by Joey Phoenix
February is Womxn* in Horror Month and FunDead Publications is hosting their annual event, Write Like a Girl III this coming weekend on the evening of February 22nd at 7:30 pm at The Witch House in downtown Salem.
This year’s authors include Cat Skully, Nancy Brewa-Clark, Morgan Sylvia, Lauren Devora, and RC Mulhare. The intros and outros will be presented by Amber Newberry and Laurie Moran, the co-owners and creative team behind Salem-based FunDead Publications.
Additionally, March is also National Womxn’s Month and FunDead Publications isn’t the only group highlighting the contributions of great local womxn writers in 2020. Author Elizabeth Ellor of The Write Space and the leaders of the International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) have also done their part to feature the work of an entire group of humans who, for hundreds of years, had their talents mostly ignored.**
Write Like a Girl with FunDead Publications
What used to be used as a derogatory phrase that signified that those who identified as womxn were weaker, more emotional, less capable – to do anything “like a girl” now is to do it with strength, with skill, and probably a whole lot of sass.
“My counterpart at FunDead, Laurie Moran, came up with the event title,” said Amber Newbury, locally acclaimed author, co-owner of FunDead Publications, and owner of the alternative clothing store Die with Your Boots On. “I immediately loved it for the play on the phrase ‘Fight like a girl,’ which began as a misogynist insult, but has been reclaimed and evolved into a positive thing, because girls fight like hell and always have.”
She adds that for her the phrase “Write Like a Girl” conjures images of badass womxn like the Brontë Sisters, Shirley Jackson, and Mary Shelley carrying brass knuckles and quill pens and snapping their fingers down an alley.
FunDead Publications has made their local mark by publishing work that’s dark, creepy, and a little bit gory. Their most recent anthology of short stories, Exquisite Aberrations, focused on long-form gothic horror with protagonists not often seen in horror genres. All of their anthologies (you can see a full list here) feature a diverse mix of authors, ranging from more established writers to emerging voices. In FunDead’s opinion, it doesn’t matter who wrote it as long as it’s written well.
“FunDead began as an opportunity to give new and emerging writers of darker stylings the opportunity to dip their toes in the water of publishing, so-to-speak,” Amber said.
Having grown up in cities in the south and the Midwest where “ladylike behavior” was championed by those around her, Amber Newbury came up against a lot of friction when she told people about her interests in the horror genre.
“The idea that women are somehow softer and less interested in horror is a dangerous opinion,” Amber said. “As a young woman, I often encountered shock at my interest and love for the genre. Presumably, I wouldn’t be able to stomach it because of my gender or because it was unladylike to enjoy the genre.”
Not only did she roll her eyes at the notion, but she co-created a publishing company and, with Die with Your Boots On, an entire brand that not just tolerates but actively celebrates the contribution of womxn with wildly elegant and macabre tastes.
“Horror is sometimes considered a bastard genre, where literary writing is overlooked and sometimes even plucked outright from the genre to be marketed as literary fiction or psychological thrillers simply to avoid associating it with horror,” she explained.
“It’s important to normalize women authors who enjoy writing the macabre,” she added, especially in a world where “Women writers still often feel that they have to write under pseudonyms or initials to avoid being overlooked simply because of their gender-specific given names.”
Building a Community of Writers with Author Elizabeth Ellor of the Write Space
Elizabeth Ellor (follow her on Twitter @eellorwrites) is an author of several picture books and YA novels, a former playwright, and a regular contributor to Creative North Shore with her ongoing series The Write Space, an idea originally created by writer Susanna Baird but brought fully to life by Ellor.
“The idea that [Baird] had that I really latched onto was that we are so lucky to live in an area where we have so many talented writers,” Elizabeth said. “We wanted to be able to feature some of that talent and feature some of the writers that we have right here.”
The goal for this was connection. As a writer herself, Elizabeth is closely acquainted with what it means to buckle down to write without the support of a community. So the Write Space was created as a way to better connect the dots, and help create an environment where writers not only know each other exist but also want to help each other write more effectively.
“It can be such an isolating process, it’s nice to know who’s out there, who’s a resource that’s right here in your backyard,” Elizabeth said.
“In all the parts of the creative process – from coming up with ideas all the way through selling those ideas, the people that you have around you can really make it easier, more fun, and more successful.”
One of the things that authors like Amber Newberry of FunDead Publications and Elizabeth Ellor know really well is that writing genres have historically tended to be separated along gender lines. There are a few genres that remain predominantly womxn-dominated (e.g. picture books and romance***), but historical fiction, suspense, sci-fi, and fantasy are mostly written by men, although admittedly the gap is getting smaller with time.
“Women can bring a completely different angle to those genres and shake it up and come up with a different spin on things because they look at things in a different way, and that can only make those genres better by adding a new take on things,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth Ellor is an advocate not only for womxn writers to do what they do well, but she also spends her time encouraging writers, publishers, and literary organizations to work together and collaborate on projects. For Elizabeth, a difficulty that is apparent on the North Shore is that while writers do a great job of connecting and working together, the bigger organizations don’t communicate or work together as well.
