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When The Muses Came Calling

By, Vince A. Liaguno

Take four women who are equal parts smart, creative, funny, and sexy. Add a hint of color – blood red preferably – and a healthy dose of spine-tingling suspense and you’ve got MUSE, the new literary collective that includes novelists Deborah LeBlanc, Sarah Langan, Alexandra Sokoloff, and Sarah Pinborough. And when these four get together, it’s Sex in the City meets James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club.

The catalyst behind this electrifying new transatlantic partnership began when the women met at the Word Horror temppage.jpgConvention in 2007. Recognizing their shared ambition and strong business drive, these dames of the dark genres decided to join forces. In addition to joint book signing tours and convention appearances, the women of MUSE will serve as tutors at the upcoming Pen to Press writers retreat in New Orleans and expect to announce what promises to be an exciting and unique group book project in the near future. Their literary collaborative will even have its own official website that’s expected to launch any day now.

Dark Scribe Magazine recently sat down with this busy literary quartet to discuss the contributions of women to dark genre literature, avoiding genre constraints, and why their new collaboration is all about celebrating the genres that they love and finding that balance between the estrogenic and testosteronic forces in their lives and writing careers.

Dark Scribe Magazine: What do you think women writers bring to the dark genre table that’s unique to the field?

Sarah Langan: I like to think there isn’t a difference in the actual work. Except maybe less misogyny, more equal opportunity misanthropy.

Sokoloff.jpgAlexandra Sokoloff: I actually do think there’s a difference in the work – not the quality of the work, but the content. I believe women have different ghosts. Of course there’s a lot that’s universally scary for men and women, but I guarantee you a woman feels differently about a serial killer than a man does. And she’s going to tell a serial killer story differently. J-horror and Asian horror in general has become hugely popular in the US, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that other countries have different ghosts, so their perspectives are both fresh and illuminating – and scary – because we don’t know how a foreign ghost is going to act. Well, female monsters have some tricks up their sleeves, too.

Deborah LeBlanc: I think women have a tendency to bring more emotional depth to horror because the gender is used to verbalizing emotions. Although there are some remarkably talented male authors who include volumes of emotional depth in their work - Gary Braunbeck comes immediately to mind - I don’t think it’s the norm. Men are usually taught at an early age to suppress many of their feelings, like fear, and go beat up something instead. (laughs)

Sarah Pinborough: I’m with Sarah here. I don’t think there is a difference in the work at all.


Dark Scribe: Why then is an all-female collaborative like MUSE important in today’s market?

Sarah Langan: For me, it’s nice to have a support system from writers I trust and respect. We’re serious about the work, and about the business, too. I get inspired from these guys, and I think we push each other to work harder.

Alexandra Sokoloff: Ditto what Sarah said – there really is a muse effect going on here. In terms of the market, horror is still pretty male-dominated, although the best authors in the field are the ones I find most generous and supportive. But I’ve begun to suspect that horror might have languished as a print genre partly because the genre ignored the vast female audience out there. Women readers love the scary, dark, sexy stuff – just look at how huge paranormal is right now. What I’ve found in my very new career is those female readers are avid book buyers, too, and paranormal readers are very willing to try harder-edged books by women authors.

Deborah LeBlanc: I agree with Sarah in that it is nice to have a support system of women writers you respect and enjoy working with. What I look forward to most of all is the collaborative writings we plan to produce. There’s some pretty exciting stuff waiting in the wings…

Pinborough.jpgSarah Pinborough: I totally agree with what Alex says about the amount of female readers out there. I also think it’s important that women can be seen to write dark fiction other than the stereotypical paranormal romance or straight fantasy where their work is more commonly accepted. What made me want to join forces with the other three members of MUSE, though, had less to do with their gender and more to do with their attitude. We share the same drive and ambition and also all felt that we didn’t want to be constrained by one genre per se.

Dark Scribe: Which female writer (living or dead) contributed most to your own journey into dark genre literature?

Sarah Langan: Joyce Carole Oates and Kelly Link.

Alexandra Sokoloff: Oh, there are so many! From Mary Shelley and the Bronte sisters, to Shirley Jackson and Daphne Du Maurier and Anne Rice. And I have to say Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote such passionate thrillers about the eternal battle between good and evil.

LeBlanc.jpgDeborah LeBlanc: I have to be honest here and say that in dark literature, I can’t think of any particular woman writer who truly contributed to my journey. Of course I’ve read Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, and Joyce Carole Oates, and think all are phenomenal artists. However, the ones who truly moved me along this literary path and taught me were female authors like Jodi Picoult, who is a master - mistress? - at characterization, and Erma Bombeck, who added remarkable color and humor to everyday life.

