Adam Cesare on What Makes a Horror Fan

Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen, Bone Meal Broth, and Video Night wrote a great post last week about the what gets most people into horror and the split of the horror fiction fans and the horror movie fans. Here is a sample of what he has to say:

Horror fans are a diverse bunch, but every one that I’ve ever talked to has a single commonality: their obsession started when they were young.

We may keep our eyes glued to the news sites, downloading the newest trailers and demanding up-to-the minute word on our favorite creators, but our interests always loop back around to what hooked us as kids. In this way, we’re a nostalgic bunch and I hope you’ll indulge me I wax nostalgic for a minute in this post.

Notice that I didn’t say horror movie fans. I just said horror fans, which I feel is an important distinction. Well, actually I think it should be the most unimportant distinction of all, a non-existent distinction, but sadly it is one.

Confused yet? Sorry, let me try again.

It was the movies that hooked me. Browsing the video store, I was both attracted to and terrified of the horror section. I wanted so badly to enjoy these films that I begged and bartered with my parents.They were pretty permissive and let me have what I wanted. The thing was, when I was that young, I could only take about five minutes of Halloween, and the closest I got to Freddy was errant glances at his videotape covers. So I started slow, stuck with the classic monsters. Great as they are, the films of the 1930s,’40s and ’50s didn’t quite hit the same “instant terror” nerve for me as their color counterparts.

This was how I became a monster kid, which is a term that outdates me by a few decades, but still one that’s applicable to a select group of young people today. Some would claim that it’s only applicable to those who were around for the ’50s-’70s, but to hell with that. The few, the proud: the monster kids.

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Women in Horror Month: Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales

Title: Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales
Author: Fran Friel
Publisher: Apex Publications

We are wrapping up Women in Horror Recognition month with a book that exemplifies what women bring to the genre. Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales by Fran Friel is a collection that in one light is very diverse, is also tied together by recurring themes and ideas you don’t see much in horror.

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Women in Horror Month: The Haunting of Hill House

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher: Penguin

“The literary effect we call horror turns on the dissolution of boundaries, between the living and the dead, of course, but also, at the crudest level, between the outside of the body and everything that ought to stay inside.”

-Laura Miller (from the introduction to The Haunting of Hill House)

To be perfectly honest, Laura Miller’s introduction will say everything about this book I wish to say and in a more elegant way. Though, unless you don’t mind spoilers, I wouldn’t read it until you read The Haunting of Hill House.

So where should I start? Madness? Ghosts?

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Women in Horror Month: Spellbent

Title: Spellbent
Author: Lucy A. Snyder
Publisher: Del Rey

When any book is nominated for the Stoker Award, it automatically has a quality that others won’t. Spellbent by Lucy Snyder is a urban fantasy about a novice witch, Jessie Shimmer, caught in the middle of a horrible accident that will change not only her, but the world she is a part of. Her boyfriend, Cooper Marron, is pulled into a hellish dimension while they were trying to call rain to end a drought. The damage caused by the rip in dimensions causes a cover-up of supernatural proportions with Jessie now considered a fugitive for things she never knew about or took part in.

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Women in Horror Month: Morbid Curiosity

Title: Morbid Curiosity
Author: Deborah LeBlanc
Publisher: Leisure Horror

Not only will this be the first post for Women in Horror Recognition Month, but this will also be the first Fan Horror Level Spotlight we’ve done. Morbid Curiosity is the story of twin sisters, Haley and Heather, that lost there father to physical illness and mother to mental. They are shipped from Louisiana to their paternal grandparents in Mississippi. They loss of parents, friends, and lifestyle is too much for both of them, but more so for Haley. A popular girl in school, Karla, decides to help them out by showing them how she became popular: Chaos Magic. And like it’s name implies, chaos slowly takes over the lives of Haley and Heather.

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One Buck Horror

A tough economy will impact all forms of entertainment. When it comes to the horror genre, it could be lethal. In fact, a number of markets for the genre have gone under since the recession started. But there is one that has started recently that is taking advantage of the all the current conditions in publishing. One Buck Horror is a ebook digest of horror short fiction. As the name implies, it costs a dollar ($0.99 to be exact). If you check the ebooks that are the same price, both the quality and quantity is very inconsistent.  One Buck Horror contains five stories that are well written and, sometime a rarity in, edited and formatted.

