Summer Scares 2019 Resources

Click here to immediately access the Summer Scares FAQ and Resource page so that you can add some professionally vetted horror titles into your reading suggestions and fiction collections for all age levels.

Monday, October 14, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 14 -- Becky's Favorite Horror Resources

Now that we have been going for two weeks, and everyone is getting in the horror groove [even the most timid amount us], I thought now was a good day to remind you of my favorite resources that you can use all year long to help your scariest readers.

I maintain a "Horror Resources" page at all times here on the blog. The title line always notes the last time it was updated [month.year].

I try to keep that page as streamlined as possible but there is still a lot of information there, and I realize it can be overwhelming to those of you who are already less confident helping horror readers. To make it easier, I have a short comment about what this resource does best, and I have called out my favorites if you need even quicker access to a resource.

Below I have posted the content of that page to highlight it today, but it is always one click away in the right gutter, "Horror Resources."

Finally, while it is listed at the end of the Horror Resources page, the Summer Scares program has it's own page. It is filled with essays, lists, and of course, the first 9 vetted titles from 2019's inaugural Summer Scares program.

Over the last few days of this month, I will be highlighting Summer Scares in more detail with a wrap up of 2019's activities and the announcement of 2020's program.

In the meantime, check out some of my favorite horror resources and remember to use them all year long.


Here is a list of my favorite horror resources. This list is always being updated, so please send me your favorites by leaving a comment.

Horror RA Print Titles:
Horror Web Resources: By no means is this a comprehensive list of every horror resource available; rather this list focuses on the resources that will be the most relevant to you, the general library worker, to use to help leisure readers, from those who are hardcore horror fans to those who want to give the genre a try and everyone in between. Those marked with “***” are the ones I think are the most useful for your work with leisure readers and for collection development.
Horror Publishers are also a resource. Click here for my list of the best ones for libraries.

And, for access to all of the Summer Scares resources, lists, and vetted titles click here for its page.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 13- Why I Love Horror by HWA President John Palisano

Today I present to you horror author and the current President of the Horror Writers Association, John Palisano writing about why he loves horror.

John has won the Bram Stoker Award and also runs the popular Gothic Book Club at The Last Book Store in LA.

If you don't have any of Palisano's books in your collections, my advice would be to start with Night of 1,000 Beasts.

Horror and Me: a personal relationship

By John Palisano

A few years back, I visited my son’s elementary school classroom. At one point, the kids were pulled from their iPads and desks. Filing to the library, the sense of excitement was overwhelming. What new electronic gizmo were they going to see? What new tech wonder would be unveiled for them? 

When we arrived, imagine my surprise to find them scurry into the isles, their fingers scrolling the spines, their voices trying their best not to break whispers. 

Every kid had a book. They waited in line and checked them out. 

Back in the classroom, the kids shared their finds with one another. Mostly? They had creepy books. Scary books. Monsters. When I asked one why she was so interested, she said, “Because books are real things. Stuff on the computer isn’t as real.” 

It delighted me that people at such a young age had the same feelings for books and libraries I’d had at their age. It seemed eBooks and digital were taking over. For this generation? It hadn’t. 

The world is a scary place for kids. There comes a certain age where they start to see the cracks. Heck, some kids see the trenches way early in life. I know I did. 

When I first picked up horror books––namely Stephen King like most kids my age––I found a voice speaking to me that got that darkness on such a profound level. Even the most comfortable of families could have the worst secrets. And a lot of the time? It was the people who were good who were shoved into the sights of the grinning maniac. It didn’t matter if they were good. In fact? It made those maniacs revel in it even more. The bad guys did an awful lot of winning. Sure, maybe there would be a comeuppance at the end, but the maniacs (or clowns, or devils, or reanimated pets) did an awful lot of damage along the way.

And maybe the good guys, down a team member or three, found a way to banish the maniacs, but there was always the threat that they could and likely would be back. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week. Maybe a few decades down the line. 

