With over 900 short stories under his belt, Michael Bracken has joined us for the next Many Genres, One Craft interview. While better known for his mystery and women’s fiction stories, don’t let that fool you into thinking he doesn’t know his horror. But he does give an important “outside” look to horror that readers and non-readers of the genre can learn from.
NHRS: You write about how short stories can be an important outlet for writers. It’s a very true statement in the horror genre. Do you think that horror lends itself to the short form more so than others?
MB: A good horror story is all about the reader’s emotional reaction, and it’s much easier to pack an emotional punch in 2,000 words than it is in 100,000 words. In that way, I’d say horror does lend itself better to the short form than most other genres.
NHRS: You talk about how short stories are a great place for writers to learn the conventions of the genres. Would you also say the short stories are also a great way for non-readers of a genre to test the waters, better than novels?
MB: Absolutely, but as the author of almost 900 short stories, I’m prejudiced in favor of the short form in all genres.
NHRS: Have the conventions of horror helped you in writing the genres you are most proficient in?
MB: The horror I most enjoy reading leaves me with an emotional reaction that can manifest itself in a physical reaction, such as a chill running down my spine or an unexpected shiver. I learned that from reading and studying the short stories of Charles L. Grant and others, and I try to give readers that same emotional reaction when I write horror.
I later realized that stories in other genres benefit from giving readers an emotional reaction. It isn’t enough to finish reading a piece of crime fiction and think, “That was a nice twist.” It’s better when the reader reacts emotionally to that ending. It isn’t enough to finish reading a romantic story and remember the “meet cute.” It’s better when the reader finishes the story and realizes he actually feels the love between the characters.
NHRS: What do you think are some common grounds between horror and each of the other genres?
MB: The best stories in any genre are ultimately about people and how they react to and interact with the people and the world around them. Certainly science fiction can take us out of this world and horror can make us fear the unknown, but without people these aren’t really stories, they’re intellectual exercises. The common thread, then, is that characters experience love, hate, joy, fear, and all the other emotions no matter the genre.
NHRS: Why do you think non-horror readers are so tentative to try it out?
MB: Too much bad horror permeates the collective consciousness. If all a non-horror reader knows about the genre is the Saw movie franchise, how likely is she to pick up Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”?
NHRS: If you could tell everyone in the world one thing that is important about the horror genre that you think is overlooked, what would that be?
MB: The best horror isn’t about cheap theatrics. Any schlockmeister can spill blood and sever body parts and give readers queasy tummies. The best horror makes us look at ourselves and realize that the evil inside each of us can be just as frightening as any supernatural beastie crawling out from under the bed.
* * * * *
Even though he is the author of several books—including the young adult romance Just in Time for Love and the hardboiled private eye novel All White Girls—Michael Bracken is better known as the author of almost 900 short stories, including horror fiction published in Hot Blood: Strange Bedfellows, Midnight, Night Voyages, Northern Horror, Specters in Coal Dust, Weirdbook, and many other anthologies and magazines. Several of his horror stories were collected in Canvas Bleeding (Wildside Press) and Memories Dying, previously released in the U.K., is now available for Kindle in the U.S. Additionally, Bracken has edited five crime fiction anthologies, including the three-volume Fedora series. Learn more at http://www.CrimeFictionWriter.com and CrimeFictionWriter.blogspot.com.