Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: horror

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson

Since we are coming up on Halloween, I’d like to take a moment to talk about my favorite genre—horror. I can’t get enough of it. It is a genre that fascinates me simply because I believe it is the most difficult genre to write. Sure it was probably easier back in the days that movie audiences ran screaming from the man in a really bad plastic ant outfit. But these days? As desensitized as we have become? Unsettling people is no simple task.

That’s why I’d like to talk about it today because no matter what type of fiction we write, we can learn a lot from what horror authors do well.

Powerful fiction mines the darkest, deepest, grittiest areas of the soul. GREAT fiction holds a mirror to man and society and offers messages that go beyond the plot.

Elisabeth Kubler Ros once stated:

There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.

This means, the more we understand fear, the deeper our writing becomes, the more meaningful, visceral, and profound. In love stories, fear might be of being alone, of never finding “the one” or even losing “the one.” In a literary, the fear can be of remaining the same, or of regressing, or of failing to evolve and learn the critical lesson provided by the story problem.

Fear is the lifeblood of fiction because conflict is always generated by fear. The protagonist wants something BUT THEN… The more intense the fear? The higher the stakes become? The faster the reader turns the pages.

What Horror Says About Conflict

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Here is where we need to be careful. There is a fine line between a bad situation versus authentic conflict. This line makes the difference between a meh novel and something people hold onto and read and reread. It is what makes the difference between a B horror movie that is utterly forgettable, versus a horror staple that endures for generations.

In horror, bad situations can be monsters or an ax-wielding psycho, but, without conflict added in, it quickly devolves into a sort of wash, rinse, repeat. Oh, he chopped up a teenager! Now two teenagers! Now he skinned them and danced in a woman suit made from their flesh! This is the basest form of horror, the horror that depends on shock value (gore).

And before anyone says, “But that is horror, it doesn’t apply to me!” Be careful. I get a lot of new fiction that it is simply bad situation after bad situation—and another car chase—and the reason this falls flat is that the “badness” is purely external. The characters are passively receiving “bad things happening” and the writer leaves it there.

So what makes it conflict and not just a bad situation?

Monsters & Men

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I liken humans to a tea cup. Whatever we are filled with is what will spill out when we are rattled.  When the heat is on (story problem) do we rise to the occasion or is our darker self revealed?

A great example of this is Stephen King’s The Mist. Sure it is a monster story. Scary strange mist, creatures in the mist, tentacles, blood, OMG! And if King had made the focus of the story the aliens, we would have a pretty forgettable movie.

Oooh a giant tentacle!

What now?

A BIGGER TENTACLE!

What now?

Have it eat someone!

Oooh! And now?

Have it eat MORE people!

ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

You can clearly see how this would have become a seriously tedious story if it simply relied on a string of “worsening” situations. But King is too smart for that. No, he appreciated what I talked about a moment ago. Sure humans are a nice enough bunch so long as there is food and shelter and the power works. But take away the conveniences. Scare people, really scare them and we get to see who they really are.

We take that external problem and make it internal.

The source of conflict (and in this case horror) has far less to do with the aliens outside and much more to do with what that outside problem does to the people trapped in the grocery store. We see the characters fall all along the spectrum. The ordinary and unremarkable cashier risking his life to help others contrasted against the “good Christian” woman escalating to full scale cult leader (human sacrifice to appease the beasts outside included) in less than 24 hours.

The monsters inside become far scarier than whatever is outside.

If we think about it, this is what makes for a good ghost story, too. It is less about what the ghost is or isn’t doing and more about what it is revealing about those being tormented. A fantastic example of this is Prisoner of Hell Gate which I recommend any time, but especially for some really great Halloween reading.

Strand a boat full of college students on an island where Typhoid Mary died and sit back and watch the fireworks. Again, the horror is less to do with the island and more to do with what the peril brings out in the people.

I also recommend Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island and Dean Koontz’s What the Night Knows.

This Applies to ALL Good Fiction

But as I mentioned, this “turning the external internal” is what makes ALL great fiction. Toss in a problem then watch what it does to the people around it. In Big, Little Lies (general fiction) a Kindergarten schoolyard rumor escalates to murder. The story really has nothing to do with the murder and more to do with how a simple little rumor has the power to undo lives. It is the rumor that brings out the best and the worst in people.