That right there was the perfect kind of truth. It made me feel better to know that I wasn’t alone in recognizing that. Sure, I was a weirdo, but there were a lot of others like me who had a yearly pass to the Theme Park from Hell. Some visited in dreams. Some visited in real life. But we all met inside the pages of these stories, and it gave us a shared purpose. It put it all into context. And it was a whole lot more fun to imagine that bully was actually a conduit of Satan. Or that the angry gym teacher had a cellar full of the undead keeping him up all night crying for brains. Or that those most beloved to us that we’d lost could be seen again, even if their skin and souls may have turned to rot after the last time we’d seen them. 

What horror gave to me gives to those just discovering the comforts of the dark … a place where they find those like-minded souls, where they befriend monsters, where they find a place at the table, a place that may not be safe, a place that’s never boring, but a place that understands them profoundly. 

Once upon a time, horror stories scared people. That was their main job. But something happened along the way to the asylum. Horror became a reflection of the messed up world around its readers, viewers and listeners. Horror became a comfort. Horror became a lifestyle where sense can be made of the madness, where the crazy ones weren’t as awful as the real people out there, where those feelings and anxieties could be read about, expressed, and understood. It’s something I came to realize, and it’s something I imagine those kids in my son’s elementary school picked up on inherently. Horror is a great place for those that may feel a little misunderstood. Horror is a safe place to explore and express the things happening in a very scary new world. Horror is a safe place. A comfortable place. Despite what some of its detractors may think? Horror is here to stay. At least for the next generation. May they find their light in the darkness and join the tribe of us already there. 

Recently, I’ve taken up the mantle of President for the Horror Writers Association. 

Working with libraries and librarians has been a dream come true, and brings me full circle. For so many of us, as well. Again and again, our members have similar stories to my own, and becoming involved with libraries, librarians, and their patrons has been very rewarding on so many levels. Thanks for reading, and thanks for spreading the word about reading! 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 12-- Why I Love Horror by John Hornor Jacobs

Today I am featuring the final author who appeared in my Library Journal column on horror novellas, John Hornor Jacobs.

Jacob's A Lush and Seething Hell is actually two novellas being published in 1 book. [Of course Becky found a way to include 6 novellas in her 5 novella list.]

I put this title last in the list of 5 because it was the most mainstream of the bunch, put out by a Big 5 publisher, and has been generated buzz for months. Jacobs is an author who has won awards in the past and this is a book making "best of the month lists." I anticipate it showing up in some end of the year best lists too.

Putting the best known and most emblematic title of the theme of the list last, ends the list on a high point, something you want to do with all the lists you create no matter how many titles are on them. Put your best title at the end, not the beginning. Leave people satisfied but wanting more, as I hope I did with you this week.

Click here to read the column in Library Journal if you missed it or want a refresher.

Here is John Hornor Jacobs, author of A Lush and Seething Hell sharing why he loves horror.

And one final thanks to all five authors for participating.


Why I Love Horror 

I almost titled this essay, “Why I Need Horror” because… *gestures at everything*. It’s a scary time right now and in a lot of ways horror helps us express and compartmentalize those fears. Over the last decade, we’ve recovered from the “horror crash” of the late 80s and horror as a genre now has gained even more relevance – with more women and people of color and members of the LGBTQ communities publishing and making movies, their stories are expressing their fears and realities in exciting and engaging ways. 
I’ve often said that horror is the ur-genre, the first story form, when humankind sat around the fire and told stories about monsters beyond the firelight, they did so for a very real reason – to warn of the dangers lurking in the woods, in the dark. Back when we weren’t the dominant predator on the planet. And through the millennia, those cautionary tales wormed their way into our genetic memory. 

