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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Chloe Gong! Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, These Violent Delights, reimagines Romeo and Juliet in 1920s Shanghai and was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a 2020 Goodreads Choice Award finalist for Best Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction, and one of Barnes & Noble’s Best YA SF & Fantasy of 2020. The sequel, Our Violent Ends, is coming out on November 16!

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong - Book Cover

Cover Art by Billelis
Cover Design by Sarah Creech
Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong - Book Cover

Cover Art by Katt Phatt
Cover Design by Greg Stadnyk

The Mary Sue Club Is Still Taking Applicants

Anyone who has been around long enough in the young adult bookish world has heard the term Mary Sue. It was everywhere in the 2010s, especially during the paranormal romance era right off the heels of Twilight and the dystopian boom à la The Hunger Games. Teenage girl heroines were commonly accused of being a Mary Sue: too powerful than they had the right to be, or too special in a way that wasn’t deserved. If a girl inherited old family magic, then she was a Mary Sue. If a girl was thrown into a world she wasn’t familiar with and excelled at surviving in it, then she was a Mary Sue. Most importantly, if the girl was beautiful but she didn’t know it, then she was a Mary Sue.

It was the impact of misogyny, no doubt, because male protagonists got away with identical traits without the same slander. Where Divergent had a cascade of Goodreads reviews that decided Tris Prior was a Mary Sue and a special snowflake, Percy Jackson’s titular character was rarely critiqued negatively for being the chosen one and the hero of a prophecy. Books with boys in the starring role were allowed to be judged on craft and plot enjoyment, while books with girls had the added—oftentimes unconscious—pressure of making sure the protagonists were likeable or sensible or emotionally regulated enough to avoid the Mary Sue accusal. Constantly paired with the Mary Sue label was also the accusal “TSTL”: the snappy shorthand for “too stupid to live”. If the girl couldn’t figure out that her love interest was secretly evil soon enough, she was TSTL. If the girl couldn’t leave her whole life behind to save the world, she was TSTL. And amid it all, there was the double-edged whammy that the girl was expected to be perfect and know all these things to avoid being TSTL because she was a perfect Mary Sue, but she was also hated because she was a Mary Sue, so how could she ever be a real, realized person?

Eventually, as we moved out of the paranormal romance and dystopian boom, YA SFF also moved out of this archetype. There had always been the people who slammed Mary Sues for existing, but that didn’t stop YA SFF books from having them because it was cool and fun for teenagers to see their leading heroines as all powerful and desirable by their—usually multiple—love interests. But YA lives and breathes by its trends, and as happens with all trends, once it becomes too saturated, it’s not trendy anymore and people get bored of their archetypes. The Mary Sue was out. YA SFF was supposed to be new and fresh with different archetypes. Everyone had seen the Tris Priors and Clary Frays and Celaena Sardothiens already.

Then the We Need Diverse Books movement happened, and authors of color started breaking into YA SFF.

And our heroines, despite being entirely new in YA SFF—seeing the world entirely unlike the heroines of major YA series in the 2010s that got these Mary Sue accusations by virtue of a different cultural lens—started getting accusals: This is a Mary Sue. We’ve seen this before. We don’t need this.

But we do.

Growing up, I adored those YA heroines. I didn’t care that they got slandered as Mary Sues; they were badass and entertaining and got to go on the most heart-wrenching journeys. So what if she knew how to fight like a seasoned pro despite training for a week? So what if she was the country’s greatest assassin despite being 16 years old? YA SFF was about creating beautiful worlds and compelling characters and swoon-worthy romances, and as long as they delivered in the bucketload, I was invested. There’s a whole other essay to be written about how the interests of teenage girls always get devalued and the weaponization of Mary Sues was a way to demean the target audience, but I digress. Mary Sue was a term used to box in the powerful heroines that teenage girls liked. But it could not be denied that the Mary Sue was an emerging archetype, one that was taking off for a reason. And as with all gold rushes, it became quickly saturated… but with one big caveat. When we think back to all the major series of the 2010s, each and every heroine who gathered fans and adoring readers were white, which makes a huge difference on her creation as a character.