Fiction is about problems and then putting on the pressure. The story problem serves as a crucible. We can make our story forge so hot it rivals the surface of the sun, but unless we toss the character(s) in it? Doesn’t matter how hot it is. It is our job (no matter the genre) to poke and prod and expose that which people fear. Hone in on the pain points and THAT is what makes for dimensional writing from the fear of burying your own child (Steele Magnolias) to the fear of being invisible (Fried Green Tomatoes) to the fear of being powerless (The Labyrinth).

Writers are brokers of fear 😉 .

What are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite horror books/authors? I am a HUGE Koontz fan. For those who maybe eschew horror, can you at least see how these tools might enrich your fiction?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the NEW Plotting for Dummies class below!

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes TOMORROW!

 

SATURDAY, October 22nd Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

~*~

Kait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, this reformed Pantser is hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.

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This poster for sale HERE.

Eh, it’s Friday, so we’re going to have a little fun debate. ZOMBIES. I never actively intended the undead to be part of my author brand, but strangely? It fits. Just take one glance at an author trying to make deadline (hmmm, word choice?) or someone who’s been through Revision Hell? The term “Walking Dead” fits. These poor souls shamble around moaning. They wear stained clothes, coffee mug in hand and have that creepy thousand-yard stare.

Don’t shoot! Well, unless it’s a tranquilizer gun because that is the only way many writers in these stages are going to get any sleep.

Jokes aside, why have zombies invaded pop culture?

The Spawn and Zombies

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It started out kinda cute. It was Halloween and Spawn was three. But first, a tad of backstory so y’all have context.

When Spawn was slightly less than two, he began to speak…beautifully. His third word was “dinosaur” and it was as clear as if an adult said it. I was so excited. He was talking! And just like every child I’d cared for in the past, he was speaking early, intelligibly and articulately. Then he was in a terrible accident and knocked his four front teeth into the maxilla. $20,000 of emergency maxo-facial surgery later? I had a baby bat who rarely spoke and hid his face.

Back to Halloween, 2013.

So Hubby and I were thrilled when all of the sudden, from the back seat, we hear this tiny voice say, “ZOMBIE.” That is SO OUR BOY!

Everything became about zombies and we’re still not exactly sure how since it wasn’t like we’d done anything to actively introduce him to the topic. I was addicted to documentaries about physics at the time.

Anyway, Spawn began making up zombie songs.

My husband loves heavy metal. All the sudden, I hear a growly toddler voice “singing”:

Zombies and BABIES

Zombies and BABIES

Meet you in the dark. Eat you in the park.

ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! ZOMBIEEEEEEE!

….ohhh-kay

I confess, I laughed. I encouraged it because at least he was talking and singing. Then one day I hear him singing the Zombies and Babies tune, but the lyrics changed.

New song?

Zombies and Pears

Me: Zombies and pears?

Spawn: Yep.

Me: What kind of zombie eats pears?

Spawn: *matter-of-factly* Vegan Zombies.

And HOW do you argue with THAT?

And the ZOMBIE SAGA Continues…and CONTINUES

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At first it was cute, then adorable. But after almost a year of nothing but zombies? I’m a bit weary. But, the only time I can even understand half of what he is saying is when he talks about zombies. He tells stories, makes up songs, asks lots of zombie-related questions, makes zombie rhymes.

And for those who have followed this blog, my four-year-old son was fired from preschool for his love of zombies. No, he didn’t bite or attack anyone, he just liked to wander around the playground with a blank stare and moan. Clearly the school didn’t see he was BORN to run for government office.

So now Mommy is homeschooling (unschooling actually). What I’ve decided is if he wants zombies, that’s what he’ll get. Think of all the topics! ZomBIOLOGY 101.

Prevention, pathology, epidemiology, history, plagues, prions, viruses, the CDC, ethics, and on and on. Either I will burn him out and he’ll find something new, or at least I can have fun, too.

But it does beg the question…

Why Are Zombies SO Popular?

