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.
I 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?