Stephanie M.

Stephanie M.

I'm a content writer and novelist who loves books, writing, theater, and my cat. I have published two novels and traveled to London and Paris.

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    Latest Articles


    Latest Topics


    Can Creators Redeem the Horror Genre's Inherent Ableism?

    Whether or not it’s "spooky season," the horror genre has hordes of devotees, and well it should. Horror gives us a safe outlet for facing our fears, exploring our inner demons, and pitting our inner heroes against some of the most frightening scenarios ever conceived in creators’ minds. Whether in books, in film, on the stage, or in some other medium, horror has earned its place as a revered genre.

    However, the 21st century has exposed a particular underbelly of horror: ableism. Many if not most horror villains either have some sort of disfigurement or disability, or can be read or "coded" as such. Frankenstein’s monster is a reanimated, grotesque corpse who speaks and acts like a caricature of an intellectually disabled man. The impetus for Dracula and vampires came from sufferers of porphyria, a fairly rare disease still poorly understood. Several seasons of American Horror Story, notably Asylum and Freak Show, paint disabled characters as frightening or grotesque if not outright villainous; at best, these characters are pitiable. The recent TV series Changeling centers on a demonic being whose changeling status has been compared to autism for centuries. Stephen King’s disabled horror characters aren’t villains, but are stereotypes, and pop up in almost all his novels.

    These examples might tempt us to "cancel" horror altogether, and certainly, the ableism within warrants serious discussion. But is there a way to stay true to the horror genre in coming years without sacrificing its conventions (e.g., updating classics to the point of unrecognizability)? Can a form of "new horror" decry ableism while bringing true dignity to coded disabled characters, or characters who are shunned or feared? Discuss.

    • I'm not sure I'd say that ableism is a problem in all horror genres, but it's definitely a reoccurring issue especially when it comes to monsters - though some also pull on other negative stereotypes, like Dracula as a European foreigner. I definitely think this is an interesting topic! – AnnieEM 1 month ago

    Why Writers Love Whump

    Within the fiction writing community and especially on social media outlets like Tumblr, there is a particular type of writing that draws a subset of writers. This writing type is called "whump." Broadly defined, "whump" happens when one character gets hurt, physically, emotionally, or otherwise, and must receive care from another character, or conversely, endure the trauma alone.

    Whump can take many forms and be as innocent or graphic as the writer wants, although most writers will post trigger or content warnings if they intend to go into certain details. Graphic or not though, many writers confine their enjoyment to whump communities for fear of being misjudged as sadists, masochists, or otherwise unstable. Others write whump to the exclusion of other types or scenes, which may raise questions about their growth in the craft of writing.

    Examine the many reasons why fiction writers love whump. Are they all looking for catharsis for their own trauma? Are some of them caretakers who enjoy seeing characters rescued and nursed to health? Why do you think these writers get judged for liking and creating whump content, whereas a whump reader is less likely to be judged for reading a violent or horror novel? Are there some forms of whump that take the concept too far? And perhaps most importantly, what does this type of writing offer to the fiction community, that no other writing does?

    • This is an interesting topic because it’s partly just wondering why people like what they like. Of course, it goes deeper than that as I suppose it could with any genre, where naturally like-minded people may flock towards the same plot devices, tropes, structures, etc. I guess someone's opinions on whump diverge from their opinions on other genres (horror, for example) because of its very specific qualities. So, anyone could have an opinion on horror, but someone who has a strong opinion on whump must have a reason for it. The ‘taboo’ around its subject matter sets this trope apart from others like fluff or smut. Between the community where it primarily exists and its content matter, there could be any combination of factors that leaves it open to criticism: 1) It’s an impactful, condensed and sometimes painful (again, how much the writer wants to get into it) piece of writing that exists solely to convey those emotions. Rather than a drama in the form of a novel that might contain similar themes, all that would be spread out is jam-packed into sometimes only a couple hundred words. 2) It isn’t a commercially popular genre, at least not that I’ve seen. Which means that, ignoring the obvious highs and lows in terms of attention and effort, these aren’t always professionally-treated stories. Which means, that for better or worse, people might be writing about traumatic events they haven’t researched or experienced to then properly depict. and 3) It’s not the masses who are reading these stories—unless it’s the type of genre to come under pressure publicly only for everyone to secretly open up their favourite social media site to then read fervently—which means that a lot of people probably don’t know what it really is. And this can be seen with so many things right before something sends them over into the mainstream. So while a horror novel and a whump fic might be pretty equally-footed in terms of mature subject matter, it is infinitely easier to criticize a genre that revolves around obscenity or violence (even to cathartic means) rather than a genre that encompasses much more. It’s also interesting, the point you raise about people questioning people’s ability to write because they choose to write whump. Much like the speculations about why people like to read whump, I like to think that most writers write what they write because that’s what they enjoy writing. And if a horror writer writes horror because he has never felt the warmth of a woman’s touch and couldn’t possibly fathom a contemporary romance, I don’t think that should reflect (negatively or positively) on the genre or the writer. And finally, while I’m not sure I could agree with any statement that tries to prove there’s a genre out there that could be so completely unique in its ability to bring certain things to the table, I do think that whump is really good at dealing with a rawness in human (or human-like) emotion. Of course there are the sometimes exceedingly graphic depictions of pain and various forms of mutilation, but even then, as long as we’re discussing writing as it brings out the best in a genre, I think it inspires creative description and real emotion in terms of connection or isolation. – Zak 4 months ago