As I set out to write These Violent Delights, I wanted to pay homage to the characters I adored as a teen reader. I wanted to write Juliette Cai, my protagonist, with the Clary strength and the Celaena sass—but I also wanted her to be East Asian like me, because I had rarely seen that before. Again and again in the present-day market, we are told that YA SFF has been filled to the brim with the powerful, sassy teenage protagonist, and that we should write something different if we want to stand out in the market. But I looked around and I tried to find an East Asian version. We know the stereotypes that come with Asian female characters: she’s either quiet and submissive and won’t say a peep, or she’s the dragon lady, the brutal sword-wielding seductress. The shelves hadn’t allowed for nuanced, real representation. The shelves hadn’t allowed for the powerful, beautiful, funny East Asian leading protagonist—and I wanted to provide. The industry has saturated the white Mary Sue, but until we also have a thousand Juliette Cais running around, then the complete archetype is nowhere near saturation.

I loved the heroines of these books so much, but I couldn’t find myself in them. Until Asian characters have been allowed to save the world, to wield the prophecy, to fall in love and make bad choices, then surely we cannot move on from an archetype that the readership of YA SFF has always adored.

Photo of Chloe Gong
Photograph © JON STUDIO

Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, double-majoring in English and international relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, she now lives at the top of a crumbling, ivory tower in Philadelphia (also known as student housing).

After devouring the entire YA section of her local library, she started writing her own novels at age 13 to keep herself entertained, and has been highly entertained ever since. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. These Violent Delights is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter @TheChloeGong or check out her website at TheChloeGong.com.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Ashaye Brown! Her YA fantasy debut novel, Dream Country, features a sibling rivalry between gods: the triplets Sleep, Dreams, and Nightmares, any of whom may have committed matricide. Dream Country will be out on April 27—exactly one week from today!

Dream Country by Ashaye Brown - Book Cover

Fantasy as Lucid Dream

The relationship between fantasy and dreams can be confusing. As words, we have no problem recognising them as synonyms, both signifying the imaginary, mental imagery, the fantastic as a whole. But it’s when fantasy becomes Fantasy, a genre with plot and intention behind it, that suddenly it is nothing like a dream. Because dreams are something that happen here in the real world and Fantasy never could. When most people think about fantasy, they think about the impossible. They think about impossible worlds and impossible creatures and impossible lives. They see fantasy as divorced from reality and that’s off-putting to them. They throw out words like “escapism”, “childish” and “useless”, as if these are insults; as if some people do not need to escape; as if there is nothing worth keeping from our childhood; as if all things must have their use.

And yet these same people who say these things, most nights of their lives will interact with the impossible. They escape, they become a child again and they never, not once, puzzle over their “use”. In short, they dream.

I’ve often wondered about this contradictory attitude and wondered why dreams aren’t treated with the same derision as fantasy. If they were, then they would be a social taboo, some awkward thing our bodies did every now and again that we prefer not to talk about, like going to the toilet or excessive sweating. Instead, we keep dream diaries in order to remember them better and we look into dream interpretation and symbolism as if it were a secret message slipped to us by our subconscious. We talk about our dreams, in the mornings, over the breakfast table and no one becomes embarrassed or repulsed.

But when our dreams become a voluntary creation — a fantasy — that’s when the problem arises.

When I was a child, I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, heart pounding, tears brimming, having narrowly escaped the clutches of a bad dream. I would pad softly (and a little shamefully — it was only a dream, after all, I seemed to tell myself) into my mother’s room and she would let me stay the night with her. Or, I would climb down from the top bunk and lay down head to toe with my brother, even the sound of his rumbling snores and the proximity of his feet to my nose being preferable to having to face that terrible dreamworld alone again.

No one ever judged me for my reactions. They understood that even though it was a fear of the imaginary, it was not an imaginary fear. Then, in the safety of the light of the following morning, when my heart had had its chance to slow down and the tears had stopped flowing, my mother or my brother would ask me, casually — what was the dream about? And if I chose to tell them, I would tell it like a story, I would give it structure and meaning and plot and these would be my first clumsy attempts to tell a fantasy story.

Now, as an adult, I gravitate towards fantasy, whether it’s fantasy as light and as safe as my recounting of my dreams in the morning, or as dark and as terrifying as the bad dreams of the night before.

My mother has asked me if I would ever write anything set in the “real world”. My brother has asked me why I don’t read more stories set in the “real world”. It’s as if they have forgotten how real a dream can be.