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Women In Horror Recognition Month Poll Winners

Just thought I would let you all in on who going to be spotlighted in a few weeks for Women In Horror month.

Coming in a dubious first place, Morbid Curiosity by Deborah LeBlanc:

It seemed like the answer to Haley’s prayers. The most popular girl in her high school promised Haley that her life would change forever if only she performed certain dark rituals. And if Haley can convince her twin sister to participate, their power will double. Together they will be able to summon mystical entities that will do their bidding, some more powerful than they ever dreamed possible.

But these are uncontrollable forces, forces that can kill—forces that demand to be . . . fed.

From Deborah LeBlanc’s Website

Next up is Spellbent by Lucy Snyder:

Jessie Shimmer’s roguish lover, Cooper, has been teaching her ubiquemancy, the art of finding the magic in everyday things. But things go terribly wrong when the couple try to call a rainstorm in downtown Columbus. A hellish portal opens, and Cooper is ripped from the world. Worse yet, a vicious demon invades the city. Jessie barely manages to slay it, but she’s gravely wounded and the capital’s center is destroyed. As if losing an eye and a hand isn’t bad enough, the city’s ruling mage, Benedict Jordan, brands her an outlaw. With only her ferret familiar to help her, Jessie must find the dimension Cooper’s trapped in and bring him back alive before sinister machinations make both of them vanish for good.

From Lucy Snyder’s Website

In a close third, the classic, The Haunting of  Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers-and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

From the Penguin Website

Rounding out the month will be Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales by Fran Friel:

The Bram Stoker Award-nominated novella “Mama’s Boy” is the cornerstone of this 14-story collection from author Fran Friel and Apex Publications. A man whose mother’s demented love for him has turned him from an innocent boy to a serial killer to a near-comatose mental patient opens his world to a psychologist determined to reach him as a way of dealing with her own mother’s battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But is she helping, or is there more damage to be done?

In “Mashed,” a son’s simple request for potatoes with his birthday dinner opens up a world of past fears and childhood torments for his mother, while the flash fiction story “Close Shave” presents a horrifically funny solution to an everyday women’s issue.

From mother and son to broader family ties, Friel explores the bonds of human connection into every dark turn. The humorous yet wickedly creepy “Under the Dryer” begins as a tale told by the family dog and ends in a bloodbath; “Special Prayers,” perhaps the most disturbing offering in the collection, exposes a family secret of abuse and power; and the tragically soft and beautiful “Orange and Golden” explores the purest form of the human-animal bond as the sun sets on a natural disaster.

From the Apex Publications Website

Year of King: Carrie

Here is the book that started it all. Carrie will always have a place in the history of the horror genre as a turning point akin to Stoker, Poe, and Lovecraft. The debate will go on, I’m sure of if it was a good thing or a bad thing. But that is more about taste, no matter how academic the reasoning. The fact is, with Carrie, King starts to add ideas not only into the horror genre, but about how to write it.

Carrie is one of the first horror novels that doesn’t rely as heavily on the traditions of Gothic literature. Yes, there are elements, but many stories up to this point use them to the point where they seem otherworldly because of the settings, themes, and characters. Carrie really brings everything into modern setting and re-imagining or re-inventing what the Gothic would be today. Carrie White’s telekinetic ability is the supernatural element, but through out the story is developed in a scientific outlook. The monster is more anti-hero than villain. Instead of a dilapidated castle, we have a rundown house. It shed the mysticism and occult that helped defined the horror genre up to this point and sought to build a foundation in the current reality the reader lived in.

With these changes, it also allowed King to heavily focus on the characters of the book. Characterization is King’s strength, and it is the characters that invoke the terror then the supernatural elements that is common in Gothic literature. From the locker room scene where the the girls attack Carrie to the encounters Carrie has with her mother, it is the interpersonal situations that build the tension of the upcoming terror of Prom Night. In fact, the story would be just as strong and just as horrific if the telekinesis was taken out and Carrie did everything by normal means.

Today, it brings up an interesting discussion: Who is this aimed toward? Back in the mid 70’s, when it was published, most likely it would be considered an adult book. Especially with the Chicago Tribune calling it “Gory and horrify,” I can’t see too many kids getting a hold of it. The truth is, it is not that gory except for the the procurement of the pig’s blood. Also, most of the characters are teenagers. So is it still an adult book? I would say it one of those books that walks the line of YA and adult. I would even say that because of the themes of bullying and social outsiders King explores, this is more of YA read, albeit towards the older range, than it is a adult read. Not only that, but it is as much a book for young women as much as, if not more so, a young men.