    How Will the Current Culture Affect Classic Novels?

    Most of us grew up with some form of the classic novel. Whether we read abridged, illustrated versions for kids, encountered them in school, or watched TV or movie versions (e.g., Wishbone, Disney adaptations), most of us know at least some of the traditional "classics" of the Western canon. These include but are not limited to works by Dickens, Steinbeck, Morrison, Lee, Shakespeare, Austen, and Wells.

    As our culture becomes more aware of concepts like marginalized experience and cultural appropriation though, our relationships with classic literature may change. We now critique certain examples of classics because of what they imply about non-Western, non-white cultures, or what they leave out. We critique them based on the roles women do or don’t play, or how characters of color are treated, or whether characters coded LGBT are sympathetic. As a disabled woman, I find myself being harsher with books like Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple because of how they treat members of my groups.

    How does this heightened critique and awareness mean we should treat the classics? That is, can we still learn valuable things from these books even if they are cringe-worthy in their rhetoric or character portrayals? How can we engage with these books, without spending all our time on the problematic parts? Some of these classics have been retold because of heightened critique; was this a good or bad idea? And, are these critiques even valid, or should we simply say, "This was written in another time and we should simply accept that?" Discuss.

    • The critiques are valid, in my opinion. It is important to understand the contexts these stories were written in as they allow us to realize how much things have changed and, more importantly, what has not changed. To simply admit that these novels were written in a different time suggests that the problems that existed back then are solved now. We know that this is not the case, that people are still marginalized and cultures are still being appropriated. Learning about these issues when they were more apparent allow us to understand the injustices that are still ongoing today. – Kennedy 2 years ago
    • While thoughtful critique of problematic elements in classic literature can further productive discussion and help us understand how certain harmful attitudes became normalized, we must be careful not to judge historical works too harshly by today's standards. Rather than canceling classics entirely, it may be better to teach and analyze them with appropriate context, acknowledging flaws while still appreciating positives. Some reimagined versions aim to be more inclusive, but lose the original voice. Classics remain relevant when transcending their time and place to speak to universal human truths. No work is perfect, and reasonable people can disagree on how to handle insensitive content. Open discourse allows growth, while knee-jerk condemnation often does not. If we discard all works containing outdated views, we lose touch with our past and ability to learn from it. A balanced approach, neither banning classics nor accepting dated views uncritically, may be best as we determine how to engage thoughtfully with these works in today's climate. – Nyxion 3 months ago

    The Cancelling of Sapphic and Women's-Centered Series

    Social media is buzzing about a disturbing, but not necessarily new trend–the cancelling of sapphic television series, especially on streaming services like Netflix. "Sapphic" refers to content "of or relating to sexual attraction or interplay between women," and disgruntled and confused viewers aren’t seeing enough of it. They point out the short-lived nature of once-popular series such as The Baby-Sitters’ Club (2020) and Paper Girls, to name only two.

    Even more disturbingly, some series that might not be called sapphic, but are certainly women-centered, have been cancelled, were panned by critics, or have disappeared into long hiatuses. (See Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Anne With an E for examples).

    Discuss why these series, especially on Netflix, might have been disproportionately represented on the chopping block. Do the "powers that be" see women-centered content, particularly the sapphic, as a threat, and if yes, why? Do cancellations happen just because of the nature of Netflix–shorter seasons and encouragement of "bingeing"–but if yes, why is male-centered content not cancelled as well? Do female viewers want different types of content, and if yes, what do they want? What would it take to bring female-centered shows, sapphic and otherwise, front and center on streaming services again?

    • This is such an important topic! It’s also important to compare it to other queer works released, especially ones about white gay men and explore how bias and discrimination plays into it – Anna Samson 11 months ago

    The Impact of Blue and Bluey

    A popular meme showing Blue of Blue’s Clues fame and Bluey of the eponymous Australian cartoon reads, "Every so often, a blue dog appears to guide a new generation." Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, one cannot deny the popularity and relevance of Blue and Bluey for millennials and Gen Z in particular.