My friend Kevin Lucia is a horror author who’s taught for WANA International and guest-posted here about this often misunderstood genre. One particular Lucia post was fascinating because he spoke about how “horror” often reflects much of what we’re facing as a society. For instance, after the invention of the A-Bomb, radioactivity was all the rage. Movie theaters and comics offered up all kinds of radioactive spiders, lizards, superheroes, super villains etc.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre came on the heels of the Vietnam War, a war which decimated accepted rules of combat and exposed authorities as flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy.

Now we exist in a world where we are no longer fighting countries or governments, we’re fighting ideas/behaviors—The War on Drugs, The War on Obesity, The War on Terror.

War of Words

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Most of these “wars” are rife with ambiguity. Which drugs are the enemy? We’re Janus-faced. Our government burns poppy fields while doctors hand out Oxycotin like candy. The DEA torches marijuana fields, but then we can order “special” brownies in Colorado. Meth is evil, but then elementary schools are swimming in amphetamines (ADD meds).

Talk about confusing.

Then there is The War on Obesity. Sigh. I’m close to 170 pounds, but I wear a size 8. I fired my last doctor because he kept sending me for tests to figure out why I was so “morbidly obese.” Despite the fact that all my tests came back the picture of optimal health and my diet is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, soda-free, low in sugar and no processed carbs, organic, non-GMO and I work out constantly, I was “fat.”

Ironically, if I wasn’t a white female, I’d be “curvy.” The African American nurse was my strongest ally and thought the doctor had four holes in his head. She made it a point to tell me I was beautiful and to ignore him.

But this is a fair question. What IS fat? In a world where J.Crew is offering up the NEW Size 000? Who the hell knows anymore?

The Shapeshifting

The terrifying part (for me) is that ideas are malleable and can be redefined. “Terrorist” is all about perspective and personal value systems. I’ve had people on Facebook call gun-owners domestic terrorists and viscously attack me for having guns. Of course, the interesting part is many of them live in major metropolitan areas. Politics aside, a large portion of these detractors don’t live in places where their definitive position at the top of the food chain not is static.

Image courtesy of Texana
Image courtesy of Texan

 

We’ve had nests like these (above) at our property, even beneath the HOUSE. I’ve nearly stepped on a rattlesnake countless times. Also at our ranch, we’ve been battling a MAJOR wild boar infestation. Wild boar can weigh hundreds of pounds. They’re viscous, invasive, aggressive, territorial and have long razor-sharp tusks that rival a French chef knife.

Cell phones rarely work out there, and even if they did, it would take at least 30 minutes for outside help to arrive.

New Kinds of War

Also, these days there is NO way to really know or see the enemy. The enemy (like Vietnam) can be anyone and everyone. It isn’t a soldier dressed in a blue or red or green uniform. Men, women, children, babies, elderly are all potential killers in many parts of the world.

Interesting how this parallels with the idea of zombies. However infected, the zombie is just as much a victim as its prey. A virus “recruits” universally and doesn’t discriminate.

A Universal and Politically Correct “Enemy”?

Original "Red Dawn"
Original “Red Dawn”

I was a child of the 70s and 80s. We were a seriously un-PC generation. We fought the Russians daily in our backyard and all watched the 1984 Olympics with more enthusiasm than any Olympics since. Our goal? BEAT THE RUSSIANS. Then the Iron Curtain parted, the Berlin Wall fell and a world with two major axes of power crumbled.

Also, with an increasingly globalized world most of us live in very heterogenous populations. I live in a relatively small satellite community in DFW. I see Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians, Muslims, Africans every time I go to a grocery store. This notion of we are ALL in this together? Clearer by the day.

Sure we witness human-against-human war all the time on the news, which is why I limit how much I watch. But my opinion? The biggest threats we will face in the future are not people, but biology.

Beat the Russians Bugs

In the 80s and 90s, doctors threw antibiotics at EVERYTHING. We’re seeing all kinds of superbugs emerging. I was an early adopter and contracted Swine Flu the year before it paralyzed the US. I’ve never been so sick in my LIFE. I had a boiling fever (104-108) for two weeks and it took THREE MONTHS to fully recover.

Add in SARS, Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, MRSA, Flesh-Eating viruses, Tuberculosis, The Kardashians and Honey Boo-Boo?

