Horror & Dark Fantasy

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The H Word

Nonfiction

The H Word: Mother Knows Best

As a child, when something frightens you—a bad dream, or a monster under the bed—what do you do? You call for the ultimate protection: your mother. But what happens when mothers themselves are monstrous, and what makes them so? Mothers, like women in horror fiction generally, don’t tend to fare well. They suffer from the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” problem, becoming a source of terror for being too motherly, or not motherly enough.

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Necessity of Horror

Although my parents might deny allowing their young daughter to see movies such as The Exorcist, The Omen, and many of Stephen King’s adapted books (Cujo, Carrie, Christine), images and scenes from those films have been indelibly burned into my memory like the starkest nightmares. And I did get nightmares immediately after watching these and other horror movies: the rabid dog nightmare, the demon child nightmare, the attacking birds nightmare, the girl with blood running down her face nightmare.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Paranoia for Beginners

When I was a kid, conspiracy theories were my safe space. I had a couple of books that collected the addresses of different groups and I’d sit in my room, writing away for literature from UFO cults like Unarius and the Raelians. The United States Postal Service was a cornucopia of crackpot conspiracies, disgorging pamphlets from Minnesota’s Warlords of Satan, Christian comics from Jack Chick, apocalyptic photocopied newsletters like The Crystal Ball, catalogs for underground books from Loompanics Press, MK-Ultra exposés from Finland.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Don’t Look Now

I get so stressed watching horror—especially in theaters, especially in the dark, where I have nowhere to hide—that I hold a bag of popcorn over my eyes, sweat pooling in my palms, while my friends teasingly jab me in the ribs. It’s not the idea of a ghost jumping off the top of a dresser that gets me. It’s the anticipation. It’s the tightrope between knowing and not-knowing: knowing that your safety will be breached, but not knowing when. “But don’t you write horror?” Yes; it’s called a coping mechanism.

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Charm of the Old-Fashioned Ghost Story

After the real estate agent took my husband and myself on the grand tour of the 1870’s Italianate Revival house, I asked the owner, before inquiring about taxes, or pipes, or the age of the roof was: Is it haunted? The owner, a classic silver-haired little old lady type, familiar to anyone who has read a ghost story or two, said “Yes. Ruby’s still here.” Of course, we bought the house. Neither my husband nor I are particularly “sensitive,” so if our house was haunted, at first, we remained blissfully unaware, ascribing any bumps in the night to mice

Nonfiction

The H Word: Body Horror—What’s Really Under Your Skin?

Years ago, while studying Buddhism in college, I came across the Tibetan practice of sky burial, where the corpse is chopped into pieces and left out in the open for the vultures. Monks gather around the remains to meditate upon death, aided by the grisly reality of a human body reduced to it essential components. I found this fascinating. Still do. Bravo to those stalwart monks watching the vultures dip their red beaks into the human goulash. Whether it’s a spectacle I’d want to witness myself, though, is another matter.

Nonfiction

The H-Word: Dementia and the Writer

My eighty-five-year-old mother, who has been living in a board and care facility since August 2017, recently told me a remarkable anecdote: when I was eleven, there was a big story in the news about a missing thirteen-year-old girl. One day, Mom and Dad spotted the missing child on the street and brought her home, where she stayed with us for a few days until the authorities arranged to get her back to her family. What gave this story its real punch ending was my mother’s discovery that another one of the residents at the board and care was that little girl, all these years later.

Nonfiction

The H Word: The Things that Walk Behind the Rows

Two years ago I moved to a rural town of 8,000 people, twenty miles from the border between Kansas and Missouri. It’s the kind of place most people only pass by on the way to someplace else. Unless you live here, the most you’ll ever see of it is the truck stop by the freeway, where you might stop to fill up your gas tank and take a leak. It’s the last outpost of civilization you’ll see for a while. Twenty minutes or so outside of town, there’s a long stretch of highway where cell phones don’t work. We drive it often, and I still haven’t quite accepted the concept of this dead zone.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Reviewing Horror

To me, horror is about fear. It’s about feeling. Which I think is why a lot of readers and reviewers shy away from looking at stories that are labeled as horror. Because fear is intense, and intensely personal, so what one person finds frightening another person will likely find . . . boring. And if a reviewer decides to judge horror stories solely on how well the stories scare them personally, they’ll likely find a lot of horror to be unsuccessful. But to me there’s so much more to horror than just the ability to make us afraid.

Nonfiction

The H Word: Supernatural Horror in a Secular World

Last summer at NecronomiCon Providence, I moderated a panel called “Faithful Frighteners,” in which we discussed whether or not it’s harder for an atheist to be frightened by a story in which the horror depends on the trappings of a religious worldview. Faith is by definition the suspension of disbelief, so it struck me as related when at the same convention, renowned anthologist Ellen Datlow commented that she finds supernatural horror more effective in short stories than in novels because it’s harder to sustain that suspension of disbelief for an entire novel.