But why do I love horror? When I was a child, my father would take me to see movies like Jaws or Alien in the theater when I was far too young to be exposed to them. I remember the summer of 1976 after seeing Jaws when I wouldn’t get in the swimming pool or any body of water, really. At some point I started seeking out horror on my own once I began reading. I loved Dracula and Frankenstein and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (both of which have some strong horror elements, despite being beloved fantasies). My school librarian, seeing the kind of books I was gravitating toward, showed me other classics, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the ghost stories of M.R. James. Eventually, she placed in my hot little hands my first John Bellairs book. The House With A Clock In Its Walls with the Edward Gorey cover. And with that, my fate was sealed. 

It might be that I was introduced to it by my father, indoctrinated into it by my local library, but in the end my love of horror fulfilled a need in my psyche. Despite taking me to movies, my dad didn’t lavish me with attention, nor did my mother: I wasn’t, technically, a neglected child. But I was a latchkey kid, both of my parents worked and both of my parents (who are still together after 55 years) focused on each other more than they focused on me. I think I was ten or eleven years old when they started leaving me at home alone when they traveled out of town for the weekends. Something I would never have dreamed of doing with my kids, but they had no problem with, and I didn’t know any better to question it. It was a different time. My parents were (and remain) very social and possessed a cadre of friends they went places with and for most of this circle of adults kids weren’t any of their first priorities. 

So, I spent a lot of my time reading and watching films. Horror was my entertainment of choice. For young boys, at least those in the 70s, watching horror was a way to experience feelings in safe ways that weren’t too confusing. There was always the intimation of sex – the presence of gratuitous boobs in horror movies have become an online joke – but often the world building in horror was simplistic, good versus evil and the characters were challenged to defeat a growing evil to return the world to the status quo. Horror has become more nuanced and less schlocky over the years – works like It Follows and Get Out and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, books like House of Leaves or A Head Full of Ghosts or The Historian and even Anne Rice’s Lestat oeuvre, all these plumb the grey areas of the human heart in conflict with itself - but back when I was first cutting my teeth on it, if you will, horror tended to be simplistic. For me, that offered a lot of comfort growing up. A stability I didn’t have. My weekends were filled with bike rides to The Paperback Writer our used bookstore and then to That’s Entertainment our local video rental place until the former was sent a cease and desist from the The Beatle’s Apple Corporation and the latter was put out of business by Blockbuster that opened shop in a nearby strip mall. Both had horror sections and I was a well-known haunt in those aisles. 

I was addicted, in a way. Horror gives pleasure. It’s counterintuitive to say that, but it’s true. In the same way that rollercoasters do. Horror works on my psyche (I can’t speak for everyone) like tension and release in music. There’s a stressor, a dissonance, a building sound that ultimately has to resolve back to the tonic, the root note. This dissonance is, possibly, the examination of the darker territories of the human heart. Like music, horror can affect you on a physiological level. Fear will make your eyes dilate, your heart rate increases the blood flow to your extremities because it is tricking you into thinking you are in danger and will need to fight or flee. Horror is a trick we pull on ourselves to cause us to feel something. It’s masturbatory in that way. 

In the end, a lot of horror winds up making people feel safer, rather than discomposed and fearful, because it allows us to express our fear in healthy and compartmentalized ways. There is a logic and order to horror: for the most part wrongs are righted, evil is defeated (enough to end the film or book though maybe not enough to preclude a sequel). There’s often a narrative sense of justice in horror – while some might perish in strange, unnatural, even gory ways, the truly vile always get what they deserve. And that is kind of nice.  

Friday, October 11, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 11: Why I Love Horror by Rachel Autumn Deering

Today I am featuring the fourth author who appeared in my Library Journal column on horror novellas, Rachel Autumn Deering.

Deering's novella, Husk was always going to be on this list. In fact, hers is the only title that did not come out this year on the list, but after listening to Episode 19 of The Ladies of the Fright Podcast where Lisa and Mackenzie discuss this novella in detail, I went to Amazon and ordered my own copy immediately. That was a little over a year ago, but the book stayed with me.

As I mentioned on Monday, I was inspired to make this year's column about novellas after attending a panel on the format during StokerCon, but Husk is the first title I thought of while everyone was talking. I knew it had to be included no matter what.