By no means a perfect book, Carrie does so much in just a short amount of time that will be expanded upon through out King’s career, that this “big bang” in modern horror is an essential read.

Horror Reader Level: Beginner

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Title: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Publisher (read edition): Del Rey

Lovecraft is one of those writers that you either love or hate. But despite how you feel about him, it is undeniable his influence on modern dark fiction. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is an example of all of that. One of the backbone stories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, it tells the tale of the eponymous character in his research into an ancient relative with a sinister history. True to a trait of any Lovecraft story, the search for knowledge that humankind is not ready for leads to disastrous and disturbing fates.

What a lot of people don’t care for about Lovecraft is the writing, mostly the tendency to write in a more archaic tone and vocabulary. It the first third of the book, it is one of the heaviest uses of that style, and is the weakest point in the story. Now, it makes sense since he trying to write about events between the Salem witch trials and the American Revolution. But it is a style that, even in the 1920’s and 30’s was uncommon to read, let alone today.

But if you can get through that section, you do read a great, disturbing tale. Lovecraft proved, in this and other stories, that the terrors you can’t seen are the most terrifying. Through the rest of the book sounds of uncanny and weird goings-on are a subtle soundtrack. Lovecraft, despite the prose, does manage to show how the atmosphere affect the characters. Now, we do see somethings, like the degradation of Ward’s appearance and mind, but also of “specimens” and other arcane elements that Lovecraft never gives a full picture of. Many say it is to let the reader fill in the blanks and create their own terror. But he was just staying true to something he believed: There are just something humans cant comprehend because we are so small in comparison to the rest of the universe. By trying to describe the unknowable is to state you think you do know it. In that way, the terrors of this and other Lovecraft stories are possibly the most terrifying in literature.

The ending my feel predictable, but then, this kind of mystery has been used in different genres so many times since The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was first published. And it still affected by the style of writing that emphasis of dramatic middles with a falling action, ending in a dénouement like the greek and Shakespearean dramas. While a major influence of modern fiction, it can’t be read like modern fiction. That wasn’t Lovecraft’s intent.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, while not an introductory story for Lovecraftian tales, is still a key text to what it means to be Lovecraftian.

Horror Reader Level: Intermediate

Start The Countdown

It’s been a while since anything has been going on here. I meant to get a post about Anthology 2011, but got busy and haven’t had a chance. But I did want to let you know that I’m getting ready to start things back up come the new year. So here are some of the things that will be coming your way:

  1. Stephen King: 2012 with be the 35th anniversary of the publication of The Shining. While that may not matter to most people, it was the first King book I read. So, as a special series, I plan to highlight some of King’s books and look at his effect on the genre of horror through his career.
  2. Forgotten Masters: Now that I have an e-reader, I have better access to a lot of authors that shaped the horror genre. Many of their books and stories have been out of print for a decades, but many of them are now in the public domain allowing publishers and sellers are making ebooks of them. It is a great time to get into the horror genre because of this.
  3. Women in Horror Month – Year 2: February is coming up and that means it is time again for Women in Horror Month. This year, I’m going to let you in on a part of what is planned. I have a number of books to choose from. Until January 20th, comment on this post if there are any that you want spotlighted from that list. The top 4 that have the most recommendations will be used. Here is the list:
    • The Book of the Damned by Tanith Lee
    • The Gentling Box by Lisa Mannetti
    • Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales by Fran Friel
    • Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan
    • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    • A Twisted Ladder by Rhodi Hawk
    • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
    • Spellbent by Lucy Snyder
    • Morbid Curiosity by Deborah LeBlanc
    • Suicide Girls in the Afterlife by Gina Ranalli
    • The Keeper by Sarah Langan
    • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
    • Unwelcome Bodies by Jennifer Pelland
    • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    Pass along the word. Check Amazon if you haven’t heard of any of these books or women. Vote for the books you want to know more about.

  4. Survey Down: I’ve thought hard about this and now is not the right time to do an actual survey. I’m not giving it up completely, but there is simply not the traffic to keep it up at the present time. I hope this changes, and I will be working on the side on a revised survey. For now, the site will be more about the verb survey than the noun

And all that is just a taste for what is to come next year. Have a happy holiday season and I’ll see you all in about a month.