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CFP: Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy

U. Melissa Anyiwo and I are issuing a call for chapters for a text, Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy, that has been accepted for publication with Sense Publishers as a part of their Teaching Gender series.

Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy
Editors U. Melissa Anyiwo and Amanda Hobson

Call for Chapters
Urban fantasy, a genre that draws from high fantasy, horror, and romance, came into its own in the mid-1980s, but critical work on the topic has been sadly lacking, found scattered throughout texts on related genres. In addressing issues of urban fantasy, there is a recurring theme: the problem of gender. Issues of gender have always permeated the reception of authorship and the definition of genre itself; in this case, it is not enough to just read urban fantasy in opposition to high fantasy but to denote it in contrast to its sister genres of paranormal romance, alternate histories, and steampunk literature. Moreover, the concepts and complications of urban fantasy continue when the genre moves from page to screen. This collection will, thus, examine and clarify several questions: What is urban fantasy? How does the genre complicate the performance and portrayals of gender? How do these discussions translate across page, stage, and screen?

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Black Widow in the Avengers series and beyond, urban fantasy introduces audiences to female protagonists who appear as independent action heroes freed from the constraints of traditional patriarchy, fighting in traditionally male worlds against uber-masculine foes. In conjunction with the rise of urban fantasy, the twenty-first century has witnessed an explosion of tough, physically strong, supernaturally enhanced women in the popular media—including films, television shows, comic books, and video games making this text a vital addition to a Popular Culture Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Contemporary Culture, Sociology, Political Science, Queer Studies, Communications and more.

Gender Warriors: Reading Contemporary Urban Fantasy, under contract with Sense Publishers as part of their Teaching Gender Series, seeks classroom ready original essays from scholars with PhDs, which explicitly explore the world of urban fantasy. The volume aims to emphasize the constructions of gender and the way these interpretations reify our images of human beings and the ways in which we identify and manufacture the gendered and sexualized Other. We hope to open doorways to discussions about Otherness at the college level, serving as an alternative way to explore marginality through a framework that welcomes all students into the conversation. Thus, we ask that all chapters include a set of Discussion Questions and suggestions for further reading.

 Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Presentations of gender and the performance of femininity and masculinity in the Urban Fantasy Universe
  • Presentations of gender in the worlds of Marvel and DC Comics
  • Reinforcement or subversion of gendered norms
  • Female authorship/readership as genre-defying feminist texts
  • The limits of feminist expression in urban fantasy film (i.e. Underworld Series)
  • Problematizing “the strong female character.”
  • Urban Fantasy as female preserve
  • Liberating or fetishicizing: the warrior woman image on TV (i.e. Alias, La Femme Nikita, Lost Girl, Blade)
  • Girl fighting & social disempowerment: the impact of performing violence in Urban Fantasy (i.e. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kim Harrison’s Hollows Series, Blade)
  • Hyper-masculinity in Urban Fantasy (i.e. Underworld Series, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series)
  • Gender blending and the Urban Fantasy heroine (i.e. Underworld Series, Jocelynn Drake’s Dark Days Series, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series)
  • Sexual violence or threat of sexual violence as a plot device: the shifting use and portrayal of sexual violence, particularly the rape narrative within Urban Fantasy (i.e. Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson Series, Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series, Kim Harrison’s Hallows Series, Hamilton’s Anita Blake Series)
  • Male voices in Urban Fantasy: the limits of representation in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles)
  • Gendering fans and fandom in urban fantasy (i.e. Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
  • The use of gender throughout the history of the genre
  • The gendering of authorship as a function of genre’s reception
  • How gender portrayal in urban fantasy varies between films, television series, and novels.


  • April 30th – Proposals due
  • June 30th – 1st drafts due
  • August 30th – 2nd drafts due
  • 1st – Final Drafts
  • 30th – text due at Publisher

Please email proposals and inquiries to Melissa Anyiwo ( and Amanda Hobson ( by April 30, 2017.

About the Teaching Gender series from Sense Publishers

The Teaching Gender series publishes monographs, anthologies and reference books that deal centrally with gender and/or sexuality. The books are intended to be used in undergraduate and graduate classes across the disciplines. The series aims to promote social justice with an emphasis on feminist, multicultural and critical perspectives.