If, as a child, I could have taken hold of my nightmare — warped my dreamworld into a shape of my own choosing, something just as fantastic, yet infinitely more manageable — I would have. I would have been amazed that a superpower like this already existed, but that some adults looked down on it, shunned it and shamed those who used it. It was not that, as a child, I did not know what the fantasy genre was — I was simply unaware of its potential.

Fantasy is not a lesser version of reality, it is a greater version of a dream. It is a lucid dream. It is the dark and the light, the safety and the fear. It is escapist, it is childish and it is useless. Fantasy is not the realm of the impossible, it is the genre where everything is possible. It takes a dream to create a fantasy, it takes knowing what it is like to be in awe of what your mind can do when it’s free in order to have the confidence to let that freedom reign. To imagine. To create. To dream.

Photo of Ashaye Brown Ashaye Brown is a British author of Afro-Caribbean descent. Ashaye’s unparalleled passion for mythology led her to study a range of world cultures and mythologies, before exploring them further through her writing. Ashaye’s debut novel ‘Dream Country’ is the first in an intended series set in visionary realms themed around dreams, nightmares and rich mythologies.

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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Ciannon Smart! Her Jamaican-inspired YA fantasy debut novel, Witches Steeped in Gold, is out tomorrow—but if you can’t wait until then to start reading about witches seeking vengeance, you can read this excerpt!

Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart - Book Cover

Building an Empire

I didn’t think I had the imagination to create a secondary world.

Now, the jury’s still out as to whether I can or not, but Witches Steeped in Gold has been written, bound, and is waiting for its April 20th release in various warehouses around the world. It’s too late to back out now.

When I first knew I wanted to become a writer, I gravitated towards writing books similar to what I was reading at the time: Twilight, Divergent, The Hunger Games. They all contained worlds that felt familiar, aside from an eldritch wrongness permeating the foundations of society. Familiar felt safe for me, comfortable, as I wrote and rewrote my earliest manuscripts at fifteen. There’s an adage, write what you know and draw what you see, that I actually read in a book. For five years I did just that. My worlds were western; the magic, where it appeared, was soft whisper on the page.

Then I came across Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and that familiar ground beneath my feet gave way. Suddenly I was immersed in a world of angels and demons, chimera and magic; what’s more, I loved it. My reading tastes expanded; I discovered the City of Bones books, Shadow and Bone, Red Queen, and more. I was hooked on these expansive societies, some hidden in the pockets of the familiar, others in entirely fabricated places.

Things changed once again when I heard about two books that would change the game, for me: The Belles, and An Ember in the Ashes. Magical Black and brown girls. New worlds with non-western touchstones. I wanted more; in order for that to happen, I had to write the story myself.

Up to this point, the lane through my memories that we’ve been walking, dear reader, has been linear. But before I can move forward, I need to go back a decade to the second time I’d been in Jamaica. A family tour of the island included a trip to Rose Hall, a former plantation home in which an alleged white witch lived. Like most 90s babies, I grew up hooked on Sabrina The Teenage Witch; to learn my own culture had a magic system, witches, floored me. So much so that, when the time came to write the non-western fantasy story I craved, this trip would be my inspiration.

I wasn’t cavalier about what was ahead, but my fear to leave the familiar was replaced by drive. I turned to those authors whose works I’d admired. Victoria Aveyard, in particular, was keeping a blog back then that I found hugely informative. I drew maps, I read through Brandon Sanderson’s Laws of Magic, I excavated Jamaica’s history by way of my mum and various relatives. It was an interesting symbiosis; layering my story removed layers from a heritage I hadn’t known as well, growing up in England.

And layers, really, have been key to building the empire in the Witches Steeped in Gold world. As much a character as my cunning protagonists, it too is varied and nuanced; not to be trusted, and flawed. Book One is but the tip of the iceberg of places I can’t wait to show you.


Photo of Ciannon Smart Of Jamaican heritage, Ciannon Smart grew up in a small town in the south-east of England. As the only daughter in a house full of boisterous sons, she developed a voracious appetite for reading from an early age, preferring anarchy in stories rather than real life. In YA she loves her heroines exactly as she loves her villains: willful, wily, and unpredictable. When not writing, Ciannon can be found reading, painting, or taking the long way home to listen to a good song more than once. Witches Steeped in Gold is her first novel, and you can learn more about her at www.ciannonsmart.com.