Husk comes fourth on the list because it also features an unreliable narrator, like One for the Road before it. This makes an easy transition between the titles. But Husk is also the most realistic story in the bunch. It could be supernatural or it could be a psychological suspense, and it is up to the reader to decide. After the clearly supernatural One for the Road, Husk was a nice counterpoint, and the pair clearly illustrate the range of the very best of the genre.

Some of you may find Deering's name familiar as she is also an accomplished media and comics writer.

Click here to read the column in Library Journal if you missed it or want a refresher.

Here is Rachel Autumn Deering, author of Husk, on sharing, for the first time honestly, why she loves horror.


Why horror?

I would be lying if I told you I had an answer. I'm asked the question often—why horror—and I almost always whip up a reply that I hope will satisfy the interviewer. Just this once, though, I would like to try being honest, if you'll allow it. I don't know why I love consuming or experiencing horror. Until I became somewhat known for writing within the genre, I had never even stopped to consider how or why I found joy in being afraid. I had also never questioned why I liked playing video games or why kisses from my aunt were gross but kisses from the young lady down the road were magical. That's just the way things were. Monsters were always a kiss from the girl down the road to me.

Horror is diverse, though, and I might be able to give you some insight into why I write and enjoy my specific brand of deep southern, Appalachian gothic. Broken families and mental illness are a way of life where I come from and those influences are heavily reflected in the stories I choose to tell. My characters are messy and sometimes difficult to love but always (I hope) impossible to forget. To accurately relate my experiences as a young person, and to tell personal stories that are true to who I am at my core, I had to frame things with trappings of depression, domestic violence, drug addiction, poverty, and religious fanaticism. I don't aim to say every person who writes horror has had a troubled past that looks anything like mine, but I can almost certainly guarantee you that horror is their way of taking power away from whatever their traumas and obsessions and fears happen to be and turning it into something larger-than-life and almost cartoonish. Horror is our way of making reality unrealistic, getting it out of us, and letting it go. Shoo, now. Go and keep someone else up at night. And sometimes it works, and sometimes we feel better for a while, and sometimes people pay us for that over-inflated honesty and it lets us know it's okay to be so vulnerable and human.

Horror helps us make sense of things. There is a good and there is an evil. This is who you root for and this is who you avoid—or else! In a world where very little makes sense and the rules change day to day, horror is stable. Horror stays horrible so we don't have to.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 10-- Why I Love Horror by Wesley Southard

Today I am featuring the third author who appeared in my Library Journal column on horror novellas, another debut author, Wesley Southard.

I was given a copy of Southard's One for the Road by author Brian Keene at StokerCon. Keene brought Southard up to me and said, "Becky you have to read this book. Meet Wes." I ended up reading this book on a work trip a week later and I LOVED it. I was inspired to write a review immediately on Goodreads, which you can read here.

This book is third on the list for a few reasons. It follows Snow Over Utopia because both are centered around a road trip, but One for the Road is much more violent [in a good way]. I like to build my lists so that the violence hits its peak in the middle of the list.

Knowing that my audience is a little wary of horror to begin with, I gradually build them up to the most in your face title, and then slowly let them back down, so that when they get desposited at the end, they are back in a comfortable location [as you will see in the next 2 days].

But if you are looking for a thought provoking, fun, fast read, with some of the most creative monsters you have ever read, get this one. Your patrons will thank you. It is currently my leader for my category of "most fun I had reading a book this year."

Click here to read the column in Library Journal if you missed it or want a refresher.

Here is Wesley Southard, author of One for the Road, on why he loves horror.


Why do I love horror?    

When I was young, my father and I didn’t have a whole lot in common.  He liked to hunt, fish, watch football, and work out. I was quite the opposite.  I hated sports, I couldn’t stand to be outdoors, and I would have rather kicked rocks than be caught at a gym.  As an adult, I’ve grown to love sports (ice hockey may be a small obsession of mine), and I now have a better appreciation for activities outside of the house, but back then I wouldn’t have any of it.  We were both looking for something to bond over.   

