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Monday, October 15, 2018

31 Days of Horror: Day 15 Why I Love [Literary] Horror by Erik T. Johnson

One of the best things about attending any conference is making new friends, and the very first time I went to StokerCon back in 2017, when I barely knew anyone, I met Erik T. Johnson, and boy am I glad I did. He is one of the most interesting and genuine people I met through StokerCon. He is kind, fun, smart, and a great writer. Plus, he has introduced me to a few other great people since then. 

Who is Erik T. Johnson? Well he is someone you need to know about. First, here is his bio:
Erik T. Johnson has appeared in numerous periodicals and award-winning anthologies, including the #1 Amazon bestseller, I Can Taste the Blood . Erik’s short fiction collection, Yes Trespassing, was called “electric” by Josh Malerman, international best-selling author of Bird Box and Unbury Carol; THIS IS HORROR UK wrote: "One of the best, most beautifully written collections of this or any other year. Erik T. Johnson is writing at a level that all authors, new and veteran alike, should aspire to. Because what Johnson has achieved with Yes Trespassing is nothing less than absolute greatness." Visit Erik at www.eriktjohnson.net for frequent updates on his work and apperances, and to follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. 

Speaking of Josh Malerman, one of the reasons you need to know about Erik now, is because soon you will know about him anyway, so why not get ahead of the game. Erik and Josh are going to be at StokerCon Librarians Day 2019 to talk about a collaboration they are doing right now. Details on how you can be there to see them live here.

The other reason I asked Erik to participate in my "Why I Love Horror" series is because Erik writes and ponders literary horror. Many of you, my library worker readers, don't always think about horror as a literary genre, but in the hands of writers like Johnson, it truly is. Not only is he an author you need to know about on his own merit, but also, in his post today, you will learn much about the genre, it's history, and its appeal to all types of readers, especially the most literary of the bunch.

He also gives you a perfect list of literary horror authors toward the end of his post.

Finally, I love how this essay accurately captures Erik'c personality. It made me smile to read it, happy I will see him in May.

Thank you to Erik and here is his post.


The Writers & Readers of Saturn: Erik T. Johnson on Literary Horror
“Oh, life! 'tis in an hour like this, with soul beat down and held to knowledge,— as wild, untutored things are forced to feed—Oh, life! 'tis now that I do feel the latent horror in thee!”
          —Herman Melville, Moby Dick: or, the White Whale
How Ya Doing?
How ya doing? I’m Erik T. Johnson. If you like this post, you can learn almost everything about me and my work in this extensive interview at Kendall Reviews.
I worship 26 deities from the pantheon called Alphabet. Each day and night, without fail, I do my best to make offerings worthy of their might and magic. That includes this post about why I write literary horror, and the reasons people read it. 
But first, some prefatory explorations into horror as epistemology and the curious thrall of one god not in my pantheon of 26—because he rules the gatherings of all deities, pantheon be damned.  
Sure it sounds strange, but, well, see, I am strange and refuse to be anyone but me. I left talking B.S. behind at my last full-time job.   
Literary Horror as Numinous Knowledge

Our modern English word horror was both born from, and remains twin to, the Latin word horror. The Romans folded several meanings into this word, including “dread” and “religious awe.”
That the present-day and ancient versions of this term point to the same “dread” is obvious. But literary horror fiction’s ability to engender insight into the numinous is generally overlooked (I distinguish “literary” from “genre” horror fiction by the former’s ability to initiate one into unique knowledge through the rites of reading and writing). 
Awe is a special kind of knowledge—terrible, overpowering, too much. A result of experiencing events that transgress a person’s preconceived limits of reality. Awe is a stunned knowledge—a knowing that’s had its head smashed with a giant’s fist, leaving a functional but irrevocably cratered brain in its unforgettable wake. Frequently it’s expressed as a mute scream in the face of actualities fathomable in only the most liminal of senses. I’m thinking of the countless manifestations of evil (an elusive word, slippery as an unctuous tentacle), the amoral or cosmic horrific, and that omnipresent, perilous uncertainty that permeates all life. 
Sure, it can be joyful. But as Rilke writes in The Duino Elegies:
 “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terrorwhich we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,because it serenely disdains to destroy us.Every angel is terrible.”
Good literary horror fiction uses the enigmatic nature of evil against itself. It transmutes this mysterious darkness into an entertaining, thoughtful, and goosefleshy illusion, giving it stability and resolution via skillfully executed narrative (Served straight up, truth can taste a bit like Socrates’ hemlock).
 It also presents knowledge most would rather ignore. It reveals an abyss. Yet many of us are irresistibly pulled toward the awe of its shuddering spirit and unpleasant revelations. We delve as deeply as possible into the terrifying pages. But as I’ll explain, horror’s deep-see diving doesn’t always end in drowning, but the sort of illumination that delights the sun-basking beachgoer.   
The God of Horrible Knowledge

