Hi, here's Jo (with a pic of Charlie Dracula) putting together the Halloween blog. The Wenches got talking about scary stuff. Turns out, none of us like to read or watch anything that scares us, though some of us did when young. Perhaps it's because our writers' imaginations make imaginary horrors too real? We even have a real ghost story to tell.
I hope that you'll share your thoughts about scary books and films, and especially any real ghost stories if you have any!
I'm among the wimps who can't read or watch horror. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane freaked me out at a very early age, and I never could watch an entire episode of Hitchcock's The Birds even on a small B&W TV. I loved Poe's poetry when I was a kid…but that was poetry. How could bad things happen in rhyme? I don't watch TV shows with violence and suspense, and I don't read horror and thrillers even now. They literally give me nightmares.
I think my aversion to all things scary is because we live in a scary world. Reading the newspapers is difficult enough without imagining worse. And that might be another key. I can imagine far, far worse than what I read in the papers, and I can "see" the events in a horror novel as if they're real. I just don't need those images in my head!
Like most of the other Wenches, I don't read a lot of Horror genre. No Stephen King, for instance. I get, y'know, nightmares. I don't want to be scared as I drive home in the dark through all the ancient tree and rocks and who know what all lurking in the various moon shadows. I've read the classics — Lovecraft and Poe — but I don't find them particularly horrific. Maybe the language is too old-fashioned. There’s one book, read many years ago, that’s stayed with me as very, very scary.
Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber. (He of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fame for those of you who are fans of Sword and Sorcery.) Our Lady of Darkness is a book about spooky books. Reiterative, that. Anyhow, we encounter books filled with menace . . . books that are the conduit of madness and ancient evil . . . books that . . . You get the picture.
“From his window there thrust itself a pale brown thing that wildly waved its long, uplifted arms at him. While low between them, he could see a face stretched toward him, a mask as narrow as a ferret’s, a pale brown, utterly blank triangle, two points above that might mean eyes or ears, and one ending below in a tapered chin … a questing mouth that looked as if it were sucking for marrow.”
Mary Jo Putney
I'm another wimpy Wench who doesn't do horror! It's the only genre that I never read or watch. I once saw a scary TV movie as a kid and had to leave the lights on in my bedroom that night. In some ways, romantic suspense is worse because it's scary to see characters you care about threatened. I remember a classic movie thriller called Wait Until Dark, in which a young, blind Audrey Hepburn is stalked by three murderous men looking for drugs in her New York basement apartment.
Frantically she breaks every light bulb in the place to even the odds, but she forgets the light in the refrigerator… I still get chills when I think of that movie. (Hepburn was nominated for a best actress Oscar for the role.) Way too scary! Yes, I do scary things to my characters, but that's different because I'm in control and I know I'll keep them safe!
Like many teenagers I went through a reading phase when I enjoyed scaring myself stupid with ghost and horror stories. I think I took a sort of perverse pleasure out of seeing how frightened I could make myself feel. I also watched the grand total of about two horror movies. Fortunately I grew out of the phase quite quickly, but I do remember a book called "The House of the Nightmare and other eerie tales" which was a short story anthology. It was a Puffin book for children so the stories were probably fairly innocuous but I can remember feeling pretty terrified when I read them at night in the old Edwardian house we lived in at the time! (It is available on Amazon. Click on the link.)
There is a real life scary sequel to this, which is that years ago, when my dh and I were engaged we went out for a drive one evening in the Yorkshire Dales. It was just getting dark and we were travelling along a quiet country lane when we came across a grand house standing all alone at the side of the road. The windows were blank and it looked empty. As I looked at it I was gripped by a terrifying feeling of fear and dread, as though something terrible had happened there. What was more surprising was that my dh felt it too and he is not remotely susceptible to atmosphere. We slammed the car into reverse and drove off as quickly as we could. It still makes me shiver to remember it over twenty five years later!
(The image is from this article in the Guardian about special effects.)
I prefer romance and history to vampires and creepy stuff, but – having raised three boys, I've endured a parade of monsters, aliens, myths, legends and spooky stuff, from Bunnicula (that book terrified one of my kids) to Bigfoot to Lovecraft and beyond. Halloween was bigger than Christmas at our house. My guys don't like gory horror stuff – they like mythical content, which is at least interesting – and they kindly assured me that this isn't real, Mom, don't be scared. I was toughened by association, and they overcame fears through vanquishing monsters. (The one, though, has never quite recovered from Bunnicula, the celery-draining rabbit.)