All he had to do was simply look back to when he was a boy. 

Those nights when he wasn’t rearing me on the classic rock he grew up with, we watched the old horror films he saw as a kid.  He would tell me about a film he loved about a young boy who was being chased by a very tall undertaker, and there were these flying silver balls that would stick into people’s heads and drain their blood from a little drill inside.  He was obviously talking about Don Coscarelli’s 1979 film Phantasm, and after watching it once I was hooked.  Another film he remember from years prior was about a group of teenagers who went to stay in a creepy cabin in the Tennessee woods.  They find a book bound in human skin and inked in blood, and after reading the passages within, all hell breaks loose. To this day, The Evil Dead remains one of my favorite films.  Now granted, not every horror film he brought home from Blockbuster was a winner.  I’ll never forget watching an old Bigfoot film called The Legend of Boggy Creek.  I think we spent more time laughing at the terrible soundtrack then actually being scared. 

That didn’t matter to me.  After years of searching, we finally found something to call ours.  It felt great, and it was the start of gravitating toward other forms of horror.  When I wasn’t watching everything Wes Craven or George A. Romero had to offer, I discovered R.L. Stine and his seminal Goosebumps book series.  Now, you may laugh when I say seminal, but for a whole generation of nineties kids, those books were like a drug.  Me personally, I couldn’t get enough of them. Now granted, they weren’t particularly scary. More than anything, they were entertaining.  They kept kids reading, back before we had to worry about their eyeballs rotting in the glow of cell phone screens. I’ll never forget being at my elementary school Scholastic Book Fair.  Before we could buy books, we had to sit through a children’s improv troupe from the Midwest called Tales and Scales. I enjoyed them, but directly behind them, locked up in large metal cases, was the newest Goosebumps book.  I remember the moment the show ended, and the fair runners cracked open the cases, I sprinted down the bleachers and dove head-first into the books.  No joke. I literally crawled under other kids legs just to be the first to have that new scary book with the embossed letters dripping down its glossy cover.  Remember what I said about those books being like drugs? 

Those Scholastic Book Fairs were a big deal to me, as were the pamphlets they regularly handed out in class.  Any book that looked scary, I had to have it. To this day, I swear it had to be a mistake. I’ll never forget thumbing through those pages, looking for something cool, anything to catch my eye―and there it was.  The cover had vampires across it, and their snarling, fanged faces went on in the painting, as far as the eye could see. I knew instantly I had to have it. My parent’s purchased it, and for the next few weeks I attempted to read my very first adult horror novel.  And although I didn’t understand much of the subtext or heady themes, the short novel nevertheless enraptured me. By the time I hit high school and reread it as a teenager, it blew my mind, and I couldn’t help but wonder how this was being sold to children. Thank God it was, otherwise I never would have read Richard Matheson’s pivotal short novel, I Am Legend, a book that I still call my absolute favorite.  Believe it or not, I still own that very Tor paperback all these years later. 

By the time I hit high school, my love for music and horror helped me find many other friends I wouldn’t have otherwise found.  It was a common bond we all shared. When not learning to play guitar in a band, we were staying up late, watching whatever late night creature feature Joe Bob Briggs was showing on TNT.  But it was my old guitar teacher that truly got the ball rolling for what the rest of my life was going to look like. He knew I liked to read, and he told me about this zombie book he was really digging at the time.  So I went and purchased a copy of Brian Keene’s first novel, The Rising.   

Game Over. 