One of Goya’s most horrific paintings: Saturn Devouring His Son. Damn but this is Night of the Living DeadGodzilla, and Repulsion all-in-one—psychological and physical violence and collapse; cannibalism, decerebration, gigantism, rabid hunger, senility, and insanity—seen in the exaggerated, glazed eyes and disheveled aura of Saturn. Even I find it hard to look at for too long. The sexual connotations of the two naked figures are a brass band of distress. Yet there’s no denying it’s an amazing work of art—and horror. 
This terrible, awe-inspiring image was inspired by a tale related in Hesiod’s Theogony (I paraphrase):  
Kronos (ancient Greek for Saturn) was King of All. His wife Rhea was to bear him five gods for children. But before their births, Earth and starry Heaven let Kronos know (on the QT), that he was destined to be tossed from his throne by his own son-to-be, Zeus. So when it was time for Rhea to give birth, he got down between her thighs and devoured each child as they emerged from her vagina, one after the other.  
 In The Iliad, Homer describes Saturn as a chthonic god, driven “underneath the earth and barren water.”(Book 14, lines 202-204 in Richard Lattimore’s translation). In Saturn and Melancholy, R. Kilbansky, E. Panofsky, and F. Saxl wrote that he was “the devourer of children, eater of raw flesh, the consumer of all, who [. . .] exacted human sacrifice; [. . .] he castrated his father Uranus with [. . .] a sickle.” 
But there was more to Saturn than malfeasance and destruction. Although those aspects weren’t forgotten, in Hellenic times Saturn was simultaneously associated with initiation into profound mysteries and the attainment of knowledge far beyond the ken of your average slob. Marcus Manilius, in his Astronomica, held that since the seventh planet faced the sun but was positioned at the other end of Earth’s axis, people influenced by Saturn possessed deeper knowledge because they could see the world illuminated by the sun and as its other face, hidden to the majority (just like skilled literary horror writers and readers). 
This identification of Saturn with extraordinary insight into reality is emphasized by Dante in his Paradiso, where the poet locates the representatives of the contemplative life in the Seventh Heaven—the Sphere of Saturn (Canto 21). 
From my point of view, a myth/belief-system regarding Saturn developed over thousands of years into a firmly established tradition:
That of horror as signifier for experiences of extremely dark events, during which those bold enough to keep their eyes open and wits about them are initiated into a state of uncommonly deep knowledge of what we call “reality.”
This tradition continues today in the form of literary horror fiction.   
I Write Literary Horror
I was long ago initiated into Saturn’s brutal mysteries and will go nanners if I can’t express my knowledge, transmute it into art, and share it with those who get it. 
I need to challenge myself to end a story of suffering without destroying hope.
Nothing is more honest than the stop of a beating heart.
Flight from danger resembles chasing too much for my comfort; prey mirroring the movement of the hunter racing behind it.
I want to entertain you and make you think, Hey, I never looked at that in that way before.
I need to challenge myself to end a story of suffering without destroying hope.
I’m too aware that my body is the scene of my time, the one moving increasingly slow and unstable as the other runs far from my grasp, faster and faster. 
I suspect that a more accurate term for my life is my penultimate death. 
I don’t want to die feeling guilty for doing nothing good with what I’ve lived and learned. 
I fear:
That the body is the puppet to a ghost, and all speech ventriloquism performed for reasons other than communication. 
Growing up is a euphemism for shutting down.
And that I’ve orphaned my child to impending adulthood. 
Saturn’s Readers 
Readers who crave literary horror are not your average aficionados of fiction—or poetry (Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, anyone?). Like literary horror writers, they seek to know the truth, the whole truth, and more than the truth—the truth of the truth, even if that means finding that there’s no such thing. Their reading excursions take them through depths that transgress the everyday to such an extent that they ascend. Their love of reading literary horror lets them enjoy the initiation into profound knowledge of broken, unpredictable, vicious realities—and feel good about it. Pretty remarkable “genre” if you ask me. 
Not all literary horror stories and novels need end in despair. Some of the best such fictions take you through a harrowing journey, but close with a sense that things will be all right—despite a heavy dose of almost painful poignance. To quote the late, great, Lou Reed, you can “pass through the fire to the light.”
Where to start? So many choices! 
Some of my favorites: 
Angela Carter (The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffmann); Josh Malerman (Unbury Carol); Michael Bailey (Palindrome Hannah); John F.D. Taff (The End in All Beginnings); J. Daniel Stone (Blood Kiss); Shirley Jackson (We Have Always Lived in the Castle); Brian Kirk (We are Monsters); Michael Rowe (Wild Fell); Victor LaValle (The Changeling); Autumn Christian (Crooked God Machine). 
See Ya!
Horror’s knowledge penetrates the falsity of truth itself—journeys from the Sun to Saturn and back—illuminates even as it inks. For those brave enough, it does so with irresistible tension and release. 
“Release from what?” you might ask.
Just look around and behind you . . . Glance at the headlines. Better still, don’t. 
Pick up one of my recommendations instead. 
And enjoy!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