    Examine and analyze these two blue canines, their compatriots, and their shows. Compare and contrast them. What makes them both so engaging, yet unique to the generations at which they were originally aimed? What makes both so special for both the children and parents who watch them now? Why have both shows succeeded in netting older "periphery demographics" (e.g., older elementary students) where other shows have not? Or conversely, if one show or the other drove, or is driving, other older viewers up the proverbial wall, why is that?


      The Rise of the Split Time Novel

      Currently, split time novels are some of the most popular in the fiction market. These novels usually pair a historical protagonist with a contemporary one, connecting their stories across time through similar themes and motifs or sometimes a significant object or event. For instance, one protagonist might have lived through World War I or II, and the other might be that protagonist’s grandchild or great-grandchild looking for answers regarding what happened to that grandparent during the war years, but the other family members never talk about.

      Despite the popularity of these stories, they’re arguably becoming formulaic. Some time periods and plotlines are becoming overdone. For instance, it is no longer uncommon for World War II to be the featured historical period. A contemporary protagonist is often drawn to care about the past only if he or she "gets something out of it," such as a promotion at work or a "last chance" to connect with a grandparent dealing with dementia (the question becomes, why didn’t the grandchild ever attempt to connect before)?

      Discuss some of the more popular split time novels and what sets them apart from their myriad counterparts. Discuss what historical time periods aren’t being taken advantage of right now that could be, or what plotlines contemporary characters could experience. For instance, could time travel be a possibility? Body or identity switches? Historical and future timelines?

      • I suggest including good examples of split-time novels to give authors a basis to work from. – noahspud 7 months ago
      • I agree with noahspud, some examples would be perfect. – Beatrix Kondo 7 months ago
      • I think something that could break the formulaic nature of the trope would be to have an integration of two different cultures and timelines that are neither modern nor Eurocentric. As you have mentioned the contemporary counterpart is usually the default, acting as the representative of the modern audience, however as an example, if someone from 18th-century Japan met someone from Ancient Egypt or 14th-century Brazil, there can be more chances for complexity. The downside would be introducing the viewer to too many unknown systems. The benefit of the eurocentric and modern counterpart is that it acts as a blank slate. Could this potentially work? – LadyAcademia 7 months ago

      The Arts' Love of All Things Winter

      Disney’s Frozen burst into our theaters and onto our small screens in 2013, and no one has "let it go" since. The film became a franchise, with rumors of a third installment coming in 2023 or later. But Frozen is not the only wintry tale media consumers love. "Winter tales" can be found across mediums, from TV series like Game of Thrones whose tagline is "Winter is Coming," to a plethora of books with titles like The Snow Child, WinterFrost, and Girls Made of Snow and Glass. Many of today’s super-powered or "chosen one" protagonists also have winter-related powers; Queen Elsa might be the most obvious, but there is also Jack Frost from Rise of the Guardians, as well as Freya from Snow White and the Huntsman.

      Winter permeates the arts, no matter the season. Yet what is it about this season, out of four, that captures the imagination of writers, filmmakers, and other artists? Analyze a few prevalent winter tales across mediums, looking for commonalities among characters, character arcs, plot threads, powers, and more. Could the other three seasons garner this kind of attention, and if yes, what would it take to make that happen? Are artists, authors, and others who craft "winter tales" trying to make a statement about their art, themselves, or humanity through winter? If yes, what is it? Discuss.

      • Maybe write more about your thoughts? Answer some of the questions you ask? – Thorn 9 months ago
      • The writings on winter here may include analysis of well-known as well as lesser known poems and songs on winter. Winter is an interesting topic for writing, even to those living in hotter places like mine. – Anvar Sadhath 8 months ago

      The Blending of Christianity and Horror

      The most recent horror film on Hollywood’s docket is Prey for the Devil, which concerns Sister Ann. This devout nun wants to be an exorcist and would be great at it, but her training school accepts only men. Yet Sister Ann may be the only one who can help the patients in the school’s attached hospital for the possessed, including a ten-year-old girl. The blending of Christianity and horror in this film is by turns respectful to the Church and seems to encourage audiences to explore, if not root for, the demonic.

      It’s a conundrum found in many similar films, such as The Exorcist and The Nun. The question is why this blend comes up so often, and especially why the Catholic Church is presented on the front lines in this murky battle between good and evil (they aren’t always on the "good" side). Are these portrayals as balanced as they could and arguably should be? How can or should horror films stay true to their genre, while portraying Christians or perhaps people of other faiths, as those who would protect or save innocents from the demonic? What do these films say about spiritual battle lines in real life? Discuss.

