telling me to get into the kitchen and make a sammich. It's acceptable for women to write paranormal romance, YA, and urban fantasy, but not horror is what that comment says to me. But I've never been blatantly disregarded in real life.

Earlier today I felt both numb and angry over the experience. The stories in my head are horror stories, but today I realized I am blessed that I am able to crossover to mainstream readers. Yesterday left me shaken and wondering if I would find the support of horror fans for my writing.

After sharing my experience on Facebook today, I was overwhelmed by the positive response. Even people who were at the walk, but never made it to my table said very nice things. Other female writers in the genre shared their own concerns while readers of both genders and all ages assured me they don't judge a book by the gender of the writer.

Yet, I am now woefully aware of the fact that there are those who dismiss a female horror/zombie writer outright. I refuse to change my name to R. Frater on my books in hopes of someone mistaking me as a male writer. I will continue to write the stories that are born in my quite morbid imagination and present them under my real name. If my gender keeps certain readers away, then I guess they're not someone I want reading my books.

P.S.
My overall experience in Shreveport has always been very positive and I'm very grateful to all the kindness expressed in my direction. But yesterday there was definitely a segment of the population (a small one I'm sure) that revealed their bias.

24 comments:

  1. Great post, I admit I was one of those type that thought women writers of zombie horror were somehow less capable of creating successful stories than there male counterparts. I really have no idea how that way of thinking came to be, maybe it had to do with never really finding many women writers who actually could get the genre until recent years.

    In recent years my opinion on the issue has vastly changed but I definitely feel there is a stigma against women who like, write,watch movies about etc gore.

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    1. Sadly, I think we all pick up subtle biases without ever realizing it. It is very difficult for women to be taken seriously in horror and in thrillers. A lot of women use their initials and last name to avoid the stigma. Though people have said things to me in the past about a "woman writing zombies" this was the first time I saw people completely disregarding my work based on my gender in a face to face setting.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Your books are my favorite in the horror genre. I recently turned my father on to your zombie trilogy and he told me he read them all twice, in 5 days. I'd prefer a good book to a damn sammich any day.

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    1. My sammich making is wanting. I do the basic peanut butter and jelly. :) I'm much better at writing horror. I'm glad your dad enjoyed the trilogy. That's awesome!

      Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Agreed! Get the heck out of that kitchen and get to work, Lady! I've only just discovered your books, Rhiannon, and I've loved every second! I'd take a Frater book over a King any day!
    This stigma is terrible, I consider myself a YA author, but my first publication was for a Horror anthology, sixty authors and all of my favourite tales in that book are by women. We're no less capable of writing gore than men are of fixing their own damn sammich!

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    1. It seems that most people assume that female authors write romance (paranormal, contemporary, historical, etc), YA, or Urban Fantasy. The idea of us writing horror is just too shocking. Which is really odd because there have been some very big names in horror since Mary Shelley that were of the female persuasion. I feel like we lost ground somewhere along the way. Or maybe it's more about the sub-genre of zombie apocalyptic fiction.

      I'm not sure.

      As for gore...c'mon...we experience it once a month. We're well acquainted with pain, blood, and gore!

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  4. I think the comment that would have pissed me off the most was the one that compared your book to Twilight :(
    The thought that women can't write horror never really occurred to me, probably because I grew up on fantasy novels and there are a lot of female authors writing those. And when I say "fantasy", I mean swords, and dragon slaying, and giant freaking epic battles!
    And anyone who thinks women can't write horror have obviously never heard of Shirley Jackson or Mary Shelley. And that's just downright shameful >:(

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    1. Maybe it's more about the zombie apocalyptic fiction than it is about horror, but I'm not sure. I've just seen too many men (and women sadly) making comments about women writing in the genre to not feel the sting. It makes me mad for other female authors like Grant, Ryan, Meigs, Roux, etc...

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  5. Wow, your experience makes me sad and more than a little bit grumpy. I've never considered the gender of the author when I pick up a book. Yes, female authors of zombie books are nowhere near as prolific as male writers, but that doesn't make them less able to write a gory, scary horror novel.

    I almost did a post about author gender diversity in zombie/horror novels a few months ago but thought it might come across as a little sexist, so I binned it.

    But I love the fact that there are female horror writers - your books give a whole different perspective on the genre, but not from a 'girly' point of view.

    I've read Joe McKinney's Dead City, and yes, it is different from your As the World Dies series, but it's also different from Jonathan Maberry's or David Moody's zombie books.

    I definitely wasn't shocked when I found you are an author of zombie/horror novels - I was excited!

    Keep on doing what you are doing - you are a fantastic horror author and there always has to be someone that breaks that freaking glass ceiling ;-)

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Kat. Hopefully more people have your attitude about horror writers than what I recently experienced.

      Thanks again for your support and your comment.

