I reviewed Emily Ruth Verona's debut novel, Nightmare on Beacon Street, in the October issue of Library Journal. After finishing the book, I immediately asked her to join the Why I Love Horror family.here are my notes and draft review of this excellent novel, out 1/30/24 from Harper Perennial, via Goodreads:
Three Words That Describe This Book: Cinematic, Shifting Time Frame, Anxiety
- 1993 setting (perfectly done) with VHS and Classic Horror film references from 70s and 80s.Specifically Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street.
- It is an ode to Horror films and filmmaking.
- Best read in 1-2 sittings and the pacing and suspense style of storytelling beg you to just get lost in the fear.
- The chapter are clearly labelled in their relation to MIDNIGHT where the story begins and from whose perspective.
- Excellent kids here. Very realistic. POV only Amy and Ben.
- Final Girl babysitters for the win!
Draft Review: It’s 1993 and a normally sleepy New Jersey town is experiencing a rash of breakins. Amy, an anxious kid who loves the Horror movies from the 70s and 80s, is the local babysitter, and tonight, she is headed to single mom Eleanor’s house to watch Mira, 12, and Ben, 6. But readers know from the first page that this will not be an easy night as the story opens at Midnight, with Ben covered in blood. Told in short chapters that move back and forth in time, and headed with timestamps as the action relates to that fateful Midnight, this intensely unnerving novel moves swiftly, while the well placed flashbacks, provide the necessary background details to flesh out the main characters and anchor the story in its perfectly rendered setting. Both Amy and Ben are authentic narrators, whose different perspectives enhance the full gamut of emotions that this book will elicit. Reader beware, you are going to need to clear your schedule to gulp this one down all at once.
Verdict: Verona’s debut is not only a riveting thriller, but it is also a thoughtful love letter to Horror films like The Shoemaker's Magician by Cynthia Pelayo. However, it will find its most enthusiastic audience with fans of the babysitter final girl trope from any medium such as Halloween (film) and The Babysitter Lives by Stephen Graham Jones.
Now it's Emily's turn, and as she explains below, Horror, specifically its movies, are her real world lifeline. And this guest post has a bonus link to another essay Emily wrote as well.
“Why I Love Horror” by Emily Ruth Verona
I live in fear of my own mistakes. Doing the wrong thing. Saying the wrong thing. Turning right when turning left would have resulted in a better outcome. This does not stop me from making mistakes—far from it—but the fear, combined with the hyper-fixations that come with having anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, means I dwell. A lot. I crawl into memories and force myself to relive them, pointing out each humiliating error along the way. I’ve been anxious my whole life—afraid of my own existence. But you know the great thing about horror? You’re allowed to be anxious. You’re allowed to be afraid. Horror is designed to scare you—put you on edge—and through that you can channel your anxieties. That is the beauty of a controlled environment. A horror book or movie isn’t real. It’s fiction. Beginning. Middle. End. It’s a self-contained scare. Similar to a roller coaster, but for people like me who can’t handle rollercoasters.
It is with this notion that I first began to shape the protagonist of my novel Midnight on Beacon Street. Amy is a teenaged babysitter with an anxiety disorder. Living her life scares the hell out of her. But she loves horror movies. They soothe her fears—making her anxiety feel validated while at the same time placating it for an hour or two. She loves horror for the same reasons I love horror. It’s thrilling—exciting—but it’s also safe.
Safe probably isn’t the word everyone associates with the horror genre, but for a lot of people in the horror community it can feel like a safe space. And isn’t that one of the primary functions of fiction? It takes us somewhere, puts us through all kinds of challenges, then sets us back down at the end on our own two feet.
As a fiction writer, I should probably say that my love of horror started with books. It didn’t. I was a voracious reader going up, but my interest at that time was mostly historical fiction. My first introduction to horror came through television and film. From the first time I saw that campfire, I was enthralled with Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? As I got older, I started to walk the horror section at the local video store. I rented Scream. Final Destination. Whatever I could get my hands on. My brother, over a decade older than me, loves horror too and encouraged only encouraged this behavior. Once, I asked for scary movie recommendations and he tried to get me to bring House of a Thousand Corpses to a high school sleepover. I ended up bringing Saw instead.
My mom doesn’t share in this passion for horror, but she does love thrillers and mysteries. I think that’s why I sometimes view horror in a similar vein: as a good mystery. Trying to guess what will happen next and to who and why and how/if someone will make it through to the end. My writing can sometimes walk that line between thriller and horror. Midnight on Beacon Street certainly does. It has become the lens through which I examine the human experience. The fire that forges my anxious soul into strong, sound steel.
Now, I know I’ve just gone on and on about how wonderful it is that horror fiction isn’t real—but I’m now going to contradict myself before there is a real-life component there, too. Horror not only helps people to channel their anxieties, it helps us to look fear in the eye. In early 2021, I published an essay called “A Horror Fan’s Guide to Surviving Womanhood” that explored the ways in which horror movies prepare women for life in a patriarchal society. One example I give in this essay is how my grandfather used to tell my teenaged mom to check the backseat of her car—just in case someone was hiding back there waiting to attack. (He was a worrier. It runs in the family). When my mom gave me this same caution years later, I told her I already knew to check the backseat. Horror movies had taught me.
This is a genre that has been very close to my heart for much of my life. I do not know a version of myself that is not fascinated with the macabre—the terrifying—the boogeyman that can’t really get you because he lives inside the pages of a book. Or on a screen you can shut off whenever you want. Horror does so much for me. It braces me for the real boogeymen of the world. It takes me on a roller coaster ride without ever leaving home. It soothes my anxious brain when nothing else will. It is home for me. Whether I’m reading horror, watching it, or writing it: I know I am home.
Now, dear reader, because I can’t close this out without quoting at least one horror flick, met me drop into my best Ghost Face voice and ask: what’s your favorite scary movie?