I’m not exactly sure when I started reading horror; it was just always there. I remember being obsessed with Point Horror books – though if you asked me to recap any stories now, my brain lets me down. (I do, however, vividly remember the covers for The Babysitter, The Cheerleader and The Lifeguard!) I remember being given a Stephen King collection by a much-older family friend and totally devouring it; I must’ve been about 12 or 13. When we studied Wuthering Heights in high school English class, I was in my element. Ghostbusters and Gremlins were among my favourite movies (80s kid and 90s teen; the best of both worlds!)
(As an aside: I know much of that wouldn’t qualify as “horror” in most people’s views. That word conjures blood and guts and serial killers. But horror is wide-ranging, from the quietly gothic through to the most weird and extreme things out there. I’m definitely one to err on the side of the former than the latter.)
Turning back to 90s teen films, as all roads should, I think it was The Craft that really reeled me in. Witches and darkness and spells and murder and mayhem – oh, my! It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Nancy called to Manon and went quite literally insane.
But it wasn’t long after that I lost the horror bug. I was never one of the kids you’d think of as a horror aficionado – I was always more of a secret fan, hiding in the wings/attic/basement, never really part of a “community” as it were. So when the mainstream horror world started heading towards the slasher revival (see: Scream) and then into torture porn (see: Hostel), it was easy for me to distance myself. Absolutely not, I would say. I do not do horror. I scare too easily. I can’t deal with gore (apart from in all those war films I still loved, where, I said, the gore had a point). My argument revolved around the world being horrible enough without finding enjoyment in blood and pain.
I experienced pushback, dear reader. I tested myself by going with friends to see Wolf Creek (I was a good Aussie supporting local products), but… yikes. I watched most of the second half with my eyes on the floor, and the sounds were bad enough.
So that was me throughout my late teens and all of my 20s. I became convinced my horror gene left me with puberty. I was very much out of that world, though I never really inhabited another world, just dipping toes in many waters though never settling on a new thing.
What’s meant to be will come back again
I did have one guilty pleasure: I still loved my vampires. I was a Buffy teen, after all, so that kept going. I was not too proud to admit my deep love of Twilight – and yes, I know they are terrible books poorly written with incredibly problematic themes. I didn’t care. I was gutted when Kristen Stewart was cast as Bella in the movies – she looked nothing like me! Twilight, though, led to the Sookie Stackhouse books and True Blood, and my appetite for, ahem, blood was starting to come back. I was starting to remember…
Then I started writing again. A childhood dream of authorship turned to a career in journalism and marketing, which pretty much killed my creativity. In my early 30s, I started entering writing competitions, doing Nanowrimo, all of that fun stuff. One such competition would assign writers a genre and a tight deadline in which to write a short story; I found whenever I was assigned horror or ghost story, I did really well yet I bombed with any other genre. What were the writing gods trying to tell me?
Every time I sat down to write, the creep factor was high. I was enjoying myself creating dark atmospheres. But I was trying to deny it, still thinking that I didn’t “do” horror. And, truth be told, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve fully begun to re-embrace the darkness within. I still don’t feel like part of the horror community – I don’t have the knowledge of the books, writers and films to warrant that – but I’m enjoying the research. I’m reading horror books again. I’ve got a subscription to Shudder. Heck, I think Host was one of the best things I saw last year.
But I also think my time away from the genre helps me to bring different perspectives. I haven’t seen nor done it all. I don’t feel a need to go deeper and grosser just to get attention. I’m comfortable with being creepy, not gory. I am very much on the quiet, folk horror and gothic side of the fence, and I’m good with that. If you want blood, guts and pain, there are plenty of other very, very good writers out there for you. Me, I’m good with the slower life, the gentle, gradual turn of the screw. And that’s what I aim for in my work, too. I hope you enjoy it.
What’s your relationship to the genre? Let me know in the comments.