Summer Scares 2019 Resources

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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.  

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