Women in Horror Month: Facing My Own Fears

An Author’s Perspective on Facing One’s Own Fears In Writing.

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One of the principles of writing good horror is tapping into your readers’ fears and anxieties, albeit in a controlled manner – I don’t want to trigger a heart attack or a psychosis, but I do want their skin to crawl and their innards to lurch. After all, that’s why they pick up a horror book or film in the first place.

It’s interesting – at least to me, at any rate – that I haven’t got any better at confronting my own fears.

I have always been, and still am, terrified of spiders and snakes. Of course, I do live in Australia where just about everything that crawls or slithers is deadly, so that is quite sensible. We’ll call it a healthy sense of self-preservation. Butterflies and moths, though… not so much. And crickets: ugh! Not exactly the stuff of nightmares— until they touch me. That’s when I lose all sense of reality.

fear-of-heights-2040805_960_720When I was a child, I considered that I had a fear of heights. As I grew older, I realised that what I actually have is a fear of falling. I can look out of the window of a plane that is flying at altitude, and it doesn’t bother me a bit. Ask me to step onto the balcony of a lookout at the top of a mountain, or to walk on stairs or a surface where I can see through to underneath, and you will only ever be disappointed. It’s not going to happen. The times I have been in such places, I have frozen to the ground in fear.

Interestingly, these are not fears that I have explored in my own writing— not yet, anyway. I’m far more comfortable playing on someone else’s weaknesses. Death. Hell. Demons. Fire. Hair. Monsters. Ghosts. Superstition. Possession. Unexplained coincidences. Easy peasy!

Maybe I will try to address one of my own fears in my writing this month, given that it is Women in Horror Month, and I happen to be a woman who very much enjoys writing horror.

I’ll get back to you on that one.

Maybe.

Women in Horror Month: My Kind of Horror

I want to give my readers a reading experience that is original, well-written and provocative enough to give them the chills and shudders that they seek when they pick up a horror story.

One of the most powerful features of excellent Gothic, horror or macabre writing is the ability of an author to affect the reader on an intellectual and emotional level, even more than they do physically.

This is something that I aspire to in my own writing. I always try to engage the mind and the emotions, not just the reflexes that make one gag or feel their skin crawling, although those are certainly effects that I enjoy stimulating in a reader. I don’t write splatter for splatter’s sake – there has to be a deeper meaning and a greater purpose to it than that if I really want to connect with and move my reader on a psychological level. There needs to be a story, not just a scene, and the reader needs to be able to connect with that story in order for it to have full effect on them.

I sought to do this in ‘The Silver Feather’ by developing strong emotions in my main character’s responses to things that happened around him and to him – grief, shock, dread, surprise, horror, and fear. Phil is an ordinary guy with talents, strengths and flaws that make his situation one in which any of us could find ourselves. Not everything is explained in full, because as an author, you want the reader to be wondering what’s going on, and holding their breath as they anticipate what’s coming next. Things become clearer as the story progresses, but sufficient questions remain at the end because you want the reader to remain interested enough to read the sequel.

‘Curious Things’ is a little different in that it consists of thirteen stories, all featuring a black cat named Friday and his interaction with people who are all doing the wrong thing in one way or another. It’s not enough to blow them up or have them arrested – I want to make them face consequences, to be confronted by their conscience, and to pay the price for their less-than-savoury ways. Each story develops from some kind of superstition – do black cats bring bad luck? What would happen if the ground really did open up and swallow someone? Again, some questions about Friday remain unanswered, although it is evident that he’s not exactly your ordinary house cat. The reader doesn’t need to know everything to understand that Friday is actively involved in the strange events that occur, one way or another.

I do have plans for more horror stories this year. Friday will emerge from time to time, as he did on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, when new stories were published on WordyNerdBird Writes. There may, or may not, be a sequel to The Silver Feather – the truth is that I haven’t decided on this just yet. There will be another collection of horror stories, two of which have already been written and edited, and another is well under way. I’m not setting myself a due date for any of these projects – they will happen when they happen, and I will work steadily toward them.

My goal in all of this is to give my readers a reading experience that is original, well-written and provocative enough to give them the chills and shudders that they seek when they pick up a horror story. I want them to hold their breath, and gasp, and recoil when they read my work. And I want them to come back for more, because that is the greatest compliment and honour that an author can receive from a reader.

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So here’s to all the women writing horror, and to all the readers who love what they write. Here’s to all the authors whose horror works I love reading, and to celebrating them and their books during a delightfully creepy Women in Horror Month.

I’m dead keen. Are you?