Please email series queries to the series editor at

Series Editor
Patricia Leavy

International Editorial Board
Tony E. Adams, Northeastern Illinois University, USA
Paula Banerjee, University of Calcutta, India
Nitza Berkovitch, Ben Gurion University, Israel
Robin Boylorn, University of Alabama, USA
Máiréad Dunne, University of Sussex, UK
Mary Holmes, The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Laurel Richardson, Ohio State University, Emerita, USA
Sophie Tamas, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Darkness Waits: Contemporary Creature Horror Films

In my latest binge-watching of horror films, I watched From the Dark (2014) and Dark Was the Night (2014),  Both films are takes on the creature feature, vampire and wendigo (maybe Bigfoot) respectively.  Neither film gives the viewer a name for the creatures, and the filmmakers don’t spend dialogue on explicating the monsters’ desires, strengths, and weaknesses. In both of these films, the writers decentralize the monsters themselves and highlight the human relationships that drive the protagonists.  They are inevitability tales of survival without devolving to demonstrations that humanity is in fact the most monstrous of all monsters, which has become the central plot points of most monster film/television in the contemporary era (such as in The Walking Dead and Stake Land). 

From the Dark is an Irish production set in the countryside turf bogs and is directed by Conor McMahon. What the film lacks in exegesis, it makes up for in tension.  The moments from sunset to sunrise seem endless for our cast–Mark and Sarah.  Sarah played by Niamah Algar is a wonderfully strong female character taking on the beast that is hunting them.   I was impressed with Algar’s ability to essentially carry about 75% of the film on her own, as most of the action follows her.  The darkness itself seems to be a character in this film, and the audience mainly sees the creature in silhouette and shadows, which lends to the creepy factor.  McMahon also gives several cinematic nods to the horror pictures of old, such as Nosferatu.  From the Dark is available on Netflix and Shudder as well as for purchase.

While I appreciated From the Dark‘s creepy ambiance, I absolutely loved Dark Was the Night, directed by Jack Heller and written by Tyler Hisel. This was a seriously good film.  The writing is subtle but builds a great story with solid dialogue.  The acting was outstanding.  Kevin Durand plays Sheriff Paul Shields (He is also seen in FX’s The Strain as my favorite character Fet.) Durand is fantastic as this guilt-stricken man, who is just trying to hold it all together for himself, his family, and in the long run his whole town.  Lukas Haas plays the deputy Donny Saunders and fulfills the strong conscientious second in command well.  Nick Damici (of one of my favorite films Stake Land) also shows up with some really great lines, especially in his interactions with Haas’s deputy.  This film is partly an ecological cautionary tale.  This creature tale takes an interesting premise, gives the audience excellent performances, and then takes a major mind-blowing twist. Dark Was the Night shows people pulling together to save their community and demonstrates that heroes can rise without destroying others in their attempts to save those that they love.  It was also a disturbingly creepy film.  I highly recommend it.

I was pleased to see these two films taking a bit of a different approach to creature horror than the recent trend in horror films/television.

Thoughts on the Soskas’s American Mary

Content Warning: the film I am discussing has a rape-revenge underpinning. Please note I will briefly outline the plot and reaction.

In 2012, filmmaking twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska released American Mary. Their previous feature-length entitled Dead Hooker in a Trunk released in 2009. The Soskas create an updated rape-revenge horror film that nods its roots but also re-envisions them. Mary Mason is a medical student, struggling to pay her bills. Answering an online job posting at a strip club, she is pulled into doing underground medical procedures and body modifications. Katherine Isabelle, who plays Mary, may be best know for her role as Ginger in the Ginger Snaps Trilogy and her role on NBC’s Hannibal as Margot Verger.

In her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Carol Clover argues that most horror films assume that the audience of their film is made up of young men. She is speaking about rape-revenge films from the 1970s and 1980s, such as I Spit on Your Grave (1978), foregrounding the manner in which rape-revenge films centralize the perspective of the victim/hero over the rapist (152).  Clover writes, “I have argued that the center of gravity of these films lies more in the reaction (the revenge) than the act (the rape), but to the extent that the revenge fantasy derives its force from some degree of imaginary participation in the act itself, in the victim position, these films are predicated on cross-gender identification of the most extreme, corporeal sort” (154). American Mary establishes a rape-revenge film that does foreground Mary’s experience. It is the manner in which Mary gets her revenge the reframes the rape-revenge plot. She creates horrors through her skills as a surgeon to enact vengeance. Mary ensures that her rapists’ exterior reflects the monstrosity of his interior—his arrogant brutality. He is locked into partial body. Whereas Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein creates a fully functioning monster, Mary Mason constructs a lump of flesh that she can experiment upon. Frankenstein’s experimentation is to preserve and create life, while Mary’s is about destruction.

Mary’s work with her other clients embody the tension between creation and destruction in that her body modification work. She does the most extreme procedures including the ones other modification surgeons refuse. In their guest appearance in the film, the Soska twins play sisters seeking to tighten their bond by having their left arms removed and swapped and have implants in their foreheads. These surgeries and modifications represent for the squeamish and the vast majority of viewers a type of destruction—a glee at deconstructing the human body. But for Mary’s clients, these modifications are creative forces and affirm their lives—they demonstrate the pleasure through pain principle. For Ruby Realgirl having Mary modify her body to appear doll-like, Ruby can have a measure of control in the ways in which other people sexualize her body. So these modifications are not merely release valves but can be a vital mechanism for an individual sense of self.

