To celebrate Halloween week we are going to be posting a few blog posts on different aspects of horror fiction. Since we understand that readers are also often writers, we thought we could kick it off with a quick conversation with our horror authors on why they started writing horror and what their main influences were.
Question: ‘Why did you start writing horror and what has influenced you the most?’
I never had a chance to NOT write horror. Thanks to my father, I was baptized alongside Rosemary's Baby, took communion with Regan in The Exorcist and left my parents for the summer on a Friday the 13th. My father fed me a steady diet of horror classics like the Universal Monsters and drive in terrors like Bug and Empire of the Ants. He'd bring home the latest issues of Famous Monsters, horror comics and Fangoria. We would put together the classic Aurora model kits in the kitchen while listening to replays of the old serials like The Shadow on the radio. Best was when he'd wake me up to watch Kolchak: The Night Stalker or Chiller Theatre. That six-fingered hand had me giddier than the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof! Horror is in my blood, so much so that I'm officially Type H. I was fortunate enough to be given a thorough education on the genre and have been living it- and now writing it - ever since.
Follow Hunter Shea on Twitter - @huntershea1
I began writing horror to pay back some of the pleasure the field has given me. I've always regarded it as a branch of literature, one that achieves its best effects through timing and the careful selection of language. At its best it reaches through terror towards awe, and I've tried to clamber towards that in some of my tales. I believe it can also be used for social observation, to talk about the way we live now. My first great influence was Lovecraft, and I continue to learn from his careful structures and the modulation of his prose. M. R. James was crucial too - his genius for the sentence or even the single phrase that conveys more uncanny dread than most of us achieve in a paragraph. And Fritz Leiber builds on the influence of both to create a radical development - the urban supernatural tale where the big city is no longer invaded by the weird but is its source. He pointed me towards my own path, and I'd like to think I'm a step (however small) in the continuity of the field.
You can find Ramsey Campbell at ramseycampbell.com
If I had to pick one thing that set me down this path as a horror writer, it would probably be just sitting around a campfire, surrounded by the dark and cold, listening to my dad tell stories. I think, even as a kid, we all knew that something big and scary was waiting for us out there. Maybe it was a monster, or maybe it was just the grownup world, the world of death and sadness. Either way, if we could tell stories about it, maybe, just maybe, the dangers waiting for us would lose a bit of their power. I think that's why I'm still doing the same thing, all these years later. Trying to make all those monsters a little less scary, to bring a bit of sense to a world that doesn't always seem to have any.
You can find D.W. Gillespie at dwgillespie.com
I started writing because I loved to read so much. I used to bring bags of books home from the library when I was in grade school, and early on, I loved how authors could use words to take me to completely other places. Fantastic worlds that made mundane reality disappear for a couple hours. So I started writing stories because I wanted to do the same thing for other people that authors did for me. But why those stories came out “horror”? I blame The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits television shows! And Night Gallery and One Step Beyond. And Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I watched all those horror and sci-fi anthology shows on TV growing up. While most of what I actually read was science fiction (Asimov, Clement, Clarke, Heinlein), when I sat down to write short stories, I always came up with creepy premises with dark twists – not at all the aliens and space opera kind of stories I read. Eventually, I did transition to reading more horror – and Stephen King, Clive Barker, Anne Rice and Edward Lee began to take up a lot of room on my book shelves. But I think those television anthology shows are really what influenced me to go down the path of “the dark side!”
You can find John Everson at johneverson.com
I started writing horror my senior year in high school. After I had a near-fatal car crash, I was bedridden for weeks and weeks. I loved reading Stephen King, but after ten consecutive hours of reading, I was ready to do something different. That turned out to be writing. My computer teacher, a great guy who always went the extra mile for kids, brought an old Mac to my house in the country and hooked it up for me. I started to write a novel. It was terrible, but I enjoyed it in a way I hadn't enjoyed anything before. It scratched an itch deep inside me I didn't realize was there. I continued writing when I returned to school, this time in the afternoons when another teacher opened the writing lab for me. The novel petered out after 175 pages, but the writing of those pages was transformative for me.
I didn't write again until I was twenty-six. What I wrote at that time was still awful, but again, the process was fulfilling. Over the next eight or nine years I wrote sometimes, but not consistently enough. Finally, in my mid-thirties, I got completely serious about it. Since then I've become more and more consistent, and perhaps unsurprisingly, my writing had gotten stronger and stronger.
My reading influences can be traced this way: I started out by reading Stephen King exclusively. That lasted from age fourteen until I went to college. As an eighteen-year-old I found DANSE MACABRE, which contains a list of important horror books written between 1930 and 1980. I started to read as many of those as I could. That's how I discovered Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Flannery O'Connor, Charles L. Grant, and so many others. Then I began to use those writers to get further recommendations. For example, Ramsey Campbell blurbed Joe R. Lansdale's THE NIGHTRUNNERS, and I've been a Lansdale fan ever since. Other writers blurbed Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and Chuck Palahniuk. Those writers led me to Brian Keene, Clive Barker, and John Farris. And so it went.
The other side of my writing lineage comes from my desire to be well-rounded and my formal education. I've read most of Modern Library's Top 100 Books of the Twentieth Century, and the authors included on that list led me to further authors. At Purdue I've had independent studies devoted to single authors, namely Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, and Arthur Miller. I've taken four Shakespeare classes, dozens of literature survey courses, and I've read the majority of fiction's canonical texts. So while I love horror and write mainly horror, I've been influenced by everything, including westerns, crime/suspense novels, historical fiction, and the classics. And I haven't even spoken yet about Elmore Leonard, James Baldwin, Cormac McCarthy, Ruth Rendell, or all the recent authors I've discovered like Tananarive Due, John Sandford, Gillian Flynn, and Caroline Kepnes. I'm a voracious reader and absolutely love discovering new writers.
You can find Jonathan Janz at jonathanjanz.com
I’ve loved monsters and scary stories all my life, but when I started writing seriously at age eighteen, I wrote mostly fantasy and science fiction. I didn’t focus on horror because I was intimidated by it. Horror meant so much to me that I was afraid I couldn’t write it well, wouldn’t be able to do it justice. In my late twenties, when I was teaching college writing courses, I discovered a copy of Ramsey Campbell’s collection Alone with the Horrors in the school library. I checked out the book, read it, and loved every story in it. By reading so many of Ramsey’s stories in a row, I got a sense of how he built his fiction – stories that were pure products of his unique imagination, that were told in his individual voice – and that inspired me not only to begin focusing on horror, it inspired me to develop stories drawn from my own observations, fears, and obsessions. It’s such an honor – and a satisfying sense of coming full circle – to have my novels published alongside Ramsey’s by Flame Tree Press.
Tim was also kind enough to share with us a some photos of his copy of Alone with the Horrors signed by Ramsey Campbell.
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To celebrate Halloween week we are going to be posting a few blog posts on different aspects of horror fiction. Be sure to check back in on the blog to see our other posts this week!
Check out all of the Halloween blog posts!
- Flame Tree Press | Halloween | 1 | Why do our authors write horror?
- Flame Tree Press | Halloween | 2 | The History of Haunted Houses
- Flame Tree Press | Halloween | 3 | The History of Halloween