Reading in the dark - 13 Days of Halloween: Day 7 Interview with Paula Guran, editor at Juno Books
13 Days of Halloween: Day 7 Interview with Paula Guran, editor at Juno Books|
Kes: Sorry about the previous lack of LJ cut, it's been added.
For Day 7 of the 13 days of Halloween, here is an
Interview with Paula Guran, editor at
and maintainer of the editorial blog
Launched a little less than a year ago, Juno Books "About" page describes its fiction as "a variety of fantasy featuring strong female characters in richly imagined contexts: fiction that takes the reader beyond the ordinary," and from one of its earliest releases,
_Jade Tiger_ by Jenn Reese
to the recently released
_Dancing With Werewolves_ by Carole Nelson Douglas
Juno Books is becoming a great source for cross-genre fantasy featuring all sorts of final girls.
1. When I first got on the Net back in the '90s, you were already online producing some of the best writing out there on genre. Two aspects I always admired about your commentary on horror in particular was you didn't spend a lot of time going over definitions of what horror is and you were always straightforward about your opinion that people needed to be more knowledgeable and realistic about what genre means in terms of the business of publishing.
PG: I think we may be dealing with two sides of me here: ex-horror maven
vs. current Juno Books editor. The two often disagree. And neither
one can handle complicated questions. So, if you don't mind, I am
going to sort of dissect your questions and answer bit-by-bit.
*It seems that a lot of these discussions of genre and sales come down to attempting to define a genre in terms of gender: horror has a male audience, dark fantasy and paranormal romance has a female audience,
PG: I'm not sure I entirely understand your premise. I don't think
discussions of horror as literature have much to do with gender.
Separately from that, if you are talking "formulaic horror novels"
or "books and stories that go for the gross-out", that kind of
horror is probably read by more males than females. Females are
seldom leading characters, are often victims, and there's not much of
the emotion of horror involved. But novels like Keith Donohue's The
Stolen Child, Natasha Mostert's Season of the Witch, Hilary Mantel's
Beyond Black, Peter Straub's lost boy lost girl or In the Night
Room, James Hynes's The Kings of Infinite Space, or The Night
Country by Stewart O'Nan are probably read equally by both sexes...or
perhaps a bit more by women since women tend to read more than men.
On the other end of the spectrum you have women outnumbering the men
as readers of vampire novels of all varieties, paranormals, and
female-protag urban fantasy.
As far as sales...Horror per se doesn't sell well. That's why the big
publishers ignore it as a genre. Leisure, which in the New York sense
is pretty small potatoes, is the only New York publisher with a
horror line. There's just not a lot of demand for horror.
What does sell well is horror and cross-genre dark fiction published
as "fiction" -- like all of the books I mentioned above. Of course,
I'd call those books horror, too. But does the reading public?
There is a vast divide in both sales and perception between Tess
Gerritson's THE MEPHISTO CLUB -- which is about Satan and demons and
a (quoting the book description) "terrifying journey to the very
heart of evil" and my friend Ed Lee's novel CITY INFERNAL -- which
about Hell and demons and " a ghastly metropolis fueled by pure
evil". Ms. Gerritson sells four or five times the number of books in
*hardcover* as Lee does in mass market paperback. Then in mass market
she'll sell another eight to ten times as many copies.
*but somehow "women's fiction" is [perceived to be] of a lesser
quality than that read by men.>>
PG: I don't think that perception exists anymore. Publishers do know that
more women buy more books than men, so they want to sell to women.
There is the idea that "romance", which is read primarily by women,
is of a lesser literary quality, And it is true. Not *all* romance,
of course, but a lot of it. Plus a sizable number of romance readers
want the same formula over and over; they don't want a higher
quality. Before someone gets ticked off about me saying those things,
let me point out that the same could be said of horror during its
brief boom in the 80s. Most of it, but not all, was poor quality and,
at the time, the public didn't seem to mind.
2. Can you say something about how Juno Books, with its emphasis on
> quality women writers and strong female protagonists, is flying in
> the face of these definitions of genre and female readers?
PG: We aren't flying in any faces that I know of. We want to attract
women to our books. Entertaining books with female protagonists
appeal to women. They also appeal to a lot of men and we want them to
buy our books, too. We want to sell books. There's no big statement
involved and we aren't redefining anything. At most, I have a theory
that the very popular paranormal / urban fantasy fiction is a genre
3. Horror, dark fantasy, revisionist fairy tales, paranormal romance: call it what you want, women's stories with dark themes have always existed, and yet they have always come under criticism by both male and feminist critics.
