Please welcome guest author, Janis Susan May, horror author for Carina Press!
When I was a girl back in the dark ages, there was a fad for doing embroidery. I did, among other things, a sampler bearing the rather gloomy Scottish prayer, From Ghosties and Ghoulies and Things that Go Bump in the Night, Dear Lord Deliver Us. My thread scheme was in tones of black and gray, and if I remember correctly, I even put in a couple of tombstones and a creatively deformed dead tree. Then, much to my mother’s consternation, I hung it on my bedroom wall. (“But why don’t you put up a picture of flowers or something pretty, dear?”)
I thought I was being so witchy and Goth (though we didn’t use that term in that antique time) and the sampler stayed up for years. After many years and many moves I don’t know what became of it, but I still remember it to this day. It was a spooky-looking thing and I loved it because it reminded me of my favorite ‘haunted castle’ horror movies.
So why do we love to be scared? Horror movies are perpetually near the top of the biggest-grossing films. Horror books sell well. Halloween is on the way to being the second most popular holiday in the country.
Well, with the movies one thing that’s obvious is the guys want something ‘jumping out at you’ so their dates will get scared and crawl into their arms. It’s just as obvious that the girls want something of which they can be scared so they can cuddle up to the guys. At least, that was the agenda during my dating days. But as for everything else… hmmm.
I think we like horror because it emphasizes our safety, and no, that’s not contradictory. As we sit safe and snug in our favorite easy chair or movie house, we know that a dripping-fanged monster is not going to materialize in the corner but we can scare ourselves to death imagining one. We can experience the wild emotions and hair-raising adventures of the fictional characters, do and face things we never imagine doing in real life, and all in the safety of imagination.
I’ve written two horror novellas (LURE OF THE MUMMY, Carina Press, out now, and TIMELESS INNOCENT, Carina Press, June 2012) and frankly admit to being scared out of my wits both times. There are no blood-spattered zombies, no animate dismembered body parts, no axe-wielding maniac hiding behind the door. There’s just a sense of wrongness that grows into something monstrous, yet you still have the feeling that parts of it might happen. Or even might be happening…
When I wrote both novellas I was alone in the house – The Husband was deployed overseas – and though I’ve never had any problem with staying alone, I had never written any horror while staying alone. That made it an entirely different ballgame. Suddenly a small noise that might have been ignored otherwise magnified and became the subject of worry. Was it really the old peach tree, brushing its leaves against the roof, or was it the furtive scramble of an otherworldly intruder, seeking its way inside? Was that gurgle nothing more than the natural process of old pipes in an old house, or was it the demented chuckle of a being from another dimension come for a human-sized snack?
You can make yourself crazy if you aren’t careful. I think it’s too late for me.
My next release, THE HOLLOW HOUSE, is a cozy historical mystery set in Denver in 1919. There’s no horror per se in it, but it’s frightening nonetheless, because it deals with one of the scariest places that exists – the human mind. I was unnerved while writing it, too, not because of ‘ghosties or ghoulies,’ but because it showed the depths to which a seemingly normal person can sink.
Perhaps that’s why we like our plastic ghouls and cheesecloth ghosts, our foam-rubber monsters and computer-generated aliens – we know they are fake and can deal with them, even as we shiver and squeak with fright. The truly scary things are in our own minds, in the minds of everyone, and over them we have no control. I find that the most frightening thing of all.
Excuse me, I think I’ll go check to make sure the door is locked and turn on some more lights.
Katie, thank you for your invitation. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Mystery writer Janis Patterson writes romances and horror as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Horror novellas LURE OF THE MUMMY (now out) and TIMELESS INNOCENT (June 2012), and the cozy historical mystery THE HOLLOW HOUSE (November 2011) are all from Carina Press. A founder of RWA and an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, Janis Susan and her husband, a Captain in the Navy Reserve, live in Texas with three rescued furbabies – two neurotic cats and a terribly spoiled little dog.