WIH Spotlight: Deborah Dubas Groom
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a Woman in Horror writer.
I think every single report card I received said, “Deborah has great potential but she needs to talk less and work more.” It will probably be the epitaph on my tombstone.
Our family moved a lot, so books were my one constant source of companionship. I loved fantasy, tales of Egypt, and aliens. Creating my own stories became a way of interpreting the world, making the tough things bearable and the good things better.
Besides some university writing, blogging and work for a social media company as a ghost writer, my first real jump into fiction was writing a comedic monologue and unintentionally performing stand up comedy. After that, I realized that I preferred the writing to the performing and joined the Langley Writers Guild here in B.C., Canada. One of the best things they gave me was a wealth of critique partners. In group, we’d discuss each other’s works, and that was, and is, crucial to my growth as a writer. I also refined my focus. I’d been writing as a humorist, and decided that my fiction focus was generally women age 40 and up, celebrating their strength and fabulousness, taking them from the finish line of dreams to full power. I wrote and read and took every online class I could, including one in flash fiction.
That is when the excitement of storytelling, humour, twists, and horror all exploded for me and I was hooked. I’m a diehard vintage monster movie and sci fi fan. Having been a medical social worker, I needed a break from reality. I needed tentacles and things that shamble around in the graveyard. Horror became a perfect genre for telling my stories, allowing for eldritch beings, and what lies inside the mirror. I can now tell you how long it takes to dig a grave and that human bones are best carved fresh. The best part is that I am now talking less and working more.
Who is the one under-appreciated female author we should all check out?
Marjorie Bowen. Her real name was Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long. She wrote over 150 books in her life under a variety of names. Under the name of Marjorie Bowen she wrote horror stories of the gothic style, and was said to be in line with Lovecraft and Poe. She wrote her first story at 16 and published it at age 20 after being rejected by 11 publishers as they felt it was inappropriate for a female writer. She adopted several male pseudonyms in order to publish her future mysteries and horrors. Her collected works of short stories are well worth the read for any fan of great gothic horror.
Any advice for girls or women who are considering becoming an author?
Yes, so much.
1. Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to write.
2. Don’t endlessly shop around your ideas to friends and family waiting for them to tell you you are brilliant.
3. Don’t be angry at them if they are not interested. This is your journey.
4. Find a writing community where you can share your work. Keep your ego in check as critique is a gift that you should prize. Let it make you better and remember to listen and help them as well.
5. Figure out your target audience.
6. Know that your first draft is like throwing mud on a pottery wheel. It will generally be crap until you work with it, form it, shape it and then get in the details. Your first draft is something you write for you. It is the second or third (fourth, fifth,..) drafts that have enough form to share.
7. Remember that you have never read the first drafts of any of your favourite books.
8. Do not worry about writing a best selling novel, or series. Tell a story.
9. Write. Read. Take classes. Practice writing exercises. Write some more and don’t stop. You have this.
Do you feel an obligation to speak for or represent women through your writing?
I see it as a privilege. I’ve always had women friends and I think they are wonderful. I feel pulled to write about women who are in the forty and over age group. I believe in their ability to be profoundly interesting, funny and strong. I feel that they are a group that is stereotyped and often invisible except as tropes. There is a book called ‘Dreams of a Woman’ and it says most girls have five dreams. At a certain point in your life you know the answers to those dreams. The problem is that we often forget to develop new dreams. I find this reflected in a lot of writing. These women fade into invisibility. As writers I feel the need to celebrate what is vibrant in these women and have characters with wisdom, humour and quirkiness. Let’s hear it for the woman who outfoxes the dragon, the crone who is not taken down by the prince and the one whose adventures have just begun.
It’s the zombie apocalypse and somehow you find yourself locked in a room with two other people and a horde of zombies on the other side of the door. There is no food or water, you have to leave to survive. Real or fictional, who would you want in that room with you?
I’d definitely want Dr.Who and I’d appreciate a quick trip away on the TARDIS. I am also thinking it would be good to have my adult son as well. I can be a total stress monkey and not only would he protect us, but he would pat me on the head and tell me to relax. He is also a good cook, so there is that.
Are there tropes, particularly those about women in horror, you actively avoid in your writing?
Argh. There are so many.
1. High heels. You have a bad-ass, martial arts trained, female fighter. She is going through graveyards, fighting monsters in swamps, and they have her in stiletto-type boots, full makeup, hair flowing, skintight clothes and cleavage showing. Uhm, no. That makes her a sexed up idiot with no survival instinct, who will die quickly.
2. Underage professionals. “Hi, my name is Bethy. I look eighteen but I’m really a path-a-lologist with a triple masters degree, and I’m going to stomp my foot and yell about everything so you think I’m professional. I will leave my long hair loose so it looks good even if it trails in the cadaver (yes I saw that one).” To get the degrees and experience necessary for certain jobs the women wouldn’t be under 30 and they would be way beyond giving doe eyes and trembling.
3. That tough army female will always get killed before the end of the story as she can’t be the hero or survive, though the tiny city girl in the suit, stumbling around with her briefcase, and screaming, makes it to the end because she is the hero’s ex-girlfriend.
Did you know you wanted to write other genres well as horror? Were you always interested in writing horror specifically?
I used to have a subscription to Isaac Asimov magazine. I loved the stories with the monsters, mutants, and aliens. It was the ultimate in good versus evil, where, it was not always clear who was who. My favourite play is The Phantom of the Opera. Was he driven mad because of his twisted face and how he was treated, or was he twisted inside and his face was a consequence? Horror was the best genre to go to all of these places.
Besides this I was also drawn to humour. When you laugh you breath deeply. Too many people live lives measured in short shallow breaths. To ease some of that pain makes me cheer. Just like horror, humour brings perspective, and I think the two can work really well together.