31 Days of Horror Day 14: Why I Love Horror by Jerry Gordon

Today I have yet another debut author to introduce to you-- Jerry Gordon. Before I get into why you should buy this book for your collections, first here is the cover copy for Gordon's novel, Breaking the World:
In 1993, David Koresh predicted the end of the world. 
What if he was right?
Cyrus doesn't believe in David's predictions, and he's not interested in being part of a cult. But after the sudden death of his brother, his parents split up and his mom drags him to Waco, Texas against his will. At least he's not alone. His friends, Marshal and Rachel, have equally sad stories that end with them being dumped at the Branch Davidian Church. 
Together, they're the trinity of nonbelievers, atheist teens caught between a soon to be infamous cult leader, an erratic FBI, and an epidemic that may confirm the worst of the church's apocalyptic prophecies. With tanks surrounding the Branch Davidians and tear gas in the air, Cyrus and his friends know one thing for certain: They can't count on the adults to save them. 
In his debut novel, Jerry Gordon takes readers deep inside the longest standoff in law enforcement history for an apocalyptic thriller that challenges the news media's reporting of the event, the wisdom of militarizing domestic law enforcement, and the blurry line between religion and cult.
Now let's talk about why you need to know about this author and this book. First, the topic-- cults, based on true events, the anxiety and terror built into the subject matter; this is a plot ripe for some wide readership.

But, it would all be for naught if he didn't pull it off. Don't worry, Gordon does. He is a rising talent you should keep your eye on.

Second, this book is published by Apex. Not only do they put together a good physical product that stands up to multiple checkouts, they also know how to spot talent. Don't believe me on that? Well, they were the first to publish Rebecca Roanhorse and look at her now.

Here are two quotes from authors I know and respect singing Gordon's praises for this particular book too:

"The things we do to each other are more awful than any haunted house, ghoul, or demon could ever be, and in BREAKING THE WORLD, Jerry Gordon delivers an unflinching look at real-life horror. This novel will gnaw its way through your skull, burrow into your brain, and mess with you in the best way possible. It’s a pitch-black tale of moral ambiguity, with sympathetic characters facing a home-grown apocalypse of twisted faith, fire, and madness. It’s one of the strongest horror debuts in recent memory, which not only entertains but provides penetrating insight into a dark chapter of American history. This is horror done right."– Tim Waggoner, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of LIKE DEATH
An absorbing blend of history and narrative fiction which elevates the Waco tragedy into an unforgettable exploration of society, faith, and truth. BREAKING THE WORLD by Jerry Gordon is a compelling novel that thunders, and challenges, from page one. The characters are genuine, the struggles throughout are powerful, balanced, and thoughtful. The novel’s conclusion and Gordon’s ideas within do what great fiction often hopes to – defies and then transcends what we thought we knew.– Geoffrey Girard, Bram Stoker-nominated author of PROJECT CAIN and TRUTHERS

Now here is Gordon on the dining moment when he fell in love with the apocalypse.


A Love Letter to the End of the World
by Jerry Gordon

I was twelve years old the day I fell in love with the apocalypse. My grandparents were vacationing off the coast of North Carolina and had rented a beach house on the Outer Banks. The house had two distinct levels connected by an exterior set of stairs. They took the main level with the ocean view and gave me the ground floor, nestled behind a sand dune with a pair of small windows facing away from the beach.

In retrospect, it's clear the downstairs was a converted two-car garage, but I was used to living with four people in a one-thousand-square-foot house with a single bathroom. The idea that I would have an entire floor to myself, complete with its own private bath, made it a palace. Sometime after takeout pizza, I wandered downstairs to my new kingdom to watch TV.

I don't remember when the storm came in. As a kid from the Midwest, I’d seen my fair share of abrupt changes in weather. So the sheets of rain didn't alarm me, and I didn't panic when we lost power. I just grabbed a flashlight out of my backpack and started looking for something to pass the time. I found a yellowed copy of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew on a dusty bookshelf. My grandpa had a creepy wind-up monkey, like the one on the cover, and that was enough to pique my interest. I grabbed the book, plopped down on my bed, and started reading The Mist by flashlight.

The novella started with a storm much like the one howling outside my windows. The locals and their squabbles could easily be swapped out for my neighbors’ disagreements back home. And that town grocery store, the one with the floor-to-ceiling glass entrance, my grandma shopped at a place like it twice a week. About the time air-raid sirens from the fictional military base heralded the arrival of the mist, the storm outside my bedroom took a dark turn.

