Women in Horror: Sumiko Saulson: How to Turn Your Daughter Into a Horror Writer

Today’s guest blogger is the incredible Sumiko Saulson. After taking a look at her site, I’m really excited to read her work. Quite honestly, I think she’s onto something here. In my family we have the story of how my mother was sat on by a clown while she was pregnant with me, and for some reason my father let me hang out when he watched IT when I was still pretty young. While I was a horribly sensitive kid that freaked out a lot about scary movies, I was also drawn to them – I can’t remember the amount of times my mom would drag me away from reading the back of VHS boxes in stores – always horror titles. And my locker was the central hiding place/unofficial library for those in my Jr. High who weren’t allowed to read R.L. Stine, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and other such titles. Plus there was my Poe fixation for a while…yeah, see for yourself, but I think Sumiko is definitely onto something.


How To Turn Your Daughter Into A Horror Writer

I don’t think my parents did it intentionally… although, when I look back on it, I ask myself, “how could it have turned out otherwise?” It was almost as if every twist and turn of destiny was heading me in one undeniable destination. It was my fate to grow up to write some truly disturbing and twisted stuff.

It all started out before I was even born, really. First, there was the concert. True, my mother couldn’t even make it into the stadium – the band was playing at decibel levels usually reserved for landing jet planes, and my mom although eight months pregnant, was not beyond the horrors of morning sickness. She got out of the car for just a moment before the booming sound of Deep Purple rocking the womb I was living in caused her to become nauseous. She spent the remainder of the concert in the parking lot. I can neither confirm nor deny that any Exorcist style projectile vomiting was involved.

Next, there was the movie. My dad decided to take my mom to see Rosemary’s Baby while she was pregnant with me. Oddly, she was not amused.

After that, I was born… and life went on without frightening incident for a time – or perhaps, I was just too young to register what exactly my parents were watching at the drive in movie. It was a different time – a time when the motion picture association’s ratings were a lot less strict, so that all of the fine movies I remember from when I was six: “It’s Alive”, and “Jaws”, and others later on, “Food of the Gods” for example, were actually rated PG. Fun times.

The first Rated R movie I saw was “The Exorcist” – I could see the “subliminal message” and started to point it out and chatter away to my father about it. I’m not saying that was a sign, or anything. Subsequently, we saw “The Fury,” “Carrie”, and “Scanners.”

As if this wasn’t enough exposure to horror – I was an advanced reader, who was reading at an eight-grade level in the fourth grade. Perhaps this is why when I was eleven years old and my mother left a copy of Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” I picked it up and started reading it. The next year, I read Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and “Dune Messiah”. I did stop and read some more age appropriate literature – C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” and Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” in between reading Edgar Allen Poe at the Library.

Not that I’m suggesting that you do any of these things.

After all, you wouldn’t want to accidentally turn your child into a horror writer.


Sumiko Blog Photo

Sumiko Saulson’s blog “Things That Go Bump In My Head” focuses on horror fiction writing and features author interviews, writing advice, short stories and editorial pieces. She is the author of three novels in the science fiction, horror and dark fantasy genres, “Solitude,” “Warmth”, and “The Moon Cried Blood”. She is also the author of a short story anthology by the same name as her blog. A published poet and writer of short stories and editorials, she was once profiled in a San Francisco Chronicle article about up-and-coming poets in the beatnik tradition. The child of African American and Russian-Jewish American parents, she is a native Californian, and was born and spent her early childhood in Los Angeles, moving to Hawaii, where she spent her teen years, at the age of 12. She has spent most of her adult life living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

10 thoughts on “Women in Horror: Sumiko Saulson: How to Turn Your Daughter Into a Horror Writer

  1. Thank you so much for having me on your blog! I love your intro. I also think it’s great that you have a Women in Horror blog this month.. it is really important to draw awareness to the fact that women can – and do – write horror. We all really owe a debt of gratitude to Mary Shelley for stepping out of gender normative roles to write the sci-fi/horror novel “Frankenstein”… but 180 years later women in the genre remain a relative rarity.

    1. Not a problem – I absolutely loved your post! I think it’s important to draw attention to women in horror this month – I talked a little bit about the issue near Halloween and had a few people on twitter tell me that I was essentially making a mountain out of a molehill. My challenge is always for people to tell me the first horror author that comes into their head, and it’s usually male. When I challenge them to list a female horror author that isn’t Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite, they’re usually pretty stumped. And totally agree- we all owe a lot to Mary Shelley. It’s a shame any progress still feels like baby steps.

      1. Spot on about the male dominated horror author lists. Most Top 25 or Top 50 or lists really only have two women – which are Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite. We are getting a lot more women writing horror these days, especially with the popularity of the eBook and greater access to non-traditional methods of publishing, but I notice most are of the female authors with traditional publishers who write in the genre are being categorized as science-fiction or speculative fiction writers. That has to do with gender roles imho – no matter how dark the content is, there seems to be a reluctance to categorize female writers as horror writers. In fact I’ve noticed there’s some trying to recast Mary Shelley as a strictly science-fiction author on the interwebs these days, and that is telling. I don’t even want to get into the paranormal romance/urban fiction categorization being applied to some women’s horror.

      2. Definitely agree with you about the categorization issue. I happened to be looking at a list of panels a friend is on at a con this weekend and one of them is specifically about the Mary Shelley debate – I had never heard that until you mentioned it and I saw it there. That’s just ridiculous…no one would campaign to make Bram Stoker an urban fantasy author, so how is it that she’s suddenly just science fiction? I just don’t get it what the big deal is with having a woman’s name on a horror novel. You’d think the shock of it would up the marketability or something. These are the things that just make me want to growl at people, lol.

      3. That brings up many issues on the vagaries of genre niche marketing overall – many books fall into multiple genre categories. Movie takes on Frankenstein are almost universally categorized as horror so I’m not sure who they think they’re fooling. The book does qualify as science-fiction due to the themes of reanimation of the flesh.. Other horror novels like Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, which beat Anne Rice’ s “Interview” and other competition to win the Bram Stoker “Vampire Novel of the Century” award last year. Like many modern zombie tomes, Matheson’s “vampires” had an origin story based in a viral outbreak. There was nothing supernatural about them. Any time a science device is used, you can consider the story as science-fiction, but the darker tone of the story’s narratives makes them horror. I think the attempts to associate women in horror with science-fiction comes from an idea that sci-fi is somehow “classier”.

  2. I remember catching part of a promotional “documentary” for THE AMITYVILLE HORROR when I was around five or six (Mom had it on TV) and freaking out over the doll rocking in the chair with the glowing eyes. I couldn’t stand to look at any of my dolls in the dark for quite some time–and yet my fascination with horror only grew.

    It’s interesting how your experience seems very similar. I suppose early exposure does create budding horror writers. 😉

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