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Thank you so much to all of last week’s guests! Here are their guest posts in case you missed any of them:

All of the guest posts from April 2021 can be found here.

And the next week of guest posts will resume tomorrow! This week’s guests are:

Women in SF&F Month Schedule Graphic

April 19: Ciannon Smart (Witches Steeped in Gold)
April 20: Ashaye Brown (Dream Country)
April 21: Chloe Gong (These Violent Delights, Our Violent Ends)
April 22: Angela Mi Young Hur (Folklorn)
April 23: Tori Bovalino (The Devil Makes Three, Not Good for Maidens)

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Today’s guest is Diane Duane! She was a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer in 1980 and 1981 after the publication of her first novel, The Door Into Fire. Since then, she has written more stories and novels, including those set in her Middle Kingdoms and Young Wizards universes as well as in established universes like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Star Trek; comics and graphic novels; and scripts, including work on the TV shows Star Trek: The Next Generation, Batman: The Animated Series, and one of my own favorites, Gargoyles. She is a New York Times bestselling author and a two-time Mythopoeic Award finalist.

The Door Into Fire by Diane Duane - Book Cover The Book of Night with Moon by Diane Duane - Book Cover

If there’s any truth to the concept that you can tell a lot about a writer from the books they’ve got in their office, then I’m afraid one of my great passions is instantly obvious to anybody who walks into my workspace (which doubles as the living room in the little cottage where we live). Besides the books on world mythologies and fairy tales, besides the Compact OED and the other assorted dictionaries and guides to other languages…  there are also about two hundred cookbooks.

Food—reading about it, making it, eating it—is a passion with me. (Fortunately one that my husband and fellow fantasy writer Peter Morwood shares.) In this time of COVID, and the limitations it’s brought to many of us on where we can go and how far, a constant theme around here is the thought of what restaurants we can’t wait to get back to when we are free again and vaccinated, and it’s safe to go out (or as safe as it’s going to get). That Xi’an street food place up in Dublin, that Bourgognaise café in Paris, that train-station buffet halfway up a mountain in Switzerland where they do pizza on a rösti base, that wine festival in southeastern Germany in July… Around here, the edible is a constant undercurrent to the readable. After all, we’ve all got to eat. And thereby hangs the issue of a favorite tool for me in fictional worldbuilding: food.

Looking back over the last decade or four, careful examination shows me that food and various issues surrounding it have turned up in a majority of the novels and screenplays I’ve written. In the beginning, its inclusion was mostly unconscious—a side effect of the “write what you enjoy” principle. But eventually I became more consciously aware of its tremendous usefulness in the worldbuilding process in both SF and fantasy, and started exploiting it more purposefully.

Food can be such a gateway to meaning. In already extant cultures, whether you’re familiar with them or not, food will tell you things if you’ll let it. Every culture on this planet has deeply held traditions surrounding eating, favorite dishes, manners at table (in places where tables are an issue, or a thing); deeply held opinions about what it means when people eat one way and not another, or what it means to eat one food and not another. These traditions add depth to all kinds of transactions among human beings, often unexpectedly revealing what they feel is most important in their culture. If your goal is to immerse the reader in another world, it seems to me that similar depths are absolutely worth building into a created culture from scratch, so that you can exploit these resonances to maximum effect—both to make your world feel more real, and to make your characters’ interactions with and inside it feel genuine and organic.

There do seem to have been times when this general approach seems not to have struck fantasy writers as all that useful. For example, in quest fantasy that came out in the third quarter or so of the last century, food culture (not to mention eating) seemed liable to fall out of the worldbuilding picture almost completely. Sometimes food might only come up for consideration when characters didn’t have it (and were starving), had too much of it to describe (when feasting), or were so occupied with strictly action-oriented events that eating was hardly ever described as happening at all. In her satirical “travel guide” The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones (doubtless having read way too much of this kind of thing during her career) went straight to the heart of this problem by describing pretty much all quest-fantasy food as having been reduced to two categories: WAYBREAD and STEW (“…though there are occasional BIRDS, FISH, RABBITS and pieces of cheese”).

At least these days matters have improved somewhat over the… let’s call it “minimalist” approach… that so annoyed Wynne Jones. Leaving aside for the moment their value in worldbuilding and culturebuilding, plainly lots of other writers have noticed over time that meals and eating in written work can be hugely structurally useful. For example, scenes set over the dinner table, be it a small intimate dinner-for-two or a huge extravagant feast, can be a great place to handle exposition (and the characters’ reactions to it). Any such scene comes with easily-imagined, almost built-in breaks for interactions that make large amounts of info—which might otherwise feel “dumped”—a lot easier to swallow.