The wind ripped a metal sign off some beach post and slammed it into the side of one of the downstairs windows. The glass didn't shatter, but the clang was loud enough that I almost peed myself. I pointed the flashlight outside but could only see the waterfall of rain coming off the roof. I couldn't even see the stairs.

With no sign of flooding, I hunkered down with my book and flashlight and kept reading. The monsters in the mist scared me, but not as much as the people huddled in the grocery store. I had caring family members that protected me, but like most kids in my neighborhood, I had scary ones too. Drunks. Relatives with explosive tempers. The self-righteous.

For some reason, it's that last group that scared me the most. The self-righteous, in my twelve-year-old experience, were cold, controlling, and deliberate in their judgment and cruelty. As I watched Mrs. Carmody's power over the grocery store's customers grow, I felt the horror of her convictions in my bones. Unlike the monsters in the mist, she was one of us. And that somehow made her scarier. I can still hear her voice calling out for a blood sacrifice, for expiation.

My flashlight started to dim in the middle of the book's terrifying trip to the pharmacy. Scrambling for batteries in the dying light, I'm pretty sure my imagination could've supplied monsters ten times scarier than anything in the book. I scavenged some AA's from a toy in my suitcase and swapped them out for the dying ones. Before returning to the book, I took a few minutes to look around. I told myself I was checking on the storm, which showed no signs of letting up, but I was really looking for monsters. I hadn't heard anyone upstairs in a while. My grandparents must have found a way to sleep, but part of me imagined them lost in the mist.

Returning to the book, I raced back to the grocery store with our heroes for the final showdown with Mrs. Carmody. I didn't feel any remorse when they shot her. I knew that was the only way, just as I knew the people in the grocery store that stayed would die. I held my breath and ran frantically from the grocery store to the car, letting out a huge sigh of relief when we all pulled away safely.

When I got to the last page of the story, I didn't read the open ending as hopeless. I believed Hartford was still out there, untouched by the monsters. We just needed to get to it. I spent the rest of the night with a dimming flashlight, imagining how I would escape with them. 

Years later, I learned that Stephen King wrote The Mist after a huge storm tore up his town. So there's plenty of symmetry to my reading his novella by flashlight in the middle of a tropical storm. I've often joked that God made me a horror fan that night... and Stephen King paid him to do it.

I would fall in love with other apocalypses, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but you never forget your first love. When it came time to write my first novel, I found the perfect vehicle for both my love of the apocalypse and my fear of people like Mrs. Carmody. I wrote an alternate-history horror novel about the Branch Davidian Church's standoff with the FBI, a story that imagined what would have happened if David Koresh had been right about the end of the world.

I told Breaking the World from the perspective of three atheist teenagers, a trinity of nonbelievers not unlike me when I read The Mist. Dragged to the church by their born-again parents, the teens were trapped between a cult leader, an erratic FBI, and the literal apocalypse. Together, they would struggle to survive the real horrors of the historic standoff and the imagined monsters of the End of Days.

It's hard not to see my childhood love of The Mist shining through the book. The trapped, claustrophobic setting. The sense of being surrounded by forces beyond your control. The dark corners of religion taking a dangerous turn. The real world giving way to the apocalypse. I even wrote that beach house vacation into a small corner of the story.

Many years later, I find myself coming back to the ending of King's novella. I still believe, against all odds and "adult" common sense, that it's a hopeful one. The decision to leave the story open ended gifted me with the freedom to imagine the ending I needed, and it contributed to my desire to be a writer. For me, the end of the world was just the beginning.


Jerry Gordon is the author of the apocalyptic horror thriller, Breaking the World. He is also the Bram Stoker Award-nominated co-editor of the Dark Faith, Invocations, and Streets of Shadows anthologies. When he’s not writing and editing, he runs a software company, teaches, and longs for a good night’s sleep. You can find him blurring genre lines at www.jerrygordon.net.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

31 Days of Horror Day 13: Why I Love Horror by Michaelbrent Collings

Today for lucky day number 13, I have a special treat, author Michaelbrent Collings who is both an author himself and one of the best known writers about the genre and it's importance. He writes about the appeal and importance of horror while also teaching the craft of writing horror to authors all over the world. There are few people out there for whom this task-- explaining "Why I Love Horror" is more suited.

Before we begin, I wanted to mention you can see all of Collings books [fiction and nonfiction] here on Goodreads or on his website. His most recent book is Predators:
Evie Childs hoped the all-expense-paid trip to Africa would give her a chance at adventure. Maybe it would even let her forget a past that haunts her, and find safety from a husband who abuses her. 
But when a group of “freedom fighters” kidnaps her safari tour group, intent on holding them for ransom, the adventure turns to nightmare. 