It makes sense that zombies would be part of the national consciousness when every time we get sick we need GODZILLACILLIN to tame a simple ear infection.

Zombies—A Social Observation? How We Feel About Others

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Zombies. Mindless. Unaware of anything but their own hunger.

A couple posts ago, I mentioned going to yoga to decompress and have quiet time away from the noise of our fast-paced world. The woman next to me texted THE ENTIRE TIME. She couldn’t set down the cell phone for an HOUR.

REALLY?

Fifteen years ago, if a car was going 20 mph in a 50 mph zone and weaving through lanes? Probably a drunk. NOW? Likely texting or looking at a phone.

I was at a 7-11 trying to buy water to bring to the park. I happened to be behind this young 20-something with his pants nearly to his knees….on a PHONE. The poor clerk kept having to redo the transaction because this guy was chatting away and kept hitting the wrong buttons on the swipe pad.

It took everything for me not to rip the phone out of his hands and yell, “I’m happy you are wearing underwear, but don’t need proof. Please pull up your pants, hang up the phone and give this person working to HELP you the respect enough to be present. You are not the only one in this world and there is a line of people behind you who’d kinda like to buy stuff too and not stare at your @$$ any longer than necessary.”

How We Feel About Ourselves

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I can’t speak for all the world, but I can speak for Western culture. Every time they give us a new “time-saving” tool, they just pile on more stuff to do on our heads. When I was in the corporate world, there were people who bragged that they hadn’t taken a vacation in a decade.

Please do, because you are a worn out jerk and everyone HATES YOU.

If you took a vacation, it was frowned upon and not-so-subtley punished. Even taking SICK DAYS was punished. When I worked in paper, I got pneumonia. They forced me to come to the office (loaded with paper fiber) and we were located next to a concrete plant so the air was full of concrete dust…but then had NO IDEA why I wasn’t getting better.

Many of us deal with workplaces that would rather us lumber in with 103 degree fever than take a day off.

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Thanks for infecting the rest of us.

So why ARE we fascinated with zombies? Many of us spend a lot of time burned out and surrounded by stupidity. We’re medicated, caffeinated and indoctrinated. I don’t know about you, but I seriously miss my BRAAAAIIIIINS. I also miss when Spawn loved NASCAR. Sigh.

What are your thoughts? Why have zombies taken the place of Godzilla and Giant Spiders from Outer Space? Do you think the zombie craze is a reflection of our social angst? Or maybe we relate to the poor zombie more than we’d like to admit?

It’s Friday, let’s have some fun and be Armchair Anthropologists and Sideline Sociologists!

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

For those who need help building a platform (HINT: Start as EARY as possible) here’s my newest social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

TOMORROW!!!!!

SATURDAY is my ANTAGONIST CLASS. NYC Time 12:00-2:00. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Have an idea for a book? Stuck and can’t move forward? Keep starting books you can’t finish? THIS class is the cure! You get two…okay usually more like three hours of instruction, the recording, detailed notes AND you can upgrade for personal consulting to help you repair or construct your masterpiece.

 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Today is our final segment from AMAZING author and WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia. Why horror? If you’ve followed this series, you now know many of the books you might already love are actually horror, but tend to be classified under different names—science fiction, dark fantasy, noir, etc. So for us to shiver and say, “Oh, I don’t like horror” is funny because most of us have been enjoying horror for a long time.

Sort of like how Mom hides the green veggies in a cheesy casserole ;).

Oh, what vegetables? Look at all the CHEESE!*whistles innocently*

Horror is a very important, but often misunderstood and overlooked genre. Yet, it is one of the most powerful. Much of the literature that has endured for generations and even altered society and science can thank horror. A great example? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (every ambulance now has chest paddles to use electricity to restart a heart). It took a horror author to wonder about death and what constituted life. Could it be prolonged? Should it be? Horror authors are known for asking the tough questions and are unafraid to give real answers sans candy-coating.

Take it away, Kevin!

****

There are some writers’ whose work transcends the horror genre. And then there are some writers who can literally write whatever they please, virtual “jacks of all traders.” That’s the focus of today’s blog, a handful of writers who have written just about everything, and then some, “horror” being only one aspect of their talents.

