Today I am welcoming Morgan Sylvia whose debut novel Abode I featured in the October 1, 2017 issue of Library Journal. It’s not up online yet, but here is the draft version of what I said:
That being said, there is nothing wrong with a good, old fashioned, violent, haunted tale of monsters wreaking havoc, especially when it is as solidly constructed and compelling as Abode by Morgan Sylvia. It’s a setting you think you know-- an old house in Maine, off in the woods, a new family moves in and bad things start happening, but it is in how the terror is revealed where Sylvia reveals her skill at crafting a satisfying horror tale. The opening chapter sets the unsettlingly scene perfectly: an urgent email, from someone mysterious, addressing “you” about the terrors that have already come, even if “you” cannot fully remember them. The action, terror, and bloodshed only ratchet up from there. The unique frame and voice create an extra “found footage” layer of fear and suspense to a story that will have you alternating between covering your eyes and compulsively turning the pages.I ask authors and contributors to tell me “Why I Love Horror” because it gives you, the library worker, a glimpse into the very different reasons of why people like horror. You can see all of these features using the Why I Love Horror tag later, but right now, you can read Morgan’s entry into the conversation.
Oh, The Horror by Morgan Sylvia
For those of us in the world of horror, autumn is a busy time of year. Fall and horror go hand in hand, and with good reason. They are both associated with death: the passing of summer and the approach of the cold dark months certainly mirrors the lifespan of a human being. Autumn is also a great time for telling—and reading—scary stories. The long, dark nights remind us of all the things that could be waiting in the shadows.
Humans tell stories because that is how we learn to understand the world around us. Many of the tales we hear as children have elements of horror: witches and goblins and dark magic certainly permeate quite a bit of children’s fiction. But why do we enjoy horror so much? Why do we watch movies that give us nightmares, or read books that make us squirm? Why on earth would we want to delve into the darkest corners of the universe? Isn’t it much more pleasant in the sunshine?
Because of fear.
A good scary book or movie has the power to invoke true fear, on a very visceral level. When horror does it right, we get goosebumps, we shiver, we get queasy, we jump. We get that sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Fear may not be the most pleasant emotion, but it is both powerful and necessary. Our strongest survival instincts are drenched in fear: fear of pain, fear of death, fear of loss. Horror allows us to experience those fears, and can terrify us on a level that most of us will—hopefully—never experience in reality, without exposing us to any danger.
What is the greatest fear of all?
For many, the answer to that question is death.
Death is the common thread between most, if not all horror books and movies. We’re a bit obsessed with death, as it turns out. Joseph Campbell once noted that the human being is the only creature in the world that knows it’s going to die. And we all dance with death, long before we let it lead us into the night. We die hundreds, if not thousands, of little deaths throughout the courses of our lives. We experience the deaths of loved ones, as well as the deaths of acquaintances, the deaths of pets and celebrities and distant relatives. Through art, we process and react to the losses of characters we love, characters we hate, and characters we just don’t care about.
As compelling as the fear of death is, I suspect that there is a stronger one: fear of the unknown. Just like a goofy cartoon character casting an ominous shadow on a cave wall, or a scene in a play where off-stage noises tell the tale of a gruesome murder, it seems the monsters in our imagination are always infinitely more terrifying than the ones in front of us.
Horror is the realm where these two fears meet. It is the Ouroboros of storytelling: an endless cycle of tales and questions about death and the unknown beyond it. As with any other good piece of art, the best works of horror evoke emotions. It makes us think, makes us care, makes us ask questions. But it goes a step further. It brings us to the line between life and death, and offers countless options for what may lay on the other side. But it doesn’t stop there. It opens that gate and lets some of our fears slither out into the light of day. It drags those monsters—the grotesque, the beautiful, and the mundane—from the shadows, and puts them in the spotlight, so we can get to know them.
If we were to divide all of horror’s monsters into categories, we’d no doubt find that certain ones—witches, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, demons—appear again and again. Many of the archetypes we find in the horror genre have been crawling into our collective consciousness since the dawn of civilization. The oldest epic tale known to man, Gilgamesh, involves witches and a descent into the realm of the dead. Vampires, or vampire-like creatures, appear in myths from Mesopotamia, ancient Greece, and ancient India, long before Bram Stoker put pen to paper. These monsters likely haunted the shadows outside of the first cities, and will probably follow us to other planets, if we somehow manage not to blow ourselves up first.
Why are they still here?
These archetypes serve a purpose. They are pieces of us, bits of our subconscious. They are the denizens of our nightmares, with names and faces and histories. When they speak, we are hearing the bone-dry rasp of voices from beyond the grave. When we see their faces, we see the faces of death, of hatred, of violence. The monsters of horror are the embodiments of our fears. They are death and they are the unknown, and they are everything in between.
The worst of them are ourselves, transformed.
Part of the power of classic horror archetypes, and of characters like Dracula and Frankenstein, is that they were once human. Zombies, mummies, witches, werewolves … all of these terrible monsters started out as people. I heard a quote recently—I forget where—which said that horror takes an ordered world and throws it into chaos. These are the beings that we have, in one way or another, chosen or identified as the lords of chaos. We both fear and despise them, but we just can’t get enough of them.
It turns out that when you can filter your fear through the lens of a book, painting, or movie, while staying safe and sound in your seat, something exquisite happens. You can touch the void, the realm of death, the beyond. Or you can turn inward, and look into the darkest recesses of your own soul. But horror doesn’t just hold a candle up to a dark night, or shine a flashlight into tombs. It also holds a mirror up to the human mind.
We peer into the night, we listen to the wind howl, we look up at the stars and into the darkest shadows, and we imagine what could be waiting out there for us. We wonder what we become in the void, in the dark. Every piece of horror out there, whether film, art, or fiction, asks those questions. We’ve answered it again and again, in innumerable stories. Yet we will keep asking it, because these questions and these fears are primordial, abstract, and important, and, well, because no one really knows. In ABODE, I offer one option. Other writers have offered thousands, if not millions, of other possibilities. There are countless more monsters still dwelling in our collective nightmares and subconscious, waiting for their turn in the spotlight. And there are many more lurking in the shelves of your library.
The lifeblood of horror is, at the moment, flowing through the hands of small independent publishers, such as Pete Kahle, the (very nice) evil genius behind Bloodshot Books. If you enjoy horror, if you like being scared, autumn is a great time for you to explore not just the classics, but also the works of smaller presses and indie authors.
Reach into the void . . . reach for a new title.