Now, Evie and the rest of the survivors must travel across miles of the harshest, most dangerous environment on Earth. No food. No water. No communications. 
And they’re being hunted. 
A pack of Africa’s top predators have smelled the blood of the survivors, and will not stop until they have fed. Because in this place, you can be either one of the prey, or one of the... 

And now, from an expert on the subject-- why Michaelbrent Collings loves horror...


Darkest of Lights
Michaelbrent Collings

"Why do you love horror?"

Better yet: "Why do you write horror?"
This last is a question that I hear often – even more often than most horror writers, probably, given that I'm a guy who doesn't look like he's planning on how to make a wallet out of your face-skin, have no terrifying scars or eyes that have "Will Kill For Food" written across them, and (most of all) that I am a deeply religious person who teaches Sunday School in between writing about monsters. 

Yet despite these incontrovertible facts, I've not only read and watch horror, I actually make my living writing stories that make people cringe and shudder. 

So… that question makes sense. Why do I write – and read, and watch, and just plain love – horror?

My answer: I write horror because horror is the genre of morality, and the language of hope.

When was the last time you read an involved discussion of good vs. evil in a piece of literary fiction? How often do you find a discussion of the possibility of something infinitely greater than ourselves, and of our relationship to such a thing, in a science fiction epic? Not just a strawman discussion, either, but an honest-to-goodness throw-down over questions that have plagued us as a species since the first moments we learned to speak: Where do we come from? Why are we here? What, if anything, happens after?

Horror is uniquely positioned to ask these questions. And not just that, but to discuss them on a deep level that both assumes their importance and (just as critical!) states that those huge, radically important questions actually have answers.

In other words, horror matters. Which is also why it is so polarizing, because things that matter… well, people care about them. That means they get angry if you disagree about the importance of those things, or think you are caring about the wrong things (or even about the right things in a wrong way). Things that matter are things close to the heart. Things close to the heart are, by nature, the ones that can hurt us.

And the things that hurt us… well, of course, they're the things we most fear. And, more often than not, they're also the things we most love.

There's the dichotomy of horror: it is a genre that finds its footings in blood and fear – and some horror positively wallows in those things – but which, ultimately, is a kind of storytelling that defines goodness for the reader.* Horror tells us stories of morality: of the dangers of walking dark paths; and, ultimately, it reminds us that we live in a world of hope.

Some will read this and scoff. "But I read [insert name of book/story/movie/whatever here], and it was just blood, blood, blood!" Or, "What about every movie that came out of the 1980s? Just one kill after another, with the occasional pause for teens to get it on and show some skin!" Or even, "How can you claim that something like Hereditary (one of the darkest movie scripts ever written) is hopeful?"

But here's the thing: horror, in order to actually be horror, must cause fear in the reader. It has to evoke a sense that what we are seeing or reading or hearing is deeply, unsettlingly wrong. But "wrong" (and its far darker offspring, "horrifying") does not exist in a vacuum. "Wrong" is something that cannot be understood or even noticed unless we first understand – at least a little – that thing called "right."

Horror stories, by nature, exist to show us the opposite of the way "things should be," and so implies that there is a way things should be. A place where killers do not come for the innocent, where people can tuck their children in bed and be secure in the knowledge that no ghost or demon will come to steal them away (or, even worse, possess them).

There is a rightness in the universe. There is a thing we call "good," and competent horror stories show us that good by demonstrating what happens in its absence.

Competent horror tears out the hearts of its readers. It throws those hearts in a ditch, the readers' silent screams echoing in the authors' ears as they bury their bloody treasures deep in the earth, one shovelful at a time. Violence, loss, fear… each adds more dirt to the grave, each further cuts the hearts off from the rest of the "right" universe. Yes, competent horror does that.

Competent horror buries your heart. It kicks you and knocks you down. Then it leaves you gasping, dying, alone. The story is a moral one, for – again – it must be moral to matter. A sense of what is "right" must exist for the "wrong" to matter at all, let alone for it to terrify us. But competent horror only exists to assert this fact: there is what is "right," and there is also that thing called "wrong." Then, its basic lesson taught, it leaves.

But great horror does more. It cuts out the reader's heart (oft-times more cruelly and painfully than simply "competent" horror), and buries it deep (oft-times even deeper than "the good stuff" does). But – and here is the difference between competence and greatness – great horror adds one more step:

Great horror remains to see what will happen next. For the great horror stories know that the burial is not the end. For in horror, the burial does not signal the end of the story. After all, one of horror's great lessons is that the monster, once vanquished and buried deep, will eventually rise again to terrorize and maim.

But if the monster does this… then why not us? 

Great horror stories tear us apart and bury our still-beating hearts. And then it waits, knowing that given time, given encouragement, given (dare I say it?) a bit of grace… we can rise again. Our hearts will not only beat, but beat all the stronger because of what they have been through.

