Horror is a very problematic genre when it comes to accurate portrayals of neurodivergence and disability. Though it tends to give neurodivergent and disabled people more spotlight time than many other genres, the representation is often terrifying.
Here are some ways horror is actually terrible:
1. Serial Killers are a popular subgenre in horror novels and movies. And, we all know who the killers turn out to be 85% of the time… people with Schizophrenia, Autism, PTSD, and Dissociative Identity Disorder. You can never have a killer who is just a bad person. No. They have to have some type of neuordivergence which makes them “apathetic machines”, or unable to discern hallucination from reality. Because “normal” people don’t hurt others without reason, right?
2. Supernatural horror novels, especially those having a possession or haunting plot, run the risk of a surprise twist. The twist? The protagonist is actually hallucinating the whole thing! Yes, the “twist” becomes the neurodivergence. Because the lives of neurodivergent people are fodder for the neurotypical audience.
3. The victim is to be pitied and rooted for extra-hard because he/they/she is Blind or Deaf. It isn’t enough to make a creature/demon/situation nearly insurmountable; the author is using the absence of one sense to being a new terror to readers. Because everyone is even MORE helpless if they can’t hear or see. That’s why no one who has lost one sense ever manages to live alone or do things everyone else does. (Sarcasm)
4. A group of people investigate an asylum because mentally ill and/or disabled people are frightening, moreso than old buildings. We’re vile, so vile our spirits haunt the last place we lived just to torment people who weren’t given our disadvantages. Oh, come the fuck on!
5. The person in the wheelchair (or with a limp) has been an agent of Satan in more than one book I’ve read. Possibly, the author is trying to get readers to think the villain couldn’t possibly be that sweet, little cripple in the corner. Or, perhaps, writers still buy into the stereotype of dark souls manifesting “incomplete or twisted” bodies.
6. An amputee, person with heavy scarring, someone with severe edema, etc. used for “ick” factor. Even though this is a tactic used more often in film, it still makes an occasional appearance in books. It isn’t enough to add extreme blood and gore, now body variation becomes endurance for the squeamish. Poor babies.
I’ve probably missed more than a few examples, but these are what spring to mind when I think about horror novels.
Oddly, I can’t think of too many examples of disability and neuordivergence done right in scary books, which is a shame.
What tropes about disability and neurodivergence in horror do you wish would never be written again?
Friday, August 25, 2017
Friday, August 18, 2017
I will still (at times) "edit for" trolls, especially when they're trying to sound intellectually superior to someone else. Truly smart people don't flaunt their intelligence to make others feel inferior (and most people who try such a thing tend to have atrocious spelling).
However, I won't give unsolicited editing to acquaintances. It's a crappy thing to do to someone who is just sharing random thoughts with the world. I even considered my behavior trolling, once I looked at it closely. A person on Facebook might not have English as a first (or even third) language. A disabled person might not have the dexterity to type flawlessly. Creative spelling and punctuation could be a conscious choice. Mistakes can happen to anyone.
There is a time for editing words. At the wrong time, it becomes annoying and hurtful. I'm thankful I realized it years ago... I'd be insufferable on Twitter!
Have you ever corrected someone's grammar or spelling on social media? If so, why?
Friday, August 11, 2017
Photo: Jeannine Hall Gailey|
What influenced you to start
writing and how old were you when you started?
I started writing
poetry at around 10 years old, at the encouragement of my teacher and my mom. I
also started competing in poetry recitation contests, which were a really fun
excuse to memorize great poems. I still know at least a large bit of e.e. cummings'
"Anyone lives in a Pretty How Town" and Louis Simpson's "My
Father in the Night Commanding No" because of contests in the 5th and 6th
Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
I've always been what
I call a "regular sporadic" writer - I wrote in fits, sometimes two
poems at a time, sometimes four poems a month. Now I'm trying to make a more
concerted effort to write twice weekly. Even if I don't love the results, it's
a good practice.
You came back to poetry during a time of illness, when your previous career path wasn't sustainable. What was your official diagnosis and how did writing affect your outlook on your diagnosis/symptoms?
Yes, I had to quit a
fairly demanding job as a technical manager at Microsoft because of my health.
I didn't have many of my conditions diagnosed properly until years later - but
it turned out I had a primary immune deficiency, a heritable bleeding disorder,
plus early signs of the neurological problems that would become more serious later
on. My husband encouraged me to go back to school to get an MFA after I quit my
job - and because I was in a low-residency program, I was able to participate
even while I was dealing with health struggles. Half-way through the program, I
had my first book accepted for publication. It definitely took taking time off
to get serious about - not reading and writing so much as the part I hadn't had
time for - submitting, editing, volunteering, reviewing, etc.
My health issues have
had a huge influence on my writing - and my writing is a great practice that
sustains me in the middle of physical illness, injuries, etc. .
You write fairly often about changes in the (female) body, often with fantastical elements. Has your relationship with your body influenced this interest? If so, in what way?
One of the recurring themes in my work is the horrifying, the grotesque, and the monstrous - probably because I've always identified myself as a real-life mutant and being female is already treated as somewhat grotesque and monstrous by our culture. Selkies, mermaids, and dragons, in particular, repeatedly appear in my work. I also explore the tropes of comics - how supervillains are often portrayed as having mutations, illnesses/deformities/things that keep them in wheelchairs. I think if I didn't feel like quite so much of a medical mystery, I might not be quite so interested in these tropes.
Readers of your speculative poetry reach out to you more often than literary poetry readers. Why do you think that is? Do you think "genre-snobs" are less of an issue in poetry than in fiction?
