My family is very supportive of my writing. They share it with everyone, which is pretty awesome even when a little embarrassing, because my dad’s dentist will ask how the writing career is coming along. So, while explaining that it was coming along nicely, my dad got to talking about Flies in the Ink with the dental assistant. He tried to describe it for her, and of course came to the point where there’s a room wall-papered in human skin. She said “That’s horrible!” and my dad tried to tell her “No, but, it isn’t done like, in a bad way…”
It was about as successful as when I tried to say “Well at least the Kennedy assassination wasn’t one of the really depressing ones…” in my mind thinking of how terribly drawn out poor Garfield’s death was in comparison with the quick death that Kennedy experienced, but coming off like an utter psychopath to the man buying the Bill O’Reilly book. Some things just can’t be said. There are no good rooms wall-papered in human skin.
I understand what he was trying to say. I write horror, but it doesn’t feel like horror. I don’t ever want to upset anyone. I just really can’t help it. I start to write about sisters and one of them ends up with spiders crawling out of her eyes. No, but, not like in a bad spiders-crawling-from-eyes way.
I always loved the Addams Family because they were never treated as scary monsters, and despite the ookie theme song they were the heroes of their story; everyone outside their gloriously crumbly mansion was a weirdo. I wanted to grow up to be Morticia Addams. (Who am I kidding? I still want that. Right now I’m resting solidly on “Wednesday dropped out of college and did something disgraceful to divorce herself from that sweet Addams fortune, but she met a guy so it all works out, really.”)
I arrive at horror in a round about manner, arriving there with a bit of creepy humor, and a good deal of time spent on the nature of magic… It can be terrible when I’m trying to find suitable markets for my writing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, scratch that, I couldn’t have it: I’m too squeamish to go full gore. And I have long held out on trying to place myself in a genre (and that includes the ‘lit’ genre, by the by), even though I’ve always sort of known I fit better there than anywhere else. I’m done with that. I’m throwing my lot in, and saying I write horror. It isn’t any more frightening or damning in the publishing world to give oneself a genre than it is to give oneself a gender.
Which is to say, yes I’m very frightened of being pigeonholed. I still get cold sweats when I write my byline as Megan rather than M. L.* because I know certain things are expected of women writers and I have to develop some very sharp elbows if I’m to escape those expectations. Same with claiming a genre. But a name can be a flag just as well as it can be a mask. If I wear Megan proudly, and fight for her with all my strongest prose, perhaps she can one day symbolize all that I want to be. Funny, strong, horrible, but not like, in a bad way.
I want to write horror on my own terms. And I want to write it as a woman. Cross my heart and pray to Saint Shirley Jackson I haven’t made a terrible mistake.
*m. l. is the byline for this blog because the lowercase letters are relaxing, and help to encourage the informal tone I try to use here.