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  6. This pisses me off. As a female horror reader I have received comments like: "Why can't you read Fifty Shades of Grey like a normal girl?" For the record, the two scariest books I've read this past year are Last Bastion of the Living and The Hollower by Mary SanGiovanni, who happens to be Brian Keene's girlfriend. These two books scared the pants off me.

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    1. Diana,

      I know exactly what you mean. I get the "why can't you write about nice romantic things" a lot. Well, actually, pretty much my whole life. As soon as I started churning out horror stories it seemed everyone around me had to lecture me about how I should write about nicer things.

      I'm so glad I have been one of two writers to really scare you!

      Rhiannon

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  7. I've read a forum discussion (I think at Mobileread) about the subject of male and female authors and who reads them. There are men who will not read women authors. Many openly state this. They just won't. However, women are more likely to be open to reading works by both men and women.

    When I first started publishing novels, I noticed that female writers tended to use initials to hide their gender, but that super bothered me, so I used my first name. If someone won't give me a chance because I'm a women, then the hell with him. There's 7 billion people on the Earth, and I can still hope to reach a market.

    Over the years, I've found that both men and women can find my novels appealing. Many of my best fans who write me are men, and I'm grateful for their enthusiasm. I tend to write very male-centric novels with male characters although my female characters are very important to me.

    On a slightly lighter note, I've more than once had the amusing situation in which a male reader in another country does not realize I'm a woman when he emails me and addresses me as Sir. I never correct the mistake. Despite the obvious patriarchal blunder, I see no reason to spoil his enjoyment of the fiction.

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    1. It's so sad that female writers have to hide behind their initials to attract certain male readers. I was called "sir" just once. I emailed him back and told him I was a woman. He freaked out, flabbergasted that I could write horror, but also added he was now a fan.

      Thanks for commenting.

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  8. Rhiannon - Your experience makes me sad. I loved your series (read it online and purchased the series on Amazon) and can't wait to read whatever else you publish. Don't let them get you down. Know that you have many, many fans out there.
    I feel bad for the silly folks that still judge a book by its cover or a writer by their gender - they are really missing out and it is their loss.

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    1. I do feel that people who judge female authors harshly by their gender are missing out on some great books. I have also noticed that a man can write a romance into his zombie novel and it's not commented on in reviews, but if a woman does suddenly the book is nothing more than a bodice ripper with zombies. *rolls eyes*

      Thanks for being a long term fan and commenting!

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  9. You are a true professional for holding it together. I am seething just reading this. Get the fock outta here with that bull honky! I wish I could have been there...

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    1. On another note, I'm truly surprised zombie fans haven't stumbled across your work yet. Are they living under a rock? :)

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    2. I wish you had been there, too. LOL. I'm way too nice for my own good. Or so I'm told.

      For some weird reason, ATWD crossed over into the UF/PNR fandom. And lots of zombie fans, I'm finding out, don't read the stuff from female writers. :( I'm not the only one to have noticed this.

      Rhiannon

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  10. Ok, first off, I rarely read horror and I have yet to read one of yours, despite several bloggers recommending it. But, a woman can't write horror? WTF? People still have such baseless, idiotic opinions in this day and age? So wrong. Gender is irrelevant to writing ability. Granted, I might be more hesitant to pick up a romance written by a man but the fact that it was written by a man doesn't automatically make it inferior; unusual, yes, but not inferior. Your stories are not inferior because you are a woman; whatever their quality, your gender is not responsible.

    I suppose this attitude goes along with that of women can't be sci fans or geeks. It amazes me that it exists yet it does. It's absurd and makes no sense.

    Along similar lines, Seanan McGuire had a reader who wanted to know when one of her female characters would be raped. Not IF. WHEN. Seanan said never and the reader accused her of being "unrealistic" and "lacking respect for her work". The assumptions that reader makes are scary and show, to me, a lack of respect for women. That lack of respect extends to women writing or appreciating genres that someone has arbitrarily decided is inappropriate. Screw them.

    Rhiannon, keep writing. Keep writing horror. If you enjoy it, if it's what calls to you, then don't stop.

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    1. Bea,

      I completely agree with several things you hit upon. Horror/Sci-Fi are seen as male dominated genres due to movies and gaming. A lot of time certain types of men do NOT want women playing in their playground.

      The rape trope is pretty big in genre. It's often used to bring a strong female character down, or as a cheap character development plot.

      I do hope you'll give one of my books a shot one of these days. :) And thank you for your encouragement.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Rhiannon

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  11. You rock my zombie & horror world. They obviously haven't read your work. I can think off all kinds of childish retorts, like "your penis isn't big enough to read my books". That's why you are the professional & we won't talk of my profession ;)

    Keep Writing & I'll Keep Reading.

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    1. "your penis isn't big enough to read my books" - ROTFLMAO

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    2. Though that is a GREAT comeback, I don't think it's the best way to deal with the situation. I think I'd end up in the "authors behaving badly" category REAL quick.

      But I will be saying it in my head from now on!

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Thanks for commenting!