A decent horror story destroys us. A great one then helps us through the painful process of resurrection, and leave us with souls stronger than they were before.

Horror talks about ghosts and goblins, madmen and monsters, freaks and fiends. But what it actually does is this: it gives us the language to understand what we are seeing when we witness evil, it gives us the tools we need to confront that evil, and it reminds us that in the end – if we are smart enough, brave enough, true enough, good enough – we will triumph.

There are stories where evil appears to win. But great horror shows us that the battle goes on. In my own books, the "good guy" doesn't necessarily make it to the final page. In fact, some important stories demand an unhappy ending. My novel Twisted, for example, is a ghost story… but it is also a story about child abuse, and the horrifying effects it has on the evil and innocent alike. Such stories cannot finish with "they all lived happily ever after." Evil always leaves scars in its wake, and to ignore that fact is to do a disservice to those of us who have lived through darkness, and learned to survive and even thrive in spite of those scars. Some stories must end "badly," if only so we may know how to avoid becoming the monsters they have described.

Besides, even in stories where evil appears to triumph, the reality is anything but. Because the moment after "the end" happens, the reader proves those two words to be a lie. The reader closes the book. The reader turns off the Kindle. The story is done, but the reader… the reader does not end. For the reader has survived. The reader will continue and, hopefully, continue forward stronger.

All horror shows us the darkness we are capable of. Great horror reminds us of the miraculous creatures we already are.

And that is why I write – and read, and will always love – horror. 
* Or viewer, or whatever. I'm a screenwriter and author, so I deal with people reading, listening, and watching, but for ease of use purposes I'm just going to refer to "readers" from here on in. After all, you're reading this right now, so it seems apropos.


About the author: Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally-bestselling novelist, multiple Bram Stoker Award Finalist, and produced horror screenwriter and member of the WGA. His father, Dr. Michael R. Collings, wrote the first book-length scholarly analysis of Stephen King's work, and followed that up with another dozen books on the subject, plus many more books and articles on the art and craft – and importance – of horror. So Michaelbrent got to read and watch horror stories as a kid, and writes them now as a kid stuck in a man's body. Find out more about him and his books at his website writteninsomnia.com – Written Insomnia: "Stories That Keep You Up All Night."

Friday, October 12, 2018

31 Days of Horror Day 12: 31 Days of Horror Day 11: Why I Love Horror by Ladies of the Fright Podcaster and Author Lisa Quigley

Yesterday and today I am featuring the women behind the amazing podcast, Ladies of the Fright. This is a horror podcast that all library workers should listen to, and I am not just saying that because they have had me on as a guest [episodes 13 and 14].

Lisa Quigley and Mackenzie Kiera met in their MFA program [where they were taught by the incomparable Stephen Graham Jones]. They are writers, yes, but there are also huge readers. Their podcast features author interviews, but they also talk to editors, reviewers, and librarians. However, the best thing they do for you, the library worker who helps leisure readers, is that they regularly have discussions about books they have read- books new and old.

I want to especially point those of you who don't really want to read horror yourselves to these episodes of the podcast because they go into such detail about the books that you don't have to read them in order to learn about them. Listen to their discussions and I promise, you will be able then to turn around and confidently suggest that book to a patron. All without scaring yourself too much.

I asked Mackenzie and Lisa to participate both as readers and writers. They are newer horror authors just starting to get their stories into magazine and anthologies, so keep an eye out for them in the future. But as horror readers, women who love dark fiction, all of you can learn so much from them as they share their love for horror. Why they enjoy reading it gets at the heart of why many of your patrons do too.

Today it is Lisa Quigley's turn:
Lisa Quigley is a writer, mother, wife, and irreverent witch living in New Jersey. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California Riverside’s low residency program in Palm Desert. She reads and writes horror and dark fantasy because that’s what makes her feel the most raw. Her work has appeared on The Manifest Station and Dwarf + Giant. She has a background in magazine publishing, and she is a professor of literature.

Because I Want to Know 
By Lisa Quigley 

I was traumatized by Jaws at six years old and subsequently, couldn’t take baths without my baby sister. Thinking back, it was kind of messed up. If I was so afraid that a shark would come bursting up from beneath the tub to shred my flesh, why would I subject my little sister to that same fate? But I was a kid, and terrified, and having company in the tub helped me feel more grounded in the real world, and less vulnerable to the torments of my imagination. 

I watched Carrie at a sleepover when I was thirteen and didn’t think it was all that scary until after we went to bed. Those horrible white eyes on the creepy Jesus statue were seared onto the backs of my retinas. The Exorcist is another movie that made me laugh in the moment. I proclaimed it cheesy and said the special effects were terrible (was that pea soup?) Later, alone in my room and unable to sleep, I couldn’t get the demon’s voice out of my head. I had to sleep with the lights on for weeks. I saw The Ring with my best friend in an empty theater after ten p.m., and afterward, she made endless fun of me for being afraid of the long blonde wig that hung on my coat rack in my bedroom. All that tangled, disembodied hair unsettled and disturbed me after watching that terrible, stop-motion girl climb out of a well and through the television screen. 