Everyone should know Robert E. Howard. Hopefully, many folks reading this blog are nodding, thinking: “Of COURSE we do. He invented Conan the Barbarian. Solomon Kane. He wrote horror, sword and sorcery, Lovecraftian tales, weird fiction.  He wrote fabulous westerns, and probably helped invent the weird western. He’s ROBERT E. HOWARD, for Pete’s Sake.”

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However, if you DON’T know Robert E. Howard, you need to rectify that situation as quickly as possible. His bibliography is staggering, considering his career came to an abrupt end with his suicide at age thirty. And his prose his something behold. It drives with this rhythmic, pulsing power that, in anyone’s else’s hands would sound ridiculous and overwrought, but somehow, coming from Howard sounds powerful and unrelenting.

A caution: like Lovecraft, he did unfortunately indulge in racial caricatures at times. We don’t have the space to debate that here; but those who want to investigate his work should know that up front. That being said, “Black Canaan” and “Pigeons From Hell” are two of my all time favorite stories. For his westerns, I recommend The End of the Trail. For an eclectic mix of his fiction, The Black Stranger. For his Solomon Kane tales, The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane  and for a collection of his horror stories, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.

Who would I consider the contemporary equivalent of Solomon Kane? Well, even though he’s never neared the same kind of output, the obvious choice would be Norman Partridge.  First of all, Norman’s blog is one of the few author blogs I actually read on a regular basis. Never pretentious, though he sometimes writes about writing and offers advice, most of the time he writes about what he loves: Universal horror films, pulp and Noir fiction, cars…you name it, be he blogs about. His fiction is not to be missed, either. It offers that same hard driving, rhythmic pulse that Howard’s does…but Partridge has his own unique voice.

And his tales vary. He’s written some of the best Halloween-themed fiction I’ve read in recent years, and his Stoker Award Winning Novel Dark Harvest should become an annual Halloween read, along with his short collection that’s linked to the world of Dark Harvest, Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season. His collection Lesser Demons was like a crazy mix of Bradbury, Howard, Lovecraft and King, all in one volume. Slippin Into Darkness is a crazy-fun Noir/Crime/Horror/Ghost Story mix, and I’m not sure WHAT genre his Jack Baddalach novels Saguaro Riptide and The Ten-Ounce Siesta fit into, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re adrenaline-laced crime/noir/mystery craziness that read faster than greased lightning.

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Another writer whose reach extends past the horror genre is Al Sarrantonio. He’s written westerns and science fiction, but honestly, his horror fiction is the best. And, like a lot of the masters, his work has been re-released in ebook format, though used copies of  the paperbacks are still readily available.

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His “Orangefield” cycle (Horrorween, Halloweenland, Hallow’s Eve) novels invoke all the cider and autumn spice of Bradbury andare entertaining and lyrical. Totentanz, (think Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but with bite) October and The Boy With Penny Eyes offer some fine, fine reading, and his short fiction collection, Toybox, offers short fiction that maybe outshines his novel-length work. And the best part? So much more Sarrantonio out there.

So we’re at the end of our journey, for now. I hope I’ve turned your attention on toward a group of horror writers who are (or, in some cases, were) among the best in the business. Again, I can’t claim I’ve read everyone, and there are still so many that need to read myself, but these are the ones I’ve discovered and read over the past five years that have impacted me deeply, as I hope they impact you.

THANK YOU, KEVIN!!!! *stands and applauds*

Horror Author Kevin Lucia
Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri
Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Kevin is continuing his series on horror, offering works we might not be aware of, books that can diversify and enrich our creative pallets. Why paint with three colors, when there is a limitless spectrum awaiting if only we’re brave enough to explore?

Take it away, Kevin!

***

“Horror isn’t a genre…it’s an emotion.” – Douglas E. Winter, American writer, critic and lawyer.

If one of literature’s more noble functions is to comment on the human experience, then the horror genre has the potential to take a scalpel to that human experience and dissect all our worst fears, nightmares, and weaknesses. Horror can examine our frailties and strengths, and – like all good fiction – show us at our worst and at our best.  Today, I’d like to present you with some authors whose work I’ve found especially moving, emotionally.

