Horror writer Douglas Winter says it very well. ” Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.”
A well-crafted horror story posesses the ability to grab my attention, and forces me to confront some part of my psyche I’d rather not face. Yesterday, I was talking to a fellow writer about writing dark fiction. (Hi Emily!) I made the observation that if I am not squirming in my seat when I’m writing horror, I’m not digging deep enough inside the recesses of my own soul. In a very real way, writing horror is a window into the author’s being. In gifted horror writer Joe Hill’s story, “You will Hear the Locust Sing,” Francis, the main character, turns into a giant bug, who then proceeds to eat his father. It doesn’t take much to realize that Joe just might be having some major daddy-issues with his rather famous horror writer father, one Stephen King.
Yes, writing horror is catharsis, therapy, and if done well, something that alters the way the reader views the world. I challenge readers of Alice Seibold’s, “The Lovely Bones,” to come away unchanged. The best-selling Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins “Left Behind”series fits this definition as well. Disagree with me? The Horror Writers of America don’t! They even list the Bible as a horror book. Demons, plagues, apocalypses… Yep, that fits my definition for horror.
I sometimes wonder what readers of my stories will infer about my innermost thoughts from reading my work. My co-authors, D. Anthony Brown, Brian Thomas, and Johnny Houser’s demons will end up on display too. Or at least they will if we do our job as writers well. Because, if it doesn’t make me squirm in my chair when I’m writing it, I can promise you won’t squirm in yours when you are reading it.
I’ll leave you with this, and I hope you’ll take time to add your own stories as comments.
I remember the very first real horror book I ever read. I was in seventh grade, and staying overnight at my friend Renee’s house along with friends Sandy and Lynnette. I was wearing a white flannel nightgown, with white lace on the yoke, laying on the floor in a sleeping bag, and even though the rest of the girls had drifted off to sleep, or were gushing about boys, maybe some of both. I picked up this book, and from the title, it was about a girl. A girl in High School. So, I started reading. And I could. Not. Stop! The book was “Carrie.” I read the entire thing, cover to cover, that night by flashlight, curled up in a ball in that sleeping bag on Renee’s hardwood bedroom floor.
Notice how detailed this memory is. It was one of those PROFOUND moments, one that changed my life forever. Yes the details of the story scared the bejezus out of me, but the emotional impact was much deeper. I couldn’t stop thinking about that poor Carrie, how many horrific things she’d endured, and how she’d managed to fight back against everything and everyone that oppressed her. I was a geeky, sometimes bullied junior high student, and it resonated with me. It was more memorable than losing my virginity. (No, I’m not sharing that story. Sorry. Maybe, just maybe it will show up in a future story. I do write horror… bwahahaha)
Now it’s your turn. What was YOUR first horror story? Did it change you? How? Thanks for playing along!