I went through my own scary-stuff phase when I read Poe in grade school (freaked out but kept reading), later The Exorcist (freaked out, kept reading) and a few Stephen King novels (yeah, and kept reading). Being benignly frightened didn't thrill me, so I moved on. I do respect horror writers who are masters of electric pacing and dark surprises. Now and then I still pick up a Stephen King because I admire his skill – and so I can follow the book discussions the guys have in our kitchen.
What I totally love are ghost stories, from Victorian tales to ghost investigations and paranormal shows on TV (Most Haunted is a favorite, but I'll watch any ghost/medium show). Behind every ghost there's a person trapped by something in their past–so for me, it's not the scare factor, but the possibility that a soul could be set free and a story resolved. I'm open to ghost-watching, but so far, nothing has happened!
Add me to the list of wenches who can't read or watch horror stories — I think the others have described it pretty well. The result of this — my refusal to read anything that smacked of horror–was that I came late to reading paranormal romance, because I didn't understand the difference. It was Nalini Singh's psy-changelin series that changed things first — I'd bought her first paranormal when it was first published – mainly out of solidarity because she's a friend. Took me ages to read it, though. But I finally did, and wow! I've always been a fantasy reader, and this was definitely fantasy world stuff, and her shape-shifters were gorgeous. What's not to love about a strong, protective hero who morphs into a big sleek cat or a pale-eyed wolf?
The next stage in my conversion was when romance writer Anna Campbell lent me the first two books in J.R. Ward's vampire series. Vampires? Ick!!! I could see nothing either romantic or heroic in that. What was she thinking? I knew I'd be telling her "Not my cup of tea" when I sent them back to her, but I didn't want to lie, so I decided to read the first 50 pages of the first one so I could tell her honestly I
hadn't enjoyed them. Instead I read both books back to back and then phoned the nearest book shop to check they had the next two before I drove in to buy them.
The first is Dark Lover.
Count me as another wimp who absolutely avoids any scary/horror books or film. Must be a hard-wired proclivity because I distinctly remember my mother taking me to a movie theater when I was around four to see a Disney animated film of Hansel and Gretel (which, if you remember involves the wicked witch plotting to put the children in an oven.) The other children were all having a grand time, but I went into a fit of hysterics, burying my head in her lap, crying so loudly she had to leave the theater and take me home. So much for my career in terror.
The scariest thing I've ever done in terms of reading was to take In Cold Blood by Truman Capote with me one night when I was babysittingfor a neighbor. Yes, I know, not very smart, but I hadn't realized just how frightening it was . . . until the floorboards started creaking as I was sitting on the couch close to midnight and I started hearing footsteps in the shadows, sure that two crazed murderers were creeping through the house. The memory still gives me shivers!
Soooo, no scary book for me! Given my love of research,I'm much more likely to read a book like Ghosts, A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof on Halloween. Now THAT'S my idea of fun!
And here I am with my contribution.
As a teenager I was thrilled by the occult and I enjoyed the thrills of Dennis Wheatly. I particularly remember The Ka of Gifford Hilary and The Haunting of Toby Jugg. I wouldn't read them now, but I think they were tolerable because I didn't think any of the supernatural elements were real.
I, too, find believable evil far more frightening. I'm not going to read or watch war and violent crime for pleasure, so I like my mysteries on the cosy side, and my action films with a fantasy element. I don't watch violent history on TV, but the gore in Game of Thrones doesn't bother me because it's in a fastasy setting.
I have read some horror in recent years — very selectively. It could just be the books I've read, but it seems to me that male horror authors use a lot of icky grue –slime, stinks and disturbing noises. I find myself wondering if they've ever changed a poopy baby. Or if they're still working through the horror of it all.::grin::
I have written a ghost story, Lord Samhain's Night because the original collection was All Hallows' Eve.
You can watch a short video introduction to it here.
I also have a recommendation. Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book is really good. It is scary in some ways, but not the ways you'd think.
At the moment BBC radio has a reading of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe, which any Regency heroine might have enjoyed. Follow the link to listen.
So what would you recommend that's acceptably scary? Or do you not do scary at all?
Do you find modern settings scarier than historical or fantasy?
Have you had a ghostly experience?