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The H Word


The H Word: Audio Horror, the Menacing Stroll

Audio horror adds another layer. When watching or reading horror, we have the opportunity to look away or skim when things get a little too intense. Audio forces you take a much more active role in escaping. We’re not allowed to cover our eyes when Button Boy is fastening those smiley faces to his victims in “Best New Horror” by Joe Hill. When our hapless editor is crashing through the woods at the end, our hearts are pounding with the same mix of exhilaration and fear. Audio horror stalks you relentlessly.


The H Word: The Empty Bed

One of the most disturbing moments in any horror film I can think of is in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a movie everyone hates but me (the Cannes audience booed it at its premiere, but what do they know about anything). Taken by itself, it’s not just an overlooked gem about the final tragic days of a young woman, but one of the most terrifying films of the 1990s. Stripped of the series’ quirky fun, it’s a straight shot down nightmare alley, where every facet of Smalltown America wholesomeness is rotten and festering with darkness.


The H Word: The Darkest, Truest Mirrors

I am eleven years old when my mother asks me, Why do you have to write such dark stories? Why can’t you write something edifying? At the time, I have no answer for her, and I mistake the tight line of her mouth for disapproval. I miss the concern in her eyes, the distress in the set of her shoulders. I think about her question for many years. But at the time, I remember wondering, What is edifying about stories that don’t reflect the real world?


The H Word: The People of Horror and Me

The horror fiction field most often reminds me of a particular comic strip from the long-running series Cathy. I was never a huge fan of the strip, but this one stuck with me: Cathy has an epiphany. She doesn’t actually have that many bad hair days; she has a perception problem. One time, a decade prior, she looked in the mirror and her hair was utterly perfect. That apex one-time-only great hair day became in her mind what she looked like on average, and thus she was constantly bedeviled by bad hair days.


The H Word: The Mountains, The City, The Void

What is horror? What is it to me? It is: I don’t know. An emptiness at the center of my being that I am desperately trying to fill. All the lost versions of myself I am, defiantly and against the order of all things, trying to bring back to life one last time. The center of a dead civilization, covered in a long-lost language that I once knew, that I once created, and can now only haphazardly decipher. All the better and worse versions of myself that I neglected and abandoned. Shells and skins.


The H Word: On Writing Horror

The first time I realized writing could save my life, I was fourteen and a devastating verdict came on the news after a dozen police officers were on trial for the beating death of black motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie. He eluded them after a police chase, and they beat him so badly after he stopped that he died. They intentionally damaged the motorcycle to cover up the crime and make it appear he had crashed—all documented. The verdict from an all-white jury was not guilty.


The H Word: Monsters and Metaphors

Suffering financial hardship, getting sick, failing family, friends, and lovers, not to mention half a hundred other disasters, are the terrifying dimensions of adult life. And if Grey finds them “banal” and “boring” that’s entirely okay, too—horror certainly has other dimensions. But I would argue that those “banal” fears are in fact, in many cases, the monsters, and that we love them because, as much as anything else, they are metaphors.


The H Word: Horror that Rocks

Music has always been used to tell stories. Ancient epics were written in verse, ballads were a means of spreading popular legends—there’s something about the combination of plot, character, rhythm and rhyme that helps a story stick in the mind when music is used to help spin a yarn. Naturally, musicians have all sorts of interests, so the stories they tell are as diverse as those you’d find in a bookstore—which means that genre fiction is represented alongside romance and action. Genre music flourished in the 1970s.


The H Word: The Monstrous Intimacy of Poetry in Horror

indulgent and masturbatory, though usually for very different reasons. The horror author is labeled a decadent: she’s a sadomasochist, someone for whom physical suffering and mortal terror are both bread and caviar. The poet is stereotyped as a different kind of pervert, one who enjoys the depths of his own navel and the taste of his own toes, and furthermore, one who wants everyone to know this about him.He too is considered a sadomasochist, obsessing about his tortured existence and taking everyone else into his private Hell.


The H Word: But Is It Scary?

That seems to be the litmus test to which horror is most often held. When you get back from the latest movie about ghosts or serial killers, put down your favorite horror novel, or mention a spooky story on social media, it’s the first question that you’re likely to be asked. In our eternal struggle to find the boundaries of this vast and often contradictory territory called horror, I’ve seen more than one writer resort to “it aims to scare you” as a working definition.