Spider-Man: The Venom Factor by Diane Duane - Book Cover

Additionally, characters can become incredibly revealing—to each other, or to the writer—over a good meal. (Nor does this necessarily have to do with alcohol, though of course that can help.) Some years back, when writing Spider-Man: The Venom Factor, my first Spider-Man novel, I had more fun than was probably strictly legal by sitting Spidey and Venom down together in a posh Manhattan restaurant, under the supervision of a character based on a very senior restaurateur who in his time had made even Mick Jagger behave himself, and forcing them for just a little while to deal with each other as something besides superhero and supervillain: as—to whatever extent was possible—fellow human beings. That chapter (which Peter and I routinely referred to while I was writing it as “My Dinner With Venom”, and for which I asked him to choose the wines) turned out to be one of the high points of the book for many of its readers, who said they loved the shift in roles and tone.

And those larger feasts, too, when they come up, can routinely be evocative of other cultural depths that the writer wants to hint at. For example, I’m writing this during the Passover/“Holy Week” period, when for some of us the intersection of food with cultural history—old triumph or tragedy, the challenge of sacrifice or of sudden life-changing contact with the divine—slides noticeably into the foreground. At such times it’s hard not to start thinking about what similar (or very different) practices there might be in a culture one’s thinking about building.

A whole spectrum of possibilities spreads itself out, with endless options to recall own-world cultures or differ from them. Are there perhaps food-based traditions of worship now abandoned or forbidden, or lingering though their meanings are near-forgotten (like the “ear of grain reaped in silence” of Eleusis, of which at this end of time we know absolutely nothing else)? And then the issue of how viewpoint characters may react to these comes up, in terms of the more urgent issues taking up the day-to-day business of their lives. Are the old ways a nuisance, or a source of secret curiosity? Are they a source of amusement, or of horror—something that haunts a character’s nightmares (or dreams)? In any case, such cultural backstory can be buried as deeply as the writer needs, to best serve the narrative. It doesn’t have to show at all… or can be suddenly exposed in an offered cup of wine.

I went a little way down this road in my first novel, letting a meal in a riverside tavern veer toward the numinous (though mostly in retrospect). In The Door Into Fire, the questing characters almost accidentally discover that the innkeeper of the isolated hostelry they’re visiting at the edge of the lands men know is in fact the Goddess who made the world… taking this opportunity to say goodbye to them as they walk into deadly danger, because (while they live, at least) She may not get another chance. And what they discover about Her there over dinner—besides some individually telling points about themselves—is that She’s a pretty fair cook.

Dinner was cold eggs deviled with hot whitefruit and marigold leaves, roast goose in a sour sauce of lemons and sorrel, parsnips roasted in long-pepper butter, blanched fern-fiddles tossed in smoked bacon fat, and winter apples in thickened cream. [One character] made a lot of noise about the eggs and the goose, claiming that the powerful spices and sours of Steldene cooking gave him heartburn; but this didn’t seem to affect the speed with which he ate. There also seemed to be an endless supply of wine, which the company didn’t let go to waste…

And of course thereafter the dinner conversation turns casually to local news, and recent politics, and directions on how to get quickly and safely through nearby terrain (because doesn’t it usually?). Even in other universes, a good meal has a grounding quality to it, reminding one of the things that matter: needs satisfied, life behaving at least something like normally, family and/or good friends close by.

In such times as we find ourselves in at the moment, it seems to me this might be something we need more of. (Even if lockdown conditions do start people looking more closely at some of those mealtime spreads, and demanding ingredient explanations and recipes… because as we’ve recently seen, when you can’t travel, the urge to cook at home can get unexpectedly strong.) That reassuring quality of the shared table, even if only on the page, of a however-imaginary food culture with its own quirks and specialties that sound like they might be fun to try… and of comfort food that doesn’t even have calories? Sounds tailor-made for where we are (and where we will be, I fear, for a while yet).

