Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Monday, 24 February 2020

Women In Horror: Keris McDonald

I’m Keris McDonald, horror/fantasy writer. And I’m Janine Ashbless, writer of erotica — both
hardcore and romantic. In fact until recently all my social media presence was under the “Janine” name and I’ve only Come Out on Facebook in the last few weeks, after I got a gig writing for the Chaosium games company.

So I've been thinking about Erotica v. Horror. Two separate genres, though clearly there is a potential overlap, as there is between all forms of genre fiction. I actually started out my career writing horror, then switched to erotica for many years (thus, incidentally, working my way down the literary pecking order. Some big name horror writers do write the smutty stuff, or have done in the past. But they like to keep that a secret). Nowadays I seem to be veering back toward horror somewhat.
The two genres actually have a whole lot in common, I believe:
  1. People outside your genre assume you’re some dodgy weirdo who can’t separate their fiction from real life and probably shouldn’t be left alone with small children or pets. Yet when you meet fellow authors it turns out that pretty much everyone inside the genre is unassuming, shy and rather kind.
  2. The plot structure is often similar for both genres. They both work really well (best, many might say) as short stories. In both Horror and Erotica the ideal is to end at the dramatic (or literal) climax, with no cooling off period. In longer fiction the aim is to create an ascending ladder of excitement in the reader's mind, based on set-piece scenes interspersed with tension-ratcheting lulls.
  3. The author above all aims to evoke a visceral reaction - whether fear or arousal. The best horror or erotica stories bypass the rational brain and go straight to the body. They make the heart race (in both cases) and they make the skin crawl or the genitals swell. These are primaeval responses designed to cope with crisis real-life stimuli, and to be able to evoke these reactions by the written word alone takes a surprising amount of skill. You are wresting control from the reader - and that thrill is exactly what fans like.
  4. Because this is a stimulus-response reaction, even the most keen readers in both genres can become jaded. This may lead authors toward a dangerous trap of making the stimulus stronger (MORE BLOOD AND GUTS! / BIGGER ORGIES! HUGE STRAP-ONS!), but this is not a game the writer can win in the long run. Far better, in my opinion, to sneak up on the reader with something they hadn't anticipated, and reveal to them the depths of their vulnerability. If you can convince readers of the devastating allure of a hole in a woollen stocking (like in The Piano) or the terror inherent in a closed door (like in The Monkey's Paw), then you are doing it right as a writer.
  5. Both genres are inherently subversive. They aim to convince you to suspend your faith in the laws of society, in the normal tropes of interaction between people, and to accept - temporarily - that there might be other, often more powerful and dangerous, possibilities. They both say "What if the world didn't work the way people tell you it does?" Both genres draw their power from overturning social consensus and restrictions.
Keris McDonald’s short stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, All Hallows and Weird Tales magazines, and in the anthologies At Ease with the Dead, Shades of Darkness, Hauntings, Impossible Spaces, The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, Genius Loci, Dark Voices, Terror Tales of Yorkshire, The Scent of Tears, Legends vol. 3, and The Forgotten and the Fantastical Vol.5. Her story “The Coat Off His back” was picked up for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year #7. She is one-third of Lovecraftian collection The Private Life of Elder Things.
Keris lives in Yorkshire with her husband, dogs and library. She’s a keen table-top-roleplayer and LARPer and has just worked out she’s been playing Dungeons and Dragons for forty years now. Her mother has given up expecting better of her.

If you are interested in reading examples of Keris’ erotica that she’d class as horror too, try:
Lord Montague's Last Ride in Cruel Enchantment
Cold Hands, Warm Heart in Dark Enchantment
At Usher's Well in Fierce Enchantments