      • Midnight Mass is a great miniseries to look at. The show expertly uses Christian/Catholic imagery as a backdrop for its story. Faith and religion are key components of the show. Its an exceptional show for this topic, and a great piece of art generally. – Sean Gadus 1 year ago
      • I think mention of films like the Witch, Saint Maud, and Men could help this topic — their connections to christianity are more textual and less aesthetic. It would also be worthwhile to get a little more specific with the thesis. – loubadun 9 months ago

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      Latest Comments

      Stephanie M.

      I’m thrilled to see Beth getting so much love. That was my goal with this article, and the comments tell me I did my job, so that’s great. Also, yes. I will die on the hill that Beth deserved, and deserves, better, especially from remakes and reboots. (Yes, I know. Don’t think I haven’t considered tackling this myself)! 😉

      Reinventing Beth March
      Stephanie M.

      Good job! I’m something of an “unintentional” whump writer, meaning it’s not all I do and I don’t write a story seeking to do whump with it, but I loooove a good safe for work whump scene. In my case, it’s because I have an inner caretaker who wants to play. I love writing the recovery, the moment when the whumpee gets their strength and confidence back. Glad to see this made the lineup, and glad to help with the revisions!

      Whump And Its Role Outside of Fandom
      Stephanie M.

      Nice work! I’ve been playing with the idea of doing an article with Coraline and/or the Other Mother in it, so thanks for the inspiration. (Margin note: I’ve had a particular interest in Newsies for a while now. The Other Mother’s spider motif currently makes me think of Snyder the Spider. Maybe something that unites them with some other antagonists? Underrated villains, maybe? The kind you think you can take, but you don’t wanna mess with? Hmmmmm…)

      Laika and the Power of Eyes: A Soul's Quest for Self-Possession
      Stephanie M.

      First off, I want to thank you for the topic and article itself. I have cerebral palsy. It’s mild and my support needs are low, but I have suffered from health anxiety brought on by medical trauma. Because of that, I’ve also had frustration and anger leveled at me, as well as accusations of hypochondria and obsession. It’s not easy, especially as a woman, so thank you for even acknowledging that health anxiety does exist, it’s valid, and people who have it aren’t unstable.

      Also, I don’t mind saying, I am staunchly and unapologetically pro-life. At the same time, I can see how Rosemary’s Baby is a valuable part of the health conversation no matter one’s stance on the abortion issue. That is, I don’t necessarily think the issue is, “Guy took control and didn’t listen to Rosemary, so they ended up with a literal devil child.” I think the issue is, “Guy acted cruelly and inappropriately, and everyone ended up hurt. Everyone suffered. A life that should have been innocent and protected, wasn’t.” *That* is a conversation you can have outside politics, and I think more people should have. The same is true for Night of the Living Dead, esp. after the pandemic and all the conspiracy theories and accusations that still exist. Bravo, particularly for a Halloween article that made me think and will make others think, too!

      Health Anxiety in the 1960s as a Motif in Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead
      Stephanie M.

      Great job uniting an optimistic ending for your article with the sobering truths Hollywood still hosts and refuses to face (e.g., it took until the 21st century for a Black woman to win Best Actress, LGBTQ characters are still stereotyped, and so on).

      A Historical Perspective on Individuals Excluded During the Golden Age through Netflix's Hollywood Series
      Stephanie M.

      Cool analysis of these villains, and while I wouldn’t have put them in the order you chose, I respect that choice because of how it lines up with the way you explain everyone’s personalities (Bonnie and Clyde-esque criminals vs. spoiled brats vs. dictator and so on). I haven’t actually seen every single movie in the Shrek franchise because I’m one of those people who tends to think, “Sequels are never as good as the originals.” But now I want to!

      Villains of the Shrek Universe: From Nursery Rhymes to the Grim Reaper
      Stephanie M.

      Great topic and article! As the original power-hungry female villain, Lady Macbeth certainly leaves an impression. Moreover, her desire to be “unsexed” begs to be plumbed, analyzed, criticized, and so on in the 21st century. When one considers the evolving concept of gender theory, the pressure on women to be strong, have it all, and do it all, and the accusation that men are being emasculated and feminized, Lady M takes on multiple, if not completely new, facets. Two of my favorite college courses were Shakespeare and a “linked” course called Women in Literature/Women in Religion (two profs in one room, double time slot). I would pay a fee all over again for a course like that, which had Lady Macbeth on the syllabus.

      Lady Macbeth: Unravelling the Complexities of Shakespeare's Iconic Character
      Stephanie M.

      Great post for this time of year. I especially love the images. Also, I am as always honored to have helped with the revisions.

      Poe's Horror: Reading "The Fall of The House of Usher"