Sunday, April 3, 2011

Horror. Why we love to read it, and why I love to write it.

April 8-10th will be the 2011 Nebraska Writers Guild Spring Conference.  One of the many things I'll be doing to help with this conference is having a table to display information about speculative fiction.  What's that?  Speculative fiction encompasses the darker side of literature.  Subjects ranging from pure horror to science fiction and fantasy.  To prepare, I've spent a lot of time thinking about horror.  Why are people drawn to it?  Why do I write horror?

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!


Mary J. Caffrey said...

I suppose the first horror story for me was the darker side of the Bible, all the more impressive taught in Catholic Catechism classes. It's guilt and fear that lasts a lifetime, if allowed. It can eat a child alive.

Of course, all great literature includes elements of horror. Great challenges are conquered by the protagonist. "The Black Pearl" by Steinbeck is an example of such a short story.

Thanks, Lisa, for posting this very thought-provoking article on your blog.

D. Anthony Brown said...

I loved all things dark and gothic, and when I thought on this I had a hard time placing when I started reading horror stories, as opposed to young adult mysteries with supernatural themes (e.g. The Three Investigators). I read Dracula when I was ten (I was a strange child), but I can't say I "got it". I suppose at the time I was curious about death and sexuality.

The first horror writer to hit me between the eyes was H.P. Lovecraft, around the time when I was twelve. I liked his work because so much of it is about outsiders and loners (I was a strange, geeky child). The one story that has truly stuck with me throughout the years is "The Doom That Came to Sarnath". This story struck me for the same reason Carrie struck you, but instead of a single bullied victim, Sarnath is about a whole society of victims and their ghastly victory over their oppressors.


P.S. Why is it so hard for us LJ users to post on Blogger? Or is it just me?

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