Gary Braunbeck’s fiction is drawn from a very deep, emotional well, which gives his work rich (and often terrifying) substance. One only needs to read his autobiographical treatise on the horror genre, To Each Their Darkness, to see how much he’s drawn from his life. What’s so powerful about Gary’s fiction is twofold: first, his characters could be us. Could be the person down the street. Could be that tired mother pushing a child in a stroller and holding another child in the crook of her arm while waiting in a food pantry line.

Secondly, Gary pushes the metaphysical/existential/spiritual/quantum mechanical “what does it all mean?” line better than anyone I’ve read in horror fiction, with the exception of Peter Straub and British writer Gary McMahon. While Gary’s stories seem ripped right from the headlines: domestic abuse, mass killings, suicides, infanticide, underneath he’s ALWAYS asking the BIG questions: Why? How do these things happen? Who/What allows them to happen? The way he addresses these questions are more frightening than any kind of “horror.” Also, like Charles Grant’s “Oxrun Station” stories, Gary’s novels In Silent Graves, Mr. Hands, The Keepers, Coffin County, Far Dark Fields all take place in his fictional city of Cedar Hill. And to show his range, Gary’s most recent collection, Rose of Sharon, features all mainstream, literary, non-genre fiction that’s sure to be every bit as compelling as his genre fiction.

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Mary Sangiovanni takes Lovecraft’s “cosmic horror,” injects it with heart and emotion and believable characters, making it all her own. A writer who relies on characterization, tension and dread, her “Hollower” trilogy – Hollower, I See You and Triumvirate deals with cosmic horrors from beyond the pale, but it also deals with the human experience. She’s not afraid to rip you apart emotionally (but oh, so quietly), and her novel of cosmic terror Thrall is perhaps one of the finest riffs on “small town cosmic horror” I’ve ever read.

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Author Mary SanGiovanni

Across the pond, Gary McMahon is easily Gary Braunbeck’s British counterpart, asking those same, deep questions. His most recent collection, Where You Live finds horror not in dank castles, gloomy moors or shadowed cemeteries…but at work. In the house down the road. In our homes and lives. His Thomas Usher books – which begins with Pretty Little Dead Things – features haunted, tragic occult detective Thomas Usher, a man mourning the loss of his family, cursed to see the dead…and not able to much about it.  His short story “Some Pictures in an Album” in the anthology Chiral Mad is one the finest, most subtle…and most disturbing…pieces I’ve ever read.

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Mercedes Yardley will make you laugh, cry, rage, giggle at completely inappropriate things, weep quietly, laugh again…all within the confines of one collection. The reason for that is that Mercedes truly writes about the human experience, the whole ball of wax: the good, the bad, the absurd, the strange, the strangely absurd, the weird, the ugly and everything else there is in life. You could say she writes horror, weird fiction, fairy tales, fables, or weird horrific fairy tales with elements of slipstream comedy…it doesn’t really matter what you call it. She’s a fantasist that plumbs the depths of the human heart in her first collection Beautiful Sorrows

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Author Mercedes Yardley

Primarily, Ronald Malfi writes about people. Hurting people, struggling people, people who’ve lost their way and are trying to find their way back or find some semblance of meaning, or are just trying to survive not only this world, but also themselves. And, of secondary importance, very often those stories traffic in the horror genre. But first and foremost, Ron writes about people and their conflicts, their emotions, their failures and their victories.

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The Floating Staircase is ghost story…but so much more, and that story’s resolution left me near tears. The Narrows is one of the best small-town horror novels I’ve read since Salem’s Lot, and Malfi’s twist on a classic horror motif makes the story all his own. Snow is simply a well-written, entertaining horror novel…with characters we care about. The Fall of Never is Malfi’s take on the classic Gothic Tale and Passenger still stands as one of the most emotionally wrenching stories I’ve ever read.

I hope you’ll seek out some of these authors that have changed me and inspired me. Allow them to open your mind and thoughts into new ways to reveal the human condition, the common and uncommon struggles and, in the end, make your own work far richer.

Horror Author Kevin Lucia
Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

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Okay, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Yeah, a series on horror? Well, if you spent five minutes with some of MY family members, a chainsaw might sound like a great idea. Truth be told, horror is one of my FAVORITE sub-genres and our WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia? He’s an AMAZING teacher. Also, horror is one of those genres that goes for the guts (no pun intended). It truly probes the human condition, and whether or not we are fans, we can learn A LOT from what horror authors do best.