Sure, I read and enjoyed Stephen King―I still do―but he never truly spoke to me.  Keene’s work was like a nuclear detonation in the horror genre, and I had jumped onto that hurtling rocket very early on in his career.  Discovering his work was like finding my R.L. Stine all over again as an adult. Even while going to college for music, I was still devouring his work, along with the work of his peers.  Keene became Richard Laymon, who became J.F. Gonzalez, who became Tim Lebbon, who became Ray Garton, and so on. Even in a school full of musicians, I still felt like an outsider. From the time I was thirteen, all I wanted to be was a famous guitar player in a traveling heavy metal band…but in the back of my mind I wanted to be like one of these guys whose work I loved so much.  They were becoming like rock stars to me, and once I moved back home from college and decided music just wasn’t my passion anymore, it was a fateful meeting with Mr. Keene at a book signing in Indianapolis that lead me to pull completely into another direction. 

I hung up the guitar and broke out the laptop, and over the course of the next decade I wrote my first novel.  The Betrayed isn’t a perfect book, and it sure isn’t pretty either, but it was my little drop in the ever-growing bucket of horror literature.  And it felt good. Really good. You know what else it felt like? Like I had finally found my purpose. At another book signing event, I encountered other young writers like me who welcomed me into their little horror family.  And what a generous, loving bunch they were. Nearly a decade later, I now have four books published and dozens of short stories―with many more to come―and it was all because of their love and support. I met the woman who would go on to become the love of my life, and years later I would move from Indiana to Pennsylvania, where I could be closer to my new friends and family. 

Earlier you asked why I love horror.  Horror means absolutely everything to me.  It gave me a way to be closer to my family.  It gave me comfort and entertainment in those dark times in my life.  It gave me lifelong friendships and the best mentors I could ever ask for.  And it gave me a purpose. I now have the same unique ability, like my heroes―Brian Keene, Graham Masterton, and Edward Lee―before me, to tell my own compelling stories.  I now get to scare people, to make others cringe, laugh, cry, scream, and smile. I get to tell stories that one day someone will pick up and, hopefully, inspire them to write, too, and give their life some sort of meaning.     

That’s all anyone can ask for.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 9-- Why I Love Horror by Rudolfo A. Serna

Today I am featuring the second author who appeared in my Library Journal column on horror novellas, another debut author, Rudolfo A. Serna.

I found out about Serna's Snow Over Utopia from my contacts at Apex Publications. Apex is a small publisher who have an amazing track record of publishing important voices in science fiction, fantasy and horror, first. For example, they were the first people to publish Rebecca Roanhorse and one of their editors is Maurice Broaddus who just recently signed a three book deal with Tor.

Apex knows good speculative fiction, and I have learned to always reach out and see what is on their radar. Last year they had an open call and Serna's novella was one of the titles they received.

I included this title second in the list because, like Sharma's Ormeshadow which came before it on the list, it is not 100% horror. Snow Over Utopia mixes scene fiction, fantasy, and horror with a psychedelic feel that is disorienting, and fun. I think it will surprise a lot of people who don't think they like horror. But as Serna discusses below, "horror" is a part of a lot more than the aervage person realizes.

Click here to read the column in Library Journal if you missed it or want a refresher.

Here is Rudolfo A. Serna, author of Snow Over Utopia, on why he loves horror.


Why I Love Horror 
Rudolfo A. Sera 

I cannot particularly say that growing up in northern New Mexico drove me to horror, but certainly there was an element of isolation and loneliness as one experiences in an expansive landscape, and in dark orchards and fields after sundown— impressing upon my imagination something of a fear. It could have been that I was a child of a video-age which allowed me and my generation to watch our favorite horror movies over and over again, reliving moments of terror. And even though I would run through the pitch dark of the orchard to reach the lights of the house, convinced that something lingered among the apple trees, I found these horror movies compelling and fun. With perhaps an innate disposition to the macabre, something to do with the fantasy of a menagerie of monsters, maniacs, and supernatural demons from endless dimensions possessing the willing and unwilling alike. I always had an interest towards the bizarre or strange, and that has obviously crept into my work, willingly or not.  

