Writing and reading

Adventures in Horror

When it comes to horror, I like it all. From hard-hitting, in-your-face screaming terrors, to distant whispers, creaking floorboards, and the soft, subtle seduction of the unknown, horror has enraptured me since the night I discovered it in the pages of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was only eight years old and because most of the story was over my head, I didn’t finish the novel until many years later, but I did make it far enough that fateful night to have my imagination forever reshaped by images of the Count climbing the castle wall, as seen through the eyes of Jonathan Harker. I must have re-read that scene a dozen times, becoming more and more captivated - and horrified - with each reading. It haunted me … and I liked it.

From that moment on, I made it my mission to be terror-stricken, and as I consumed scary movies and gorged on horror novels, I realized I’d found a great sense of peace, of home, in that lingering feeling of foreboding. That low buzz of exquisite dread that chilled my skin, shortened my breath, and set my teeth just a little on edge … this was, and is, my natural habitat. It reminds me that I’m alive and that there is more to life than what we see every day - and that not everything can so easily be explained away.

It was only natural, of course, that I would go on to write horror, and when it came time to write my own vampire novel, I thought a lot about Dracula - the way it shocked me, the way it seduced me - and I tried to scandalize my readers in a similar manner within the confines of my own tale, The Crimson Corset.  I wanted to caress and coddle the reader with real characters, make them feel comfortable in my home, offer them a cup of tea - then, and only then, going for the jugular. And I wanted to show that not all vampires are bad, just as not all humans are good. Some of the most horrific characters aren’t monsters at all, not vampiric ones at any rate, and I drew this from how charming Dracula could truly be one moment, and how bloodthirsty the next - and how very believable he was. I wanted to do Bram Stoker proud in my own work, to pay homage, and to thank him for his book.

But while I would certainly consider Dracula one of my favorite horror novels, I can’t fairly say that it is my only favorite. There are simply too many to choose from, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another of my personal go-tos. On the other side of scream-out-loud terror-fests there is a cozier kind of horror, a quieter - and in that sense, more dangerous - kind, and steeped in this territory is where I discovered Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca. While Rebecca might not be considered horror in any traditional sense, this novel is a treasure trove of sinister suggestion, hints of heinousness, and mumblings of the macabre.

Rebecca is the kind of story that sneaks up on you. It moves silently and speaks just above a whisper, but it touches you on the shoulder, making its eerily still mysteries known to you at the appropriate times. Rebecca is one of horror’s hidden treasures and my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I make no secret that we channel it frequently in our Gothic serialization, The Ghosts of Ravencrest. And when it comes to personal favorites, I’d put Rebecca right up there with Stephen King’s Misery, John Saul’s Suffer the Children, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. But again, Rebecca is a lady. She won’t jump out at you from dark corners and grab you by the throat. Rather, I’d say Rebecca is quite gentle. In fact, I’d consider it a great Halloween read for the reluctant horror reader.

And this is what I love about horror. It spans the entire spectrum, dabbling a little in all genres, and adding a touch of spice. Horror is more than blood-splatter, slasher flicks, and torture porn. It’s everywhere - in fiction and beyond. It’s the creak on the stairs, the whisper of sheets at night, the tapping of tree limbs on the window. In short, horror exists mainly in your own imagination, and that’s what makes it so much fun. The movies and the books are manifestations of someone’s idea of what is scary, and anything can be scary.

So to choose a definite favorite? I simply couldn’t.