I’m not a very big fan of scary stories and horror films. I’m not the type of person who enjoys thrill-seeking adventures (see: my acrophobia), and while stories are still slightly better than films – especially slasher films, or horror films that concentrate on gore – it’s still a genre that I’m probably never going to enjoy as much as most people.
Which isn’t to say I hate horror stories. I grew up reading Edgar Allan Poe as a relatively naive third-grade student, thinking that they were just your run-of-the-mill stories. Imagine, to my horror, reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” as an eight-year-old and freaking out so much that I buried the book (it was a library book, so I had to return it the next day) inside my school bag because I was so scared that I would hear someone knocking within the book.
I also read Stephen King as a grade school student, and that probably also made my brain go a little bit bonkers. Different Seasons came in a dog-eared copy from a classmate in fourth grade, traded underneath wooden desks as though it as a forbidden text; I had just finished reading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and so “Apt Pupil” for me was the most frightening of the stories in that collection. I remember reading Insomnia (which I enjoyed) and It (which both horrified me and, at the same time, was the source of a number of illicit thrills) and the first book of The Dark Tower. This was also around the time that I was watching a lot of The X-Files and trying to keep up with a kind of horror genre self-education that culminated in watching a re-run of the original Exorcist film on Star World at 3 in the morning… and not being able to sleep at all afterwards. I consumed a lot of Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite and other popular horror titles, and thought to myself that I was pretty mature for not running away from the books, screaming.
(Sometimes, I still hid them underneath other books at night. Just as a precaution, you know.)
I also found myself drawn to the Gothic tradition: I read Dracula and Frankenstein with unusual relish for a thirteen-year-old, and discovered Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera quite interesting. Part of why I enjoyed Jane Eyre so much was the presence of the woman in the attic; it was only in college, reading Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic that I realized that I could reflect on it using other frameworks and theories.
And then I lost both my stomach and my taste for horror stories altogether. I think it was when movies began to move away from psychological and metaphysical horror to a more sadistic and brutal, gory and violent horror that may also be indicative of what actually frightens people these days. Hell might not exist, but the asshole around the corner who’s willing to twist a knife in your gut in exchange for your belongings is certainly plausible.
So writing horror is something that I’m slightly uncomfortable with – simply because I know I can frighten myself with the stuff inside my head. But sometimes, when I can get over that, I realize that hey, I can do it, and it’s not so bad after all, and wait… what’s that thing by the mirror…?
Enjoy the story I wrote and narrated for 8List titled “Dog Gone Days.” Happy Halloween!