Essentially, American Mary may be a rape-revenge horror film, but it is also a film deeply concerned with representations of women, female bodies, and sexual violence. It highlights questions of defining monstrosity. Is Mary the monster for her disturbing and brutal revenge on her rapist? In Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995), J. Jack Halberstam writes, “The monster, in fact, is where we come to know ourselves as never-human, as always between humanness and monstrosity” (37). What this film demonstrates is that people can and are pushed to the limits frequently by other people and by the circumstances of their lives.

American Mary is worth checking out, even as it will make you cringe, squirm, and incredibly uncomfortable.

A different stream of thoughts: Trauma, Damaged Heroes, and Coming to Terms

I told myself when I started this blog that I wouldn’t post ridiculously personal ruminations and would use this mainly as a place to work out my thoughts on the things that I’ve been reading and writing.  Well this last week, I have been contemplating the nature of many things: the past and a probable plan for the future–so many possibilities and too much as stake sometimes to really even make good decisions.  No matter that I’m generally a very positive person, some times life in my own brain is just too much.  The past is sometimes much too difficult and one cannot easily overcome it.  When I was a teenager, I wrote epically bad poetry to attempt to process life’s trials, tribulations, and traumas.  Now, I find myself as an adult drawn to damaged fictional characters.  Reading is not only escapism, though I adore that aspect of reading; reading, for me, is about pushing me to think creatively and critically about myself, my life, and the world around me.  It helps me to process through triggers, generally in productive and safe ways.

Just a few of my favorite damaged characters are Sherrilyn Kenyon‘s Zarek and Acheron, J.R. Ward‘s Zsadist, Patricia Briggs‘ Mercy Thompson.  All of these characters are compelling and intriguing in part because at some point and in some ways they overcome their traumas even in the midst of their defensive mechanisms that always seem insurmountable in themselves.  One of the most compelling plotlines for me are those featuring romantic leads that are both damaged in some way.  One example are Destiny and Nicholae in Christine Feehan‘s Dark Destiny, but my current favorite epitome of a damaged couple are Gideon and Eva from Sylvia Day’s Crossfire Series (the first book is Bared to You).  These are two absolutely compelling characters, who both must work to engage with and attempt to overcome their own traumas and the damage that they inflict upon themselves through trying to deal with that damage. For many readers, these characters are so compelling because it has been rare in my experience who, like many of us, actually find themselves attempting to address self-sabotage of the defensive mechanisms they have built to deal with the traumas and trials of their lives.  I absolutely cannot wait to see how their story plays out in the third in the series, Entwined with You–coming June 4.   I will also mention Jennifer Lyon‘s The Proposition (see last post for more here too). I loved if for the manner in which Kat and Sloan demonstrated a resistance to tearing down the defensive walls while at the same time starting to see small cracks in those defensive mechanisms.  I’m looking forward to their continuing story and to see how each of them deals with the past and works to create their own approach to those defensive mechanisms they have in place to deal with their emotional and physical (in Kat’s case) pain.

Overall, here are the questions: what makes some of us take our traumas and turn our lives around and do good in the world and what makes some of us take our traumas and find ourselves unable to see outside of them.  What makes so many of us take those damaging experiences and create detrimental defensive mechanisms, instead of positive coping mechanisms? One of the things I love about reading about these damaged characters is the knowledge that there are other people who are likely dealing with these issues, but more importantly authors are allowing their characters to work through their defenses and their damaged soul.  These are not tales of a happily-ever-after that says “everything gets better” or “don’t worry one day you’ll wake up healed”: these are stories that say “this is hard work, but damn it I’m worth the effort” and “trauma never goes away but it can be managed and maybe even healed.”

I’ll leave you not with my tragically bad poetry, but with a song that resonates with me from Skylar Grey–“Invisible.”  Her sentiments are so real for so many of us: “Here inside, my quiet hell / You cannot hear, my cries for help / I try everything, to make them see me / But every one, sees what I can’t be / Even when I’m walking on a wire / Even when I set myself on fire / Why do I always feel invisible, invisible / Everyday I try to look my best / Even though inside I’m such a mess / Why do I always feel invisible, invisible.”  The power of songs (and books) is that when you recognize yourself in it, it says that you are not alone.  That’s why we read or write, right? To process our own failings and successes, to contemplate about our triumphs and traumas, and to work through all the positive and negative thoughts that swirl through our brains.