It is interesting that
I think maybe more people who are interested in my work happen to be fans of
speculative and genre work. Maybe these people are more enthusiastic readers than
poets are, in general? There are probably still people who don't want their
poetry "contaminated" by speculative elements - but notice that Tracy
K. Smith, whose Life on Mars was maybe one of my favorite speculative books of
poetry, just got named Poet Laureate of our country, so I think the barriers
between "literary" and speculative have been breaking down.
How important to you is the form/style a poem takes? Is there a form/type of poem you'd never try?
My early training in
poetry was very much in a formalist bent, which I think I've mostly reacted
against. I did embrace Japanese forms like haiku and haibun, especially in the
years I was studying the language, culture of folklore of Japan, because those
forms seemed more freeing and interesting to me than the sonnet, sestina,
villanelle, etc. I've always been interested in hybrid forms, so I do mess
around with couplets, prose poems, mini-paragraphs in poetry, that sort of
You served as poet laureate of Redmond, Washington. Was the appointment a surprise? What was the most unexpected part of the position?
No, it was actually a
position I was nominated for and then had to apply, just like a job
application, and interview for, so by the time it happened, it was not a
surprise. Although the fact that Redmond, a city mostly known for its tech
(it's the home of Microsoft, among other companies) felt it was important to
have a poet laureate program at all, was really exciting to me. The most
surprising part was when I got to talk about poetry to Redmond's mayor and
interact with local artists - those seemed like great moments of the
intersection of civics and literary arts. The most enjoyable part was speaking
with teenagers at local schools and doing youth workshops for the city.
Redmond's young people are amazingly, inspiringly smart and driven.
Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)
There's a big list! I
think the biggest influencers have been Margaret Atwood, Louise Gluck, Haruki Murakami,
Lucille Clifton, a Japanese writer named Osamu Dazai who is very well known in
Japan but less well-known in America, and Kelly Link. Probably fairy tales,
comics and television shows have also provided a lot of the inspiration for my
work - probably from childhood experiences being sick and stuck indoors, I
absorbed a lot of imagination ammunition from watching Miyazaki's movies and
reading Andrew Lang's color series of Fairy Books.
What is the worst piece of advice you've ever received on writing/publishing? Did you take the advice? If so, what happened?
Strangely enough, I
feel like I didn't get a lot of advice about publishing in either my M.A.
program or my MFA program. I kind of had to stumble into the
"business-side" of poetry for myself, which is why I've been a big
fan of projects like the Poet's Market for new writers and have been writing a
how-to book for poets about publishing and PR. I also had a group of friends,
early in my writing career, who got together to talk about submissions and
markets and that was a great thing for me. I really encourage writers to get
together to encourage and support each other this way. The writing life is a
LOT about rejection - and that can be hard to deal with in isolation. The
poetry world can feel like such a secret club, and I don't like that feeling of
exclusivity. Poetry should be for everyone - both reading it and writing
You're writing a nonfiction book about PR just for poets. Why is it so important for a guide to be written specifically for them? Do you think a lot of books about marketing/branding leave poets out?
Yes, I have found in
my own life that there were practically no resources out there specifically for
poets on how to market their work. I mean, everyone assumed that poets didn't
care, or weren't capable of marketing? I don't know. All the "how to
market your book" material I found was mostly focused on fiction writers.
Anyway, it was so hard scraping around and finding resources that I started
posting blog posts about the topic that were very popular, and then my friend
Kelli Agodon, herself a poet and one of the editors at Two Sylvias Press,
encouraged me to address the lack of information with a book of my own. I
worked on it for two years and I'm excited that it can provide at least a
little information for people who have never thought about how to publicize a
book of poetry (or knew that they would someday be required to.)
Note from Jeannine about her medical issues: About a decade ago, I
started having mysterious falls and some motor skill issues as well as numbness
in my hands and feet. These were symptoms I had had for a while but hadn't
thought much about, writing them off as clumsiness or stress. A neurological
exam - suggested after an orthopedic surgeon determined one of my bone breaks
was probably caused by neurological problems, not just "clumsiness"
- revealed neurological damage, and my MRI revealed a handful of lesions
in my brain. It was unclear then what the lesions were. I had a new one show up
last year. After workups for things like MS and stroke, the current thought is
that a lifelong inability to process b12 - not just through my diet, but even
shots - has caused permanent neurological damage. I started physical therapy
especially for the proprioception and motor skill issues six years ago, when I
was told I would be in a wheelchair permanently by three different
neurologists. Though I still have setbacks that require a cane or even the
wheelchair, I am happy to state that though my problems may continue and worsen
as I age, the physical therapy had some success - enough to make walks in the
park and going to readings without a cane a possibility for me again.
I wrote a lot of poems about mermaids while I was in a
wheelchair; one of them, "Mermaid on Land" is here: http://eyetothetelescope.com/archives/018issue.html
Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington.
She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She
Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The
Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World,
coming from Moon City Press in 2016. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The
Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and
Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review and Prairie
Schooner. Her web site is www.webbish6.com
and you can follow her on Twitter @webbish6.
You can find links to her
books on Amazon - and to purchasing signed books from her directly -
she also encourages people to seek out and support small publishers by buying
the books directly from them - Steel Toe Books, Two Sylvias Press, New Binary
Press, Moon City Press, Mayapple Press.
Friday, August 4, 2017
I made a few updates to the Literary Links of Interest and the Inclusive Mainstream Publications lists.
On Literary Links of Interest I added:
The Healing Muse
Thanks to Erica Verrillo who runs the fabulous blog: Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity for a couple of these.
Plus the following hashtags were added:
#DisLit and #WriteDis
On the Inclusive Mainstream Publications I added:
The online literary magazine BODY
The speculative fiction publication VOICES
Well, those are the updates. As always, if you have more recommendations, please let me know.
In late 2017 (or early 2018), I will be adding a tab on this site just for inclusive mainstream presses.