I do not consider myself a horror writer per se. Instead, I think my writing contains certain horror elements, which are just as natural to me as the other sci-fi and fantastical components associated with speculative fiction. As a reader of the classics, I have found much in history, myths, and old stories, perhaps much more than in the genre literature itself, which I feel can be formulaic at times. For me, it started with comics, and the heroes and villains involved in a constant life and death struggle, possessing supernatural powers, traveling the universe, or the deserts and oceans of Earth. I became a fan, and this is what got me into reading as a child. That imaginative landscape that I could combine with my own land of orchards, mountains and deserts; infusing those regions with my own monsters and demons, visitors from other realities. To me, that was, and still is, what interests me.  

As time went on, the comics were replaced with the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, who is as much of a fantasy writer as a writer of horror. I think that the art of true horror writing itself is something that is not easy to do. Taking people’s fears and articulating them in a way that is not only entertaining, but resonates. One of Lovecraft’s famous quotes is, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” And that is perhaps what horror has always been for me. The unknown, and trying to render the faces of those things lurking in the dark behind the trees.  

But there are all kinds of fear.  

The fear of government control, and the fear of science running amok, as found in the books of Aldous Huxley or George Orwell. And indeed, much of the best science fiction is political. I do not make much of a distinction between the different kinds of literature, and consider science fiction, not only fantastical, but allegorical, such as in the works of Ursula Le Guinn or Octavia Butler. All of these stories have some elements of horror to them. Articulating the fears of not only individuals, but the fears of society, as horror writers have always done. In gothic-horror, Dracula and Frankenstein spoke of the fears of technology and contagion. These communal fears can still be seen today in popular zombie literature and movies. Even something like William Peter’s Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist, which deals with the fear of possession and losing one’s soul or body. It is not only a central theme of the story, but the idea of being held captive is one of the most common themes throughout fiction.   

Speculative fiction itself is a liberating genre that gives the writer freedom in what and how a story can be told. It is not limited to a specific person, time, place, or even reason. It is a language that can transcend social class and ethnicity. But it goes further than just artistic freedom. I think that the attraction for fantastical and horrific tales is similar to the curiosity and wonder that is experienced when one attends a circus, a magic or freak show. Horror does have an element of escapism, but that is not to say that those that are partaking in such fantasy necessarily wish to remain perpetually in some other made up reality. But instead, like old myths and fairy tales, these stories help us to understand, to deal, navigate, and make reason of our world. 

It can be dark, it can be strange, but so can Dr. Seuss, so can the circus. The earliest of wonders, and some of the most primal feelings we have about what lingers in the woods. Wondering what is in the old house at the end of the block. It is the imagination running wild with possibilities, appealing to the child in us.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 8-- Why I Love Horror by Priya Sharma

Today I am featuring the first author who appeared in my Library Journal column on horror novellas, a debut author, Priya Sharma. I put Sharma's Ormeshadow first in this list because it is the least "scary" of the group. My idea with this list is to tell a story through the order I placed the books in, as much as let you know about great titles to share with your patrons.

In this case, my audience is you, the library worker, and I know a lot of you are frightened by just the idea of a horror story. So, I wanted to begin with the least threatening title.

I also knew I wanted to include a Tor.Com novella because they publish the most horror novellas per year. When I was at StokerCon in May, I asked Ellen Datlow, who does a lot of work on the Tor.Com novella line editing and also procuring books, what novellas coming soon was she most excited about. She didn't even take a breath before telling me all about Sharma and this work. And in the world of short horror, Datlow is the expert, so I listened.

Click here to read the column in Library Journal if you missed it or want a refresher.

Here is Priya Sharma, author of Ormeshadow, sharing why she loves horror.


As a child I was afraid of so many things.
What was under my bed. What was in the dark. 

I never spoke about it. It never occurred to me to tell my parents of the nights I spent cocooned in my quilt, sweating and suffocated, because I was too scared to put my head out.  