I hope more of my colleagues will, in the long term, sit down at this end of the creative “table” and help themselves to the buffet. Meanwhile, locally speaking—I’m half afraid I’m going to wind up adding one more cookbook to that shelf in my office; and it won’t be “mine” just because I bought it…

Diane Duane has been writing science fiction and fantasy for more than forty years. She is a two-time Astounding Award nominee for The Door Into Fire, first novel in her Lambda Award-winning LGBTQ Middle Kingdoms universe, and multiply award-nominated for her groundbreaking Young Wizards science/fantasy series, the eleventh volume of which is now in progress. She has additionally written novels and screenplays for many major licensors, including the DC and Marvel Comics-based universes (Spider-Man, X-Men), and properties as widely (and bizarrely) assorted as Scooby-Doo, Duck Tales, Gargoyles, Transformers, and Barbie: Fairytopia. She has also written for Star Trek in more forms than anyone else alive. As a result of all this, she is a holder of the “Faust” Life Achievement Award of the International Association of Tie-In Writers. …Her most recent work has been set in the Middle Kingdoms, where she’s in progress on the third of a “prose miniseries” of novellas and short novels, Tales of the Five. Book 3 of the Tales, The Librarian, will be published during Q2 of 2021 via Lionhall Press at Ebooks Direct, the independent ebook store she shares and manages with her husband Peter Morwood. (And who knows…maybe, sometime in 2022, that cookbook will turn up there too.)

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Today’s guest is speculative fiction writer Alexis Henderson! Her first published novel, The Year of the Witching, combines the horrors of mysterious witches in a spooky forest with the atrocities occurring in a puritanical society—and kept me riveted, even when I was having difficulty focusing in 2020! The Year of the Witching was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist in both the Best Horror and Best Debut Novel categories last year.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson - Book Cover

Writing Dark Fiction: An Exercise In Self-Acceptance

I often describe myself as a deeply anxious person. As a child, friends and acquaintances often described me as timid or “high-strung.” I often remember being moved to tears—or worse yet terrified into a state of total detachment—by sudden fits of terror. Since the very beginning of my memories, fear has been a constant companion.

So it seemed strange that as I grew older, I chose to devote the bulk of my creative endeavors to the exploration of the horrific. As a person to whom fear is a kind of chronic condition, I didn’t understand why I repeatedly chose to engage the things that frightened me most. I would like to say that writing horror was some triumphant attempt to prevail over the anxieties that plagued me. But I’ve come to realize that’s not entirely true.

On the good days, writing about the things that I fear most is an exhilarating, and yes triumphant experience. On the bad days, it can be painful and even triggering. While writing my own dark stories, I often ached for some reprieve or escapism. I began to question whether or not I have the mental stamina required to excel in my trade of choice. In comparison to the masters of the genre—the Shirley Jacksons and the Stephen Kings—I felt like a pitiful farce. They had learned to prevail as champions over fear while in turn, I floundered, consumed by it.

Over time, my anxiety worsened. My fear took the form of a small demon that lurked behind my ribs, gripped my lungs in its claws. At night it filled my mind with worst-case scenarios that kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning—What if this is the last book I ever write? What if I’ve depleted myself creatively and have nothing left to give? What if I’ve already peaked? What if I’ve broken myself beyond the barest hope of repair?  

These questions became a constant chorus. In turn, my writing began to feel less like a creative act and more like a transference of pain. I began to feel like I was monetizing my nightmares, commodifying the fear that plagued me like a kind of sickness. I tried to write my way out of this slump and failed several times before I stopped trying. Humbled by the increasingly real prospect of my own creative failure, I dragged myself to my writing desk once more. Out of necessity—or perhaps desperation—I let my fears guide my hand. I didn’t try to fight or deny it. I simply gave in, and in doing that was able to make a friend of my fears for the first time.

Through this act of surrender, I learned to form a careful kinship with the dark fascinations that once threatened to consume me entirely. At night, I allowed myself to ask all of the questions that terrified me the most, and I continued to write in spite of them. As time went on, I began to realize that the fears that I believed were a hindrance—to be dismissed, denied, or otherwise discarded—were pieces of myself that couldn’t be divorced from the greater sum of my being. Thus, through the writing of horror, I have learned not just to accept my fears but to accept myself.

Photo of Alexis Henderson
Photo Credit: Marissa Siebert at Hazel Eyes Photography
Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. Currently, Alexis resides in Columbus, Ohio, where she’s learning to cope with the cold.