PG: I don't think those stories have really come under negative criticism
for a generation or more. Fairy tales have been interpreted in many
ways, but one theory I tend to agree with is that many were women's
tales to start with. They were warnings from the "old wives" to girls
that the world was a dark place indeed. When you go back to the
earliest versions, charming princes turn out to be less than
charming, stepmothers can be deadly, women -- despite riches and
beauty -- are not in control of their own lives,
*Do you see these contemporary stories about female heroes as following in the tradition of characters from Persephone to Bluebeard's wife, reflecting the very real dangers women face in their everyday lives?>>
PG: Bluebeard might fall into that cautionary tale tradition I mentioned.
Persephone, on the other hand, comes from Greek myth. Myths are
attempts to explain things. There are various versions of it, but we
usually think of the myth as "explaining" the seasons. Yes,
Persephone is abducted and raped (an ancient equivalent of marriage),
but, unlike MOST Greek myths, there is a strong woman, her mother
Demeter, who comes to the rescue. The outcome is not 100% successful,
but she still triumphs.
So, sure, you've always had women heros. Probably a great many real
heroines have been lost to us since men were writing history. But
you've also had the sort of heroism that most cultures don't
recognize as heroism. Going to war was a hazardous undertaking, so
Fantasy often acknowledges danger exists and that our world is a
rather dark place, and, usually through its characters, it might
address real-life issues. Fantasy and horror allow writers to dig a
little deeper, go beyond some borders and consequently readers follow
4. Regarding your continued attempts to clarify what you mean by strong female protagonist, it's clear from your blog posts on the Juno Books site and the guidelines for submissions which you have posted that a lot of male writers are still not getting it.
PG: Well, some women have missed the point now, too. So I've simply tried
to be very clear. You'd think people would know to read guidelines
carefully. Evidently they don't.
*Do you get the impression that mainstream images of what women want and what women are capable of have deadened the general capacity to understand what the phrase "strong woman" means?
PG: No, not really. I think our society doesn't yet have a real slot to
put women leaders and bosses and other strong women into. The entire
concept of women being equal to men is a very recent idea that didn't
radically affect our culture until about thirty years ago. One
generation. It is going to take several more generations for the
whole idea to work.
Sure, society has some bizarre images of women. Sometimes some of
those images are hard to overcome. Society as a whole is still sexist
and it is still racist.
*Basically, are genre stories in some ways oppositional to the mainstream Hollywood image of what a woman is and should be?
PG: Hollywood is la-la land. Considering how things are run it is a
miracle a single decent movie ever gets made. "Mainstream" Hollywood
isn't saying anything about anyone's image. They are trying to figure
what will make money. Inevitably, they don't know. The "next big
thing" is almost always either something from outside the mainstream
or something in it that had to fight to exist. Does Hollywood distort
social reality and reflect traditional patriarchal stereotypes? Sure.
But it distorts more than the image of women.
As for genre, there are a lot of genre stories that explore gender
and sexual roles. But what fiction doesn't? SF/F usually does it in
more interesting and entertaining ways, of course.
5. This discussion of genre is a little complicated and confusing. As critics and fans, we try to give some idea of what the themes and tropes of horror and dark fantasy are about, but the truth is that they not only cross genre, they cross media.
PG: Yeah, they always have. Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto was
dramatized several times. After Matthew Lewis published The Monk he
turned to the theatre and was at the forefront in using the "sfx" of
his day. Dracula was written by a man of the theatre and was first
performed as a play almost immediately after publication as a novel.
6. Do you see a lot of dark fantasy and paranormal romance referencing other media like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," horror movies and even comics?
PG: It is all fluid. I'd say the mother of all kickassitude paranormal is
Buffy. George A. Romero is the father of the modern zombie and
zombie literature that came after. The werewolf archetype as we think
of it now came from film. Stephen King was inspired by horror comics
and Neil Gaiman started there. I mean, you can go on and on...
7. Do you have a sense of who the average Juno Books reader is and what she is looking for in one of your books?
PG: Only of the ones I've come in contact with either online or at cons.
They seem to be avid readers of a variety of fiction.
8. Can you remember the first horror movie or book that made you want to see more stories like that?
PG: I read a lot of everything when I was young. I didn't read much horror per se, but I did read a lot of classic ghost stories and Poe.
9. Halloween: For? Against? Apathetic? Is there anything about Halloween that you particularly love or loathe?
PG: Used to love it. Now am apathetic. You can read
some of my past writing about it here
or see the DarkEcho Horror Index for more
--- I loved Halloween when I was a kid and when it was still a holiday that mostly weirdos like me got into as adults, it was fun. Now it has been taken over by mundane people who use it as an excuse to get drunk.
Current Location: library
Current Mood: aggravated
Tags: dark fantasy, horror-women in, horror-women writers, paranormal romance
OK, Kes - getting to the point where an occasional LJ-cut would be kind.
I made sure to put in a LJ-cut, I swear it, but I just went over and edited it again.