Sarah Pinborough: If I had to pick one, I would say Daphne Du Maurier. I’m sure there are more but I love her writing and the way it sits between so many genres. Her short stories are fantastic, The Birds is obviously one of the most famous, and I’ve re-read them several times. The vibrancy of Jamaica Inn and the dark passion of Rebecca really evoke so many emotions in the reader. Even when I was a child I remember reading some of her stuff and thinking, damn this woman writes the way I would love to. And I think that’s because not only does it cross genres it almost crosses genders. I don’t think her voice is particularly feminine or masculine. I’m sure there are other women that have influenced me too, but she’s the main one.

Dark Scribe: How would you describe the prevailing attitude toward women in the dark genre fields?

Sarah Pinborough: I don’t think I’ve been treated unfairly or oddly in anyway just because I’m a woman. I flirt like breathing, but so do lots of men… I’m a kind of personal feminist – I don’t tend to look at things in terms of ‘attitude toward women’ – only ‘attitude towards this woman’. (laughs)

Deborah LeBlanc: Another ‘to be honest’ here - I really don’t pay attention to it. I’ve worked in male-dominated businesses all my life, and every one of them has been a challenge. The key to getting past all the chest-beating, for me anyway, has been to stay focused on the job. Work hard, don’t let your moral compass veer off true north, and always appreciate the talents of those who work with you.

Sarah Langan: I don’t know. The people I’m surrounded by who write dark fiction treat me the same way they treat men. I’ve heard some speculation that I’ve gotten my book deals and blurbs because I’ve flirted - or worse - for them, and yeah, it bugs me, but those same kinds of stinkers are in every field, from literary fiction to plumbing.

Alexandra Sokoloff: That really is annoying. I mean, anyone who reads three pages of Sarah knows she’s a brilliant writer – The Keeper simply blew me away.

I don’t know if I’ve been in publishing long enough to know what the prevailing attitudes are. I do know that when I started going to conventions this year as a first-time novelist, I was completely embraced by the mystery and thriller communities, and I found the horror community in general not so instantly warm and curious about a new author. But that could be so many things, and certainly individual authors and reviewers in the field have been just terrific.


Dark Scribe: What kinds of obstacles do women writers in the horror, suspense, and thriller genres face unique to gender?

Alexandra Sokoloff: I’d say there’s a creative danger of being steered by agents, publishers, and possibly readers toward “softer” stories because those books are perceived as selling better, and appealing toward a wider audience. But all of us write so dark that I can’t imagine that being genetically possible.

Langan.jpgSarah Langan: Well, I think some of them are in every field. Women tend to have less leisure time than men because of household responsibilities. MUSE helps me keep my priorities in order. I’m getting married in a few months, and most women would probably spend a lot of time planning their weddings, but I’ve got a book and two short novels due, and I’ve worked my whole life to have editors soliciting fiction from me. Now is a very bad time to slow down. MUSE helps me not feel bad about making writing a priority.

Deborah LeBlanc: I don’t really think we’re faced with greater obstacles in this genre because of our gender. The biggest obstacle in this business, in my opinion, is the same for writers of any genre and any gender - a shrinking pool of readers.

Sarah Pinborough: I’m with what both Alex and Sarah say. What I like about MUSE is that it keeps me focused, and when I’m tired after work and don’t feel like writing I just think, like Sarah said, how hard I’ve worked to get here. I think when women are driven they are sometimes more ruthless than men – And MUSE is made up of four very driven women!

Dark Scribe: Serious question time: Which of the Desperate Housewives would your fellow MUSE members say you’re most like – Susan, Bree, Gabby, Lynette, or Edie?

Sarah Langan: I’ve honestly never seen this show, and hope I’m like none of them. But if I got to ask God one question, it would be, “Broccoflower? Seriously?”

Deborah LeBlanc: Same here. I’ve never done ‘housewife’ well, and I’ve never seen Desperate Housewives. Had you asked about the women in Sex in the City, though . . . (winks)

Alexandra Sokoloff: Well, the four of us all chose “author” over “housewife”, which makes us desperate in completely different ways! But I’d say I’m a combination of Edie and Susan. Voracious, but you know, moral about it.

Sarah Pinborough: Yes, I love that the four of us are almost the opposite of desperate housewives! I saw…I think two episodes a long time ago so I’m fishing through memories here…probably Edie – but without the enhanced breasts! (laughs)


For more on the MUSE collaborative, check out their forthcoming official website.

Posted on Monday, October 22, 2007 at 10:02AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

Thank's Vince. I'll be looking out for this new website. Sounds interesting!!!

C. Day

November 1, 2007 | Registered CommenterCharles Day
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