Summer Scares 2019 Resources

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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. 

  

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