So, you might ask—and many do—why am I a fan of horror if it terrifies me so? 

The answer to that question is not simple. For many years, I couldn’t consume any horror at all. 

Since I was seventeen years old, I have suffered from a severe form of sleep paralysis. This is a sleep disorder in which the sufferer becomes conscious while their body is still in REM sleep. When we dream, our bodies are paralyzed so we don’t act out our dreams. During an episode of sleep paralysis, our mind is awake but our body is still paralyzed. The inability to move or speak is terrifying enough, but a large majority of people with this disorder also experience auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations. In other words, the sufferer might see, hear, and feel things that aren’t really there. 

am in this camp. 

As a young adult, I experienced sleep paralysis at least once a month and as often as three times a week. It got especially bad during my early twenties, which was the first time that I had my own apartment. I lived in a small studio, and I could see the front door from my bed. During my episodes, I would wake up to “see” my front door wide open; I “heard” voices and laughter; I “heard” loud breathing near my head; and I “felt” malicious presences standing over me. And that’s just a bare bones description of the experience. 

I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I didn’t know if it was biological, psychological, or spiritual. I didn’t even really know what I personally believed the phenomenon to be. I was raised in a Christian household. At that time in my life, I wasn’t following my indoctrinated religion, but I also hadn’t fully worked out my own belief system. I wasn’t sure if I believed in God, or the devil, for that matter. Were these experiences demonic? I wasn’t sure if I believed that, but these experiences were horrific, and at the time, I believed anything was possible.

I was curious about the cause, but not enough to investigate. I was too close to the experience, and the overwhelming frequency of the episodes was diminishing my quality of life. I just wanted whatever was happening to stop. Consuming horror of any kind put me in a suggestible state of mind, in which I had difficulty separating fantasy from reality. I have always been susceptible to speculation about the supernatural. I have always had a wild imagination. But at that particular time in my life, and because I didn’t know what I believed, horror movies exacerbated my sleep disorder. I hit a point where I needed to work out my own personal belief system and spend some time away from horror, so that I could work through my sleep disorder and get a handle on my own fears and uncertainties. 

All this to say I understand why some people don’t watch or consume any kind of horror, or even why it might be difficult to fathom horror’s appeal. I get it. 

Even though I took a break from consuming actual horror, my love of the fantastical, the weird, and the supernatural persisted. Around this time, I discovered Neil Gaiman, and most of my adult reading life was spent immersed in science fiction and fantasy. What I didn’t understand at the time was how often these genres intersected with different styles of horror. 

When I started writing again as an adult, I knew I wanted to write some sort of speculative fiction. It took me time to discover my voice (and really, “my voice” is something that will always evolve.) But when asked what kind of fiction I liked to write, I struggled to articulate. 

It wasn’t until I was in my MFA program that I circled back around to horror. One of my professors in the program was Stephen Graham Jones. He always selected horror novels for our class group reads. I had gone so long identifying as a person who “didn’t watch or read horror” that I had just sort of adopted this motto as absolute truth. A major reason for this is that I didn’t yet have a full understanding of what horror truly was, and what it could encompass. 

What if I was ready for horror again? 

It was Stephen who recommended that I read Joe Hill. And that changed everything. 

I am one of those weird horror fans who discovered Joe Hill before Stephen King. 

The first Joe Hill novel I read was Horns. And, my god, it shattered my previous perceptions of the genre—this was horror? 

This was wonderful. This was what I had been looking for. This was the kind of book I wanted to write, the kind of story I wanted to tell. 

And it was horror. Was I a horror writer? 

I am aware that, while Joe Hill is shelved and marketed as a horror author, his work isn’t strictly horror. There’s a lot of genre-mashing in his stories—but that’s precisely why I love them. This diversity of possibility is exactly what I’ve come to love and celebrate about the genre. 

Joe Hill was my gateway drug to reading horror, and I haven’t looked back since. While I will often step outside of the genre, the majority of what I read skews dark and weird (whether it’s dark fantasy, supernatural, thrillers, true crime, dark YA, pure horror, or some weird combination of all of the above.) This genre allows us to explore what is possible on the spectrum of human experience. From the overwhelmingly good to the unimaginably terrible and everything in between, horror allows us to imagine the capabilities of the human spirit. 

