By Carolyn Haines/R.B.Chesterton
A lot of recent posts on Facebook have asked for lists of favorite books, books that changed your life, best books, etc. I think a lot about books and the influence they’ve had on my life, and the wonderful adventures they’ve taken me on. I love stories, and because of that, I read all kinds of fiction, from mystery to horror to romance to general to short and sometimes even non-fiction (but don’t tell anyone!). And I write in all of those genres. The joking term I’ve heard applied to such a writer is…genre slut. And I wear the title proudly.
While I wouldn’t try to create a list of only 10 books that have impacted or influenced me, I’d like to talk about one genre that I love and sometimes despair of. Memories for me and my entire family have been built around this genre. Horror. We read it and watched it and planned holidays around it. But it is a very specific kind of horror that we love.
Here is another confession. I am a horror snob. I am not a fan of dread or torture porn or splatter punk or any of the sub-genres where the focus is horrific acts of violence or mayhem or cruelty. I don’t like to feel dread while reading or watching. I like a little chill, a sense of something caught just in the corner of an eye, the possibility that yes, maybe that statue did move just a little bit! There’s a big difference to me between an edge-of-the-seat read or viewing, which I love, and the cringing and not wanting to read forward or view-the-screen dread.
To that end, I write the kind of scary stories I like to read.
The book was published in 1938, but I didn’t read it until the 1960s. According to Wikipedia, it was a “moderate” bestseller with nearly 3 million copies sold between 1938 and 1965. The book has never gone out of print. It’s classified as a gothic romance rather than horror, but it certainly scared me, as I read it late at night in my bedroom in Lucedale, Mississippi.
I was also a huge fan of Mary Stewart and several other gothic writers who entertained me during the ‘60s and ‘70s. As I was graduating college, I ran across a slim little book by a guy from Maine. Carrie was Stephen King’s first published novel, released in 1974. King delivered a one-two punch with the theme of bullying and a young girl who has telekinetic powers and decides she isn’t going to take it anymore.
King decidedly changed the world of horror with his stories of everyday people plagued by supernatural forces. King, Robert McCammon, Peter Straub, John Saul, Thomas Tryon, Dean Koontz, and a handful of other writers owned the late ‘70s and ‘80s horror market.
I’d come to horror from the classics–short stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. In both horror and mystery, Poe greatly influenced my writing. Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not considered a horror writer, The Hound of the Baskervilles gave me many a delicious chill. As did The Secret Garden, which also isn’t horror. Both are creepy books that hint at the supernatural.
I owe a lot to Shirley Jackson, whose chilling short story, “The Lottery,” demonstrates what a great short story can accomplish. In a time before horror became filled with severed limbs and torture porn, Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House, was a finalist for the National Book Award. (Philip Roth won that year but other contenders included William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Morris West, and Robert Penn Warren—all writers I admire.)
I guess by now, you’ve gotten a better idea of what I classify as horror. And if you want to read a contemporary writer who turned out a chilling tale set in England after WWII, give Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, a look. This is another book that impacted my writing. For a great haunted house tale, try Bliss House by Laura Benedict.
Horror wears many faces, and some of them I don’t care to stare upon, but I love a good chill. In the past three years I’ve published two horror novels and a short story (under my pseudonym R.B. Chesterton). The Darkling was published in 2013 by Pegasus Books, followed this year by The Seeker. Some would describe them as “old-fashioned” horror, or gentle horror, or British horror. Not a lot of blood and gore, but hopefully a lot of suspense and a good, twisty plot with some surprises.
I love that short stories are making a resurgence in popularity again, and I really loved writing ”The Hanged Man” set in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans. I hope you’ll take a look. If you’re a fan of creepy stories, leave a comment and tell me what kind of chill you like.
As the chilly fall season comes to us, rent a few Vincent Price or Boris Karloff movies. Perfect fun for the Halloween season. Trick or treat!
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