I lived in a home where books weren’t censored. All forms of stories were treasured. Children’s books that were full of the fantastic, like Roald Dahl, were my favourites. I loved TV shows like ‘Dr Who’, ‘Sapphire and Steel’ and ‘Armchair Thriller’, because they both appalled and fascinated me. As I got older my mother offered up the films of Hitchcock and writers like Daphne du Maurier and Thomas Hardy. If you know their work you’ll appreciate how full of difficult themes their novels are. 
I remember having a nosebleed all over my copy of ‘Jane Eyre’ when Jane is locked in the red room.  These were the things that gave me a lexicon for what was in the shadows. To name something, to give it form, reduces its power.  

From there it wasn’t a massive leap to Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Jeanette Winterson, Neil Gaiman, and Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s series of dark fairy tales. Books that I treasured included  ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter, and ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. 

As an adult my fears have changed.  

Losing my autonomy. Me or my loved one dying a painful protracted, undignified death. Violence. Looking a fool despite being prone to foolishness. Losing myself to depression. Not the world ending, but it ending slowly, mankind descending into chaos. Antibiotic resistance. Snakes. I’m not afraid of the ‘other’ but sometimes I’m afraid my myself.  

Fiction has a duty to engage and entertain. (To paraphrase Ray Bradbury’s ‘Dandelion Wine’ – you’ve got to get your chills where you can.) Good fiction makes you reflect. Great fiction makes you change. Forgive me, I’ll get to the point soon. Horror is a lumpy label containing splatterpunk to classic gothic stories. Just as Romance contains both ‘Fifty Shades of Grey” and ‘Wuthering Heights’. Good romance seduces us. We are the loved and the lover. It’s a rehearsal for life. So too with dark fiction, whether you find it on the horror, crime or literary shelves, packaged in whatever metaphors appeals to you.   

(As an aside, I’d argue that there’s much more danger in traditional romance than in horror, as it generates pernicious and unrealistic models regarding relationships.) 

I loved Mark Kermode’s observation regarding the Oscar-winning ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. The horror-fantasy elements weren’t the child-protagonist’s way of escaping the violence of the Spanish Civil War and her despotic step-father. It was her way of processing it.  

Life has always been tenuous and fraught with peril, but perhaps we’re even more aware of it now. In an age of twenty-four hour news telling us about climate change, self-serving politicians, intolerance and terrorism, I think horror is especially pertinent. It’s certainly more popular than ever, just packaged differently to the horror boom of the 1980s. It’s in games, a resurgence in film, crime drama and literary fiction. Ghost stories never go out of fashion.

I understand that you might not want to think about what you fear most. Some things are too awful to think about. They’re coming, whether you close your eyes or not. I find them easier to consider when cloaked in the fantastic and horrific than when looked at directly. It abstracts them. It is real life dramas about terrible events that I struggle to watch or read about. The reality of suffering is truly terrible. 

Horror addresses the psychological, and writing it is my own form of therapy. An exorcism, if you like.  If knowledge is power then I want to go into the night forearmed and understand the nature of what’s under the bed and in my own head.  

There’s research to suggest that some people get a thrill from dark fiction because they have a different response to the dopamine surge it creates. Maybe that’s part of my attraction the genre. Or maybe it’s that I live a privileged life where I’m relatively safe. I’m not going to die from drinking dirty water or in a civil war or an earthquake, although this may change. Reading horror simulates standing on the edge, the moment in which we feel most alive.  
I don’t think horror is the genre of hopelessness, even when the outcome seems bleak. It’s a celebration of why we fight our monsters. All the reasons we have to live. ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, an apocalypse horror written in clean, sparse prose, is strangely life-affirming. Reading about the world in ashes on the page made me appreciate the beauty of the clean sky and the sun in the trees. Go on, go outside. And take a book.  

Some suggestions: 
Beloved by Toni Morrison 
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson 
The Road and Child of God by Cormac McCarthy 
The Beauty by Aliyah Whiteley 
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters 
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter 
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver 
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn 
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris 
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Esquivel 
The Bad Seed by William March 
Perfume by Patrick Suskind 
The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski 
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay 
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.