There are a few standard elements I like to see in my horror stories. I was going to give you a list of genres, but realized that it might not do us any good. Firstly, I am not “well-read” by any means and I have no idea what the current state of sci fi, fantasy, or horror fiction is today. Secondly, I jumped off the vampire train shortly before it collided with Twilight, and I’m not really into zombies either outside of the masterpiece that is Pet Sematary. So if I started telling you about how I dig horror novels and occasionally supernatural shit, I feel like that’s what you’d immediately think of, because those specific breeds of the supernatural are really visible and accessible right now.
So, instead, here is a short list of the things that hold my interest, with random bolding: dystopian and post-apocalypse settings, nuclear problems and radiation poisoning, ghost towns, evil families with dark secrets, insanity, serial killers, cannibalism, people wearing other people’s skin, psychos, human sacrifice, time travel and resultant paradoxes, the ghost in the machine, rituals, biblical imagery, possession, dark “trickster” figures (like Randall Flagg), unreliable narrators, and traditional gothic and Southern Gothic elements.
Fiction that masterfully combines a multiplicity of these elements, like The Dark Tower, is especially attractive to me. Add morbid, horrible violence and death just as a given, and you have a suitably entertaining story.
After a childhood of reading this stuff and also watching true crime and rated R movies with my neglectful parents who cared not for sparing my young psyche… well, I sometimes feel like I might be kind of twisted, or at least desensitized. As an adult, I’m relieved to find myself thawing a bit and actually being moved by the traumas of others. But I still have a hard time being spooked by most horror movies or being sad when people die in books. Maybe I am messed up, but I do appreciate fiction that has the power to repulse and disturb me. I don’t think I’m so bent that nothing can touch me, but I do feel like it’s been a really long time since I felt a sense of actual
so strong that it stayed with me days, weeks, or months later.
Actually, I felt that way about The Notebook.
I can pinpoint a few early influences that probably shaped my literary/entertainment tastes and likely also shaped me into the miserable human being I am today. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one, although I can’t really enjoy it now that I’m not a moody pre-goth adolescent and it’s not 1997 anymore. R.L. Stine was easily available to all third graders in my demographic; I quickly transitioned from his “kid books” to the Fear Street series, and particularly enjoyed the Fear Street Sagas. R.L. Stine was pretty much a gateway drug to Christopher Pike, whose books I consumed like delicious candy. I remember being obsessed with The Last Vampire series. And Caroline B. Cooney is another author I forgot about until today. That was dramatic shit, yo. I don’t even remember what happened in the Losing Christina series but I do remember being extremely disturbed by whatever crazy bullshit was happening there.
Not all of the books I read were disturbing as fuck. But a lot of them have stayed with me and have significantly influenced my choices in the things I read today, for better or for worse. And a lot of them blew my mind.
Some other notable and beloved favourites:
Billy and the Bubbleship by Elwy Yost — My first sci-fi! And it’s Canadian young adult fiction! I’d like to read it again, actually, because I recall a fair amount of whimsy in this bitch. And I also remember being totally seriously invested in the outcome despite the premise being actually ridiculous.
The Girl in the Box by Ouida Sebestyen — who gives this to kids??? what was wrong with the school librarian? Maybe it was all an elaborate plot to reinforce safety habits in young girls by relentlessly reminding them how much life is gonna suck when you get kidnapped. Have you read this? You should read it, but not if you are thirteen, because you will cry.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett — wow, readers, I know you feel me on this one. I loved this book and wanted to be Mary Lennox and basically have my life exactly mirror the 90s movie adaptation of the book. In retrospect, the story seems extremely dark. Over twenty years and an English lit degree later, I think I’d like to reread this book so that I can really appreciate all of its gothicness.
The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers — this was in my high school library. Seems like an appropriate thing for Catholic teenagers to be able to access, no? I started reading this at 16, and at 18, I bought my own copy for when I went away to study criminology in university. I had dreams of becoming a forensic psychologist. Within a week of arriving at my dorm, my roommate had gotten her hands on it and invited some people over to look at it while I was out. Apparently they took that opportunity to discuss what a freak I was. She applied to switch rooms shortly afterward. WELCOME TO ADULTHOOD, WHERE YOU ARE STILL THE WEIRD ONE.
Three Lives to Live, by Anne Lindberg– I still think about this book whenever I encounter a paradox in a story I’m reading. I remember it being immensely entertaining and mindblowing. It has legit stayed with me forever. I think about it when I am thinking about my own shitty hobo fashion sense, and then start shopping online, guided by a keen sense of shame and desperation and also Tim Gunn’s checklists of “wardrobe essentials”. Then I start thinking about all the special events I will need to have clothes for (spoiler: none of these events ever happen) and it makes me think about how maybe one day I’ll need a camel riding outfit. Har, har. Read the book, so that joke will suddenly totally make sense to you and I won’t be the ony weirdo who thinks about this.
I also couldn’t remember wtf this book was even called, so I google searched “ya novel about time travel laundry chute” (oops, semi-spoiler, idgaf) and ended up finding an article about whether laundry chutes in your home are “worth the expense”. Is this even a thing people have in their houses nowadays??
A QUESTION FOR THE AGES.
TO BE CONTINUED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!