Today we are honored to have Kevin Lucia answer our questions on horror as not only a writer, but a teacher and a reviewer. He has read and analyzed many permutations of Horror fiction and has added his own brand with great success.
This interview is also a part of a month long blog tour. Check out all the other interviews and guest blog post Kevin has done this month. Kevin is also holding a contest for a free copy of his book Hiram Grange and the Chosen One over on Goodreads.
NHRS: We posted about your blog entry telling why horror plays a part in your life and writing career. It was a cathartic experience. Do you think this aspect of Horror fiction is talked about enough?
KL: Within the genre, sure. That’s our common lament, right? “Horror is so much more!” Outside the genre, though…not so much. People still look at me strangely when they find out I write horror. Their usual response is: “B-but…you’re so normal. Why would you ever want to write horror?” And my answer usually is: “So I can stay normal.”
For better or for worse, we live in an intensely visual world. So, when the next predictable slasher flick comes from Hollywood, touted as the “best horror film this year!”, those images “stick” and introspective horror fiction suffers another blow. But hey – there’s a place for the slasher flicks, too, because isn’t it as we’ve always said: horror is so much wider than folks think. So we just need to get audiences talking and thinking more about the different aspects of horror.
The irony? How many folks devour Dean Koontz and Lee Child and Ted Dekker novels but say they don’t like horror? Some of the stuff they’ve written is pretty horrific, and I don’t care what Dean Koontz detractors say – he still writes horror. He just balances evil with goodness, is all.
NHRS: As a teacher, you know the beginnings of the Horror genre and possibly teach one or two of those key texts to your students. How do you teach Horror to them so that they hopefully will try horror outside of the classroom?
KL: I usually avoid Edgar Allen Poe. I teach 9th and 10th grade and good ole’ Edgar is staple junior high fare, so by the time they get to me they’re all “Ravened” out. I’ve tried Lovecraft with limited success, because his prose is just too bulky for most high school students.
The particular texts I use are “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Young Goodman Brown”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, by Flannery O’Connor, and something more modern, like “Notebook Found in an Abandoned House”, by Robert Bloch.
All these stories deal with the essentials of literary horror, in that they comment on some aspect of the human condition: that humanity itself is one of the most horrifying beasts around, (A Good Man), the tug and pull between good and evil and how slippery that line is, (Young Goodman Brown), the tenuous hold we have on sanity and what happens when that hold slips, (Yellow Wallpaper), the morbid desperation of a lonely, ostracized woman (Rose for Emily), and just good old fashioned, well written suspense in which we NEVER exactly see what it is we fear, (Notebook).
I find it important to expose students to these aspects of horror, because quite frankly they’re desensitized, raised on diets of Hostel, Saw movies, things like that – flicks that aren’t even as good as the original Scream series or Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees.
NHRS: You are well known as a reviewer as well. What are some current trends you see in horror that you are glad to see? What are ones that you are not?
KL: I love genre-blenders. They tend to focus more on “story” and use genre trappings when needed, as the story dictates. The best two I’ve read are the Dresden Files and the Repairman Jack series. At the mid-list, specialty press/small press level, there’ve been some very textured, substance-driven novels written by folks like Robert Dunbar, Tim Lebbon, Mary Sangiovanni, Norman Prentiss, Greg Gifune, Rio Youers, Lisa Mannetti, Nate Kenyon and Gary Braunbeck. And those are just the ones I can THINK of, off the top of my head.
We don’t need any more lame, sexy vampires. Even Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was far more dangerous than any of these because his demon, Angelus, was always lurking beneath the surface, hungry to break out and ruin all the good Angel had done. No more zombies, either, unless written by Brian Keene, please.
KL: I may have to part ways with you on this and muddle things even further, because I think that goes back to the eternal question: “what is horror (the genre)?”
horror fiction is a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, (emphasis mine) inducing feelings of horror and terror. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural.
That section I highlighted: “has the capacity to frighten its readers” offers the muddle, because it’s pretty open ended, especially because we’re all frightened by different things.
Some are frightened by monsters or extreme gore, others by more everyday things like broken relationships, grief, betrayal, abuse. Can I say “horror is in the eye of the beholder” and not be crucified?
The Tomb, by F. Paul Wilson (the first Repairman Jack novel), is very much horror, even though the series is NOT a horror series. Several Harry Dresden novels tip over the edge into horror. Tom Piccirilli and Norman Partridge are constantly taking Noir and bumping into horror boundaries. Lisa Mannetti has shown us how a culture’s myths and religions and history is pretty horrifying. Nate Kenyon recently showed how horrifying a good old nuclear apocalypse is. Gary Braunbeck has shown us how horrifying God just might be, simply because He’s NOT human.
However, there is that wonderful little splinter genre of “paranormal romance” that has borrowed lots of horror/mythic tropes: the vampire, werewolf, skinwalker, even zombies… and made them sexy and romantic. Those novels are NOT horror. Those I would like to see go away. The literary mashups? Jury’s still out on those.
NHRS: The antagonist of your novella, Hiram Grange and the Chosen One, is a nod to H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. What are some unique elements of Lovecraft’s style that you have learned from or use yourself?
KL: I can’t honestly say I’ve consciously tried to copy his style at all, because quite frankly I actually like Derleth’s prose (along with other contemporaries) better than Lovecraft’s. I do love the atmosphere, however – that we often cannot see or never can see that which terrifies us the most, simply because we can’t comprehend it.
What I appreciate most about Lovecraft is the depth of his mythos. The way he was able to tie almost EVERY myth or folktale or cult or religion into it. He was a master at myth-building, in my opinion, and that’s the best thing he’s given Horror.
How many writers and directors have borrowed from him? In The Keep, (also by Wilson), there’s an oblique mention of “forbidden manuscripts” containing ancient knowledge of horrible “desecrations”, and I think one of them was even called the “Alhazred Manuscript”. Those are vague enough descriptions to be intriguing to ANY reader, but to someone even only slightly familiar with Lovecraft…it’s like a siren’s call.
NHRS: If you could tell everyone in the world one thing that it important about the Horror genre that you think is overlooked, what would that be?
KL: That so much of horror is NOT about the glorification of dark and depraved things, about gross out and shock literature, not all of it is nihilistic and depressing, but quite a bit of it offers rather intense studies of human nature: how do we react when confronting the things that frighten us the most? Do we shine? Falter? Fall down and rise again? How we face these fears and grapple with them tells so much about who we are and what we believe in, not only as individuals but as a society and a race. That’s one of Horror’s most valuable assets, I believe.
* * *
Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He teaches high school English, and is working on his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University. He lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and kids. He is currently working on his first full-lengthed novel.