I was twenty-five years old and had just landed a job as a receptionist at an electrical supply company when I experienced my first life-changing piece of fiction written by a woman. I had only ever worked retail jobs up until then, so the natural anxiety that was my constant companion was magnified as I walked into the warehouse-like office in which the men held the positions of power and the three women who worked there, myself included, were the admins. The men made a job that could have been fun and challenging, very difficult. I took what I now know was abuse in stride because this was my lot in life as a woman. I knew I could win these men over by dumbing myself down, smiling a lot and allowing them to believe they were teaching me valuable lessons. I knew the drill. I had lived 25 years as a female, after all. In my first few months there, I came across the horrific short story, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and my thoughts about my place in the world started shifting and my life took a far different path than it might have. This is the power of a female voice in fiction.
More than just an entertaining piece of work, MONSTER, SHE WROTE: THE WOMEN WHO PIONEERED HORROR & SPECULATIVE FICTION by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson, is an important book because it amplifies the voices of women who gave horror and speculative fiction a point of view that I can really relate to. What horrifies an individual is highly personal, but I believe that it starts with the fear of the unknown. Who better to take that fear and turn it into a story than women whose lives are spent fearing and desiring more than what she is taught can be achieved; women who push the boundaries life has laid out for them to not only experience the unknown but to own it? This is especially true of the earlier chapters of the book that feature women from as early as the seventeenth century.
MONSTER, SHE WROTE: THE WOMEN WHO PIONEERED HORROR & SPECULATIVE FICTION, published by Quirk Books in 2019 is gorgeously designed with illustrations by Natalya Balnova and ingeniously laid out. It is separated into eight parts, including The Founding Mothers, Haunting Tales, Cult of the Occult, The Women Who Wrote the Pulps, Haunting the Home, Paperback Horror and The Future of Horror and Speculative Fiction. Each part features a group of authors and includes a short biography of said author, which is followed by a reading list which highlights the suggested works by the aforementioned author, similar works by other authors and related fiction and non-fiction relating to the author or her works. The layout of this book was like a drug for a bibliophile like myself and I found myself not just devouring all of the information in this book, but also highlighting and compiling a list of books and stories I need to read as soon as humanely possible. The book closes with a glossary of horror subgenres and what they mean, notes pertaining to the information contained in the book, suggested reading (more candy for me!) and two indexes, one of book titles mentioned and one separated by subject.
It was a complete joy reading about the women who helped create the genre I and so many others love so dearly. Women brought such unique points of view to the world of horror and speculative fiction and it is so brilliantly illustrated here by authors Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. I am in no way surprised that MONSTER, SHE WROTE: THE WOMEN WHO PIONEERED HORROR & SPECULATIVE FICTION was the 2019 winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction. Neither was I surprised to learn that Valancourt Books plans on publishing a series of books featuring the authors mentioned in MONSTER, SHE WROTE: THE WOMEN WHO PIONEERED HORROR & SPECULATIVE FICTION, similar to the series of previously out of print books they’ve published that were mentioned in Grady Hendrix’s, Paperbacks From Hell (Quirk Books, 2017). I, for one, cannot wait to collect this series! Grab your copy of MONSTER, SHE WROTE: THE WOMEN WHO PIONEERED HORROR & SPECULATIVE FICTION and equip yourself with a highlighter while reading. This book will be the first step in an incredible journey into the unique, weird, horrific, often peculiar and always interesting imaginations of some highly remarkable women. Happy reading!