All great stories probe what we FEAR. This is the essence of good storytelling. Whether it is the fear of not finding love or losing love or not achieving a goal? FEAR is the heart of conflict. No conflict? No story. This is why I’ve recruited one of the best authors I know to talk about a genre that many might not believe is salient….yet it is a masterful lesson how to make ALL fiction fabulous.

Take it away, Kevin!

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I’ve learned much about the craft since I made my first foray into horror fiction seven years ago, but the most important lesson I learned in two parts. The first came during an evening spent with genre luminaries Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Stuart David Schiff.

You can get the full story here, but in brief: I spent the evening hanging with these giants as they regaled each other with tales of their experiences. One of the biggest takeaways was this humbling realization: I knew very little of the genre’s history.

The second installment of this lesson came the following fall during Brian Keene’s keynote address at AnthoCon: ROOTS, in which he detailed the different “waves” that made up the horror genre’s history. I was once again humbled to realize that my reading diet was quite shallow. I’d read almost every Stephen King and Dean Koontz novel, a few Peter Straub novels…

And that was it.

I quickly realized I wasn’t drawing upon a rich, developed palette to write my fiction. And while I’d read mostly novels and very few short stories, there I was, trying to “make my bones” writing short stories. This dissonance led me to radically alter my reading diet, committing myself to exploring the horror genre.

And in this blog series, I’d like to share those writers with you. In each installment I’ll present the giants of the genre and also some newcomers that maybe aren’t landing splashy big deals because they don’t write about zombies or vampires or sparkling vampire zombies, but write horror fiction that actually means something. Also, one good thing about the “greats” is that their work has either been re-released as eBooks, or used copies can be found cheap (almost criminally so) on Amazon.

But keep in mind: this list is hardly exhaustive. These are just the folks I’ve read myself.

Quiet Horror: The following three writers helped create a subgenre of horror called quiet horror. These tales boast rich, taut atmospheres; finely crafted prose and stories that comment deeply on the human experience. They didn’t rely on shock value. If you’re looking for something very far away from slasher films, this is it.

Charles Grant is probably considered the father of “quiet horror,” the epitome of everything the subgenre aspired to. He built tension better than anyone I’ve ever read and his prose flows gently, softly, quietly. His greatest achievement may be the creation of Oxrun Station, a fictional, haunted town in Connecticut with a loosely-connected continuity. He was also one of the finest editors in the business, his SHADOWS anthologies setting the standard for many years.  His backlist.

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Ramsey Campbell is called “Britain’s greatest living horror writer” by the Oxford English Dictionary. He also excels in quiet, tense horror that relies on emotion and psychological fears rather than shock and gore. He’s also adept at creating slippery, surreal narratives that leave his characters – and us – questioning what we call reality. Quite simply, Ramsey is one of the best in the business. His backlist and current list.

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T. M. Wright has been called a “one-man definition of quiet horror” by Ramsey Campbell himself. He’s a modern master of “the ghost story” and for me, he completely changed the way I thought about ghosts.  Like the previous two, his prose is rich, finely crafted, and he relies on stories of substance rather than superficial genre motifs.  His backlist.

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New Voice You Should Read:

Norman Prentiss is the first name that comes to mind when I think of a contemporary writer of “quiet horror.” His novella Invisible Fences is one of the finest things I’ve ever read, and he’s re-invented Charles Grant’s Oxrun Station-mythos in the exploits of the sinister (maybe?) Dr. Sibley, a college English professor you don’t want to cross. Keep an eye on Norman; he’s going places. Current publications.

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So what are your thoughts? I am not a fan of slasher movies but I LOVE a great scary story. I love anything that makes me look more deeply at myself (um, I, Robot?).

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

Also, due to an EPIC ice storm, my Big Boss Troublemaker class has been moved to TUESDAY. No antagonist? NO STORY. There is no novel I can’t help you fix, so SIGN UP here. There is no need to spend years editing and revising. An hour with me? ALL fixed.

I hope you will check out my newest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World onAmazon or even Barnes and Noble.