For example, In 2019, Elizabeth remembers two large literary festivals happening on the North Shore on the same weekend. If they had worked together, it could’ve been more successful for both, as opposed to competing for the public’s attention.
“We have great events at independent bookstores and libraries and we have a lot of different places where you can go to author events,” she said. “But we don’t work very well as a whole community of the North Shore.
“Just connecting those resources together is something I hope we can continue to improve on, which is something Creative Collective and Creative North Shore do well, but other organizations can also start doing it too.”
Learning and Growing Together with the International Women’s Writing Guild
The International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) was formed in 1976 in New York City with an initial focus on female memoirists and poets, and although the Guild has expanded to include a diverse number of genres, it still retains these two themes at its core.
The IWWG hosts multiple events and workshops around the country each year, but in 2020, their signature event – The IWWG Summer Writers Conference 2020: Your Vision, Your Voice – will be at Endicott College in Beverly from July 24-30.
IWWG Executive Director and local author Michelle Miller started working with the Guild in 2019 to help connect the group to North Shore and Boston literary and creative organizations.
One of the things the IWWG has always and continues to do well is providing opportunities for writers of many skill levels and experiences. “We really support women writers at every stage of their career,” Michelle said. “Whether they’re just starting out or they’re in the middle of a new project or they’ve published several books, we have members of all backgrounds.”
The IWWG emerged out of a need for self-identifying womxn to be part of a community of writers in a safe, nurturing space that would help them not just be able to find their voices but to use them.
“So many of our members say that it is the community of women and supporters that have helped them shape their work, whether it’s through workshops on craft or smaller writing circles or the support of women,” Michelle explained.
With more than 500 members worldwide, the guild creates possibilities for all kinds of professional and personal relationships to exist.
“Whether a writer is just starting out, in the middle of a project, or has published many books, they can form mentor/mentee relationships, friendships – that build and can help women navigate that path to publication if that’s what they aspire to, whether that’s completing a project or having their voice heard for the very first time,” Michelle added.
Michelle believes that writers, especially womxn writers, shouldn’t have to work alone, and the Guild exists to make that personal writing journey just a bit easier.
“I’m one of those women that have written quietly and silently my entire life and so one of the things that appealed to me coming into the Guild as their new executive director was that opportunity to network and communicate with other women who were also writers.”
In July of this year, members of the Guild and female-identifying writers of all backgrounds and experience levels will come together in Beverly for a week of workshops and teaching from a variety of instructors. The event also kicks off with a showcase reading from Little Rock Nine writer Elizabeth Eckford, author of The Worst First Day.
Guests will be able to choose from more than 25 workshops each day on subjects ranging from business and marketing, poetry intensives, writing as performance, creative nonfiction, and many more themes and genres. There will also be nightly open mic readings and a book fair from local independent booksellers.
Essentially, if you are a writer, there’s a track at this conference that will fit you well.
“For example, if someone really wants to dive deeper into fiction – we have a fiction intensive. We also have a memoir intensive and a poetry intensive,” Michelle explained. “We have critique sessions. We also have agents coming for the weekend and attendees can make a breakfast appointment with an agent.”
The full schedule of events happening during the conference will be released soon.
The Guild has also released a discount code for North Shore residents – NS2020 – and interested participants should email Michelle Miller (email@example.com) for more information.
Editor’s Note: Making Space for All Writers
The North Shore is privileged to have a growing community of womxn writers who are not just creating space for themselves but for others who have not yet been given the opportunity to have their voices heard. The more writers come together to discuss, build, and collaborate, the better chance the North Shore has to foster an environment that’s supportive and dynamic.
What used to be a male-dominated industry is now, locally at least, beginning to swing in the other direction.
Fortunately, although there’s still a long way to go, the times have changed, and the new Renaissance in the literary world is not just guaranteeing space for womxn writing in all genres, but it’s also (finally) starting to make room for other marginalized groups.
But until we live in a world where queer, trans people of color are able to have their voices heard at the same volume as established, elderly white male authors, we still have some serious ground to cover, and it shouldn’t be up to the marginalized minorities to figure that out.
“I think it’s an undue burden for the writer of color that’s just trying to get people to care about their book as much as other people’s books, to then also be the one to have the answers,” said Black Novelist Angela Flournoy in a 2016 article for Buzzfeed. Four years later, her words still ring true.
* The Author chooses to use inclusive language to broaden the meaning of womanhood to include those who are female-identifying or share in the feminine experience (e.g. trans and nonbinary individuals who no longer identify as female but have shared histories with the gender).
** This Pudding Article from 2017 has some lovely graphics breakdowns of the progress made in the literary world.
*** The Romantic/Erotic genre is the highest-grossing genre annually, raking in about $1.44 billion in book sales.
Joey Phoenix is a non-binary manic scribbler and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. They love to get into discussions about gender and how organizations can use more inclusive language to make space for marginalized artists, writers, and makers. If you want to start a conversation, send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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