I also need to address the monster in the room: horror still scares me. I still occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis, though not nearly as severely as I used to. I think a part of that is because, while I still don’t know exactly know what I believe of in terms of the supernatural, I know that I don’t believe in gods or demons in any traditional or Judeo-Christian sense. In learning to cope with the sleep disorder, much of my fear transmuted to curiosity. It’s still a terrifying experience when it does happen, but it doesn’t shake my foundation in the same way that it did when I was younger. 

My imagination is still unbelievably impressionable. I can’t really watch horror movies alone (I make my husband suffer with me.) After reading a lot of horror, the images begin to infiltrate my dreams. But I’ve reached a place in my personal life—as a reader, writer, and traveler of this universe—where I treat my fears as an investigative opportunity. The quality of my writing improves when I explore what scares me, because it’s coming from a place that’s raw and emotionally honest. 

These days, I’m not so much afraid of the dark as I am curious about what’s in it. 

So, I love horror precisely because terrifies me, and because I want to know why. What’s hidden behind my fears? What’s behind yours?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

31 Days of Horror Day 11: Why I Love Horror by Ladies of the Fright Podcaster and Author Mackenzie Kiera

Today and tomorrow I am featuring the women behind the amazing podcast, Ladies of the Fright. This is a horror podcast that all library workers should listen to, and I am not just saying that because they have had me on as a guest [episodes 13 and 14].

Lisa Quigley and Mackenzie Kiera met in their MFA program [where they were taught by the incomparable Stephen Graham Jones]. They are writers, yes, but there are also huge readers. Their podcast features author interviews, but they also talk to editors, reviewers, and librarians. However, the best thing they do for you, the library worker who helps leisure readers, is that they regularly have discussions about books they have read- books new and old.

I want to especially point those of you who don't really want to read horror yourselves to these episodes of the podcast because they go into such detail about the books that you don't have to read them in order to learn about them. Listen to their discussions and I promise, you will be able then to turn around and confidently suggest that book to a patron. All without scaring yourself too much.

I asked Mackenzie and Lisa to participate both as readers and writers. They are newer horror authors just starting to get their stories into magazine and anthologies, so keep an eye out for them in the future. But as horror readers, women who love dark fiction, all of you can learn so much from them as they share their love for horror. Why they enjoy reading it gets at the heart of why many of your patrons do too.

Up first is Mackenzie Kiera:
Mackenzie Kiera is the author of 30+ articles, essays and short stories. She has been a contributing author for Gamut Magazine and The Last Bookstore’s Dwarf+Giant, where she reviewed books and interviewed various authors. Currently she is working on her second novel and is a contributor to The Mighty. If she's not writing or reading Mackenzie is either running with her rescue dogs or she and her husband are saving the world from zombies. Mackenzie's work can be found at mackenziekiera.contently.com

I love reading horror because my sister and I are twelve years apart and she left for college when I was six. An empty, silent house surrounded me. Her music was gone and her friends were gone and her big socks and special pillow were gone and I wasn’t exactly a final girl, but I sure felt like the last one. 

I read horror because of Robinson Crusoe. It was the biggest book my parents owned and I’d wanted to read something that was half my weight, so I let the pony-tailed, bearded, shipwrecked man guide my way into books and it’s probably where I developed an affinity for men with untidy hair and cannibals. 

I read horror because I love violent video games. 

I read horror because of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I sat in the school library in a nest of all the horror books I could find when Stephen King taught me that I wasn’t alone and that horror could be beautiful. 

I read horror because I am most alive underneath the covers with a flashlight, reading to the end of a book trying to figure out who the killer is and my eyes can’t go fast enough and the buzzing in my brain is never quite loud enough to drown out the creaking sounds of the house letting me know that magic is real and the killer could be just outside my bedroom. 

I read horror because blood has never bothered me. 

I read horror because when Mom was grieving over the death of her father, she and I used to watch movies late into the night. Through Mom’s grief, I was introduced to Ripley and the T-1000, Men in Black and Independence Day, Norman Bates and Jack Skellington, Young Frankenstein and Sleepy Hollow, poltergeists and exorcists and Mulder and Skully. 

I read horror because I’d rather be scared than lonely. 

I read horror because the first time I sobbed onto the pages of a book, it wasn’t for the two dead girls or for John Coffey or the mouse on the Mile. I cried for their curse. The Green Mile was the first book I curled my body around, determined to not let anything else hurt those characters. With me, they would always be loved and protected. 

I read horror because in horror you don’t have to be the strongest, smartest, prettiest or strongest. Just the most persistent. 

Reading horror taught me how to fall and keep going, because time is the ultimate killer and if you make excuses and stay down, he’ll get you. Horror taught me to cut my own wrists if I was hungry and guzzle: to be my own source of strength. Let my own beating heart power me up to run. 
I read horror because horror is that helping hand, when you say you can’t take much more of whatever is getting to you, getting you down, eating away at you. Horror is what smiles in the dark, all teeth and knowledge and says: “Oh, sure you can.”