Tananarive Due

Wicked Wednesday: Women in horror, book edition

It’s the final Wednesday in February, making it the last week of Women in Horror Month. Now, typically I like to highlight women behind the camera. But this year I tried to read as many horror novels by women as possible. Granted that was the uninspiring number of “five” – but we take what we can get in these days of rona.

Each book was stunningly different from the next. Was every book a favourite? No. Though I do think each of these titles has the ability to be someone’s favourite – the writing (and translation in one case) is impeccable in every single one of these.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Moreno-Garcia’s book has been much talked about over the last year. It’s been named as a finalist for the Gram Stoker Awards’ Superior Achievement in a Novel. It won best horror novel at the Goodreads book awards. There’s even a mini-series in the works. There’s a lot of hype behind this one. More than any other that I read this month.

In short, this gothic novel follows socialite Noemí Taboada as she goes to the creepy High Place, where her cousin is living. Something is causing her cousin to behave strangely, and it isn’t long until Noemí begins to see visions herself.

After finishing Mexican Gothic, I had to finally admit to myself that I’m just not a fan of the genre in novel form. I found it slow and didn’t like the ‘twist’. But this book accomplishes everything it sets out to do – it just wasn’t to my tastes.

Moreno-Garcia has great prose – she’s sure to be a hit with anyone who loved Rebecca but thought the plot needed the creep factor of Shirley Jackson injected in the veins.

Ghost Summer: Storieby Tananarive Due

I have been meaning to read Due’s work for a few years now. But the time was finally right when an audiobook of Ghost Summer was finally released in the UK.

This collection of short stories and novellas immediately sucked me in. There are monstrous women, zombies, ghosts and pandemics. Each story is brought to life with vivid characters that I’m still thinking about.

My favourites were in the first section, Gracetown, which consists of three stories (including the titular “Ghost Summer”). Hot days and creeping goings-on are my absolute favourites.

Due is already an icon in the genre, but I feel as though she is increasingly getting the credit she is due (sorry). If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, please pick up one of her stories. I’m desperate to get to the next.

Black Ambrosia by Elizabeth Engstrom

This is a vampire novel of a very different sort.

Angelina is a killer. But she isn’t like other vampires. Angelina kills out of love. She travels the country, weaving herself in and out of various communities, both respectable and not. That is until she begins to spiral further and further into her darkness.

I loved Engstrom’s When Darkness Loves Us and was curious to try more of her work. This novel had much of what I loved about the first collection I read: quiet, twisted women at the forefront. Angelina is an absolutely magnetic protagonist. Yes, she does some horrific deeds, but I really felt like I needed to know more about her.

It’s sad, completely grey and absolutely one of the best vampire novels I’ve read.

Monster She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

I had to squeeze at least one nonfiction in this month. I adore reading nonfiction, and I particularly love nonfiction about books.

Monster She Wrote takes readers back to the inception of the horror genre itself. Some may be surprised that it even predates Mary Shelley’s monster creation. And throughout history, women writers have been at the helm of making the genre vibrant and diverse.

The book goes through different eras section-by-section from the gothic novel all the way to the paperback boom of the 80s, followed by a look into the future. It’s an incredibly quick and easy read. Things did begin to fall apart a bit at the very end where the writing became rather list-like. But I learned about some incredible authors. Now just to getting around to reading their work…

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell

Things We Lost in the Fire was one of the first translated books I have read in a long while. Really good translations are an art, and I think McDowell did wonderful things with Enríquez’s work.

Enríquez is a novel and journalist from Argentina. And while I’ve never been to the country, Enríquez’s writing brings the communities to life. Each of her short stories is about the underbelly of Argentinian society: drug addicts, nasty men, poverty, devious girls, black magic, and children in vulnerable home situations. It’s all harrowing and made even more twisted with touches of magical realism and monsters.

The stories in this collection are often deeply unsettling. And I loved them.

Wicked Wednesday: Danger Word (2013)

Danger Word” is a short film based on horror authors Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due’s novel “Devil’s Wake”. A short story version appears in a collection of Due’s work Ghost Summer: Stories, but more on that next week.

I became a fan of Due’s when I first watched the Shudder documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. It took me forever to get around to reading one of her books, but I was absolutely chuffed when I learnt that she and her partner were involved with other screenwriting ventures.

The short, directed by Luchina Fisher, follows 13-year-old Kendra (Saoirse Scott) and her Grandpa Joe (Frankie Faison) as they traverse the rugged landscapes of a zombie apocalypse.

Grandpa Joe tries his best to toughen up the young Kendra, whose innocence was taken from her early due to things outside of their control. She had become particularly hardened after seeing the transformation of her mother into the undead.

After shooting practice, Grandpa Joe and Kendra go to see Mike and his sons, who they are hoping to trade with. But it doesn’t take long until both notice that something isn’t quite right. Unfortunately, they are both too late and Grandpa Joe is bit by Mike. He tells Kendra to go north to Albany where she can get help.

Kendra eventually has to kill her grandfather, but leave him with dignity – and leaving the viewer knowing that everything he taught her will not go to waste.

It’s pretty impressive that within 20 minutes, you can establish such a strong relationship between two characters. The ending had me in tears and desperate to know what happened next to young Kendra. It’s a harrowing story of a little girl forced to grow up much faster than she should have to. But that reflects the reality of many children, with or without the apocalypse.

Some of the editing here is a bit confusing. I had to rewatch a bit when I couldn’t understand why Kendra had returned to the farm to kill her grandpa. At first, I thought I had missed a scene, but I think it was the girl reassessing leaving her grandfather to become a zombie. It was subtle, almost a little too subtle.

This short is quite a bit older than the rest of the films I’ve watched this year for Women in Horror Month, and I think you can tell. The cinematography isn’t the greatest. But that being said, it still managed to tell a powerful story in the framework of a traditional zombie tale.

You can watch “Danger World” on the director’s YouTube page. It’s a beautiful and creepy story full of wonderful Black talent.