Sunday’s NY Times Book Review section has a great essay by Terrence Rafferty called Shelley’s Daughters. Rafferty remarks on the irony that the “mother” of the horror novel gave birth to more sons than daughters, e.g., Poe, King, Lovecraft. And the few daughters she may claim did not always write prolifically in the genre of horror (Rafferty mentions Shirley Jackson and Charlotte Perkins Gilman to support this observation). The best part of his essay, of course, is the brief reviews he gives of contemporary women writers of horror. Don’t, however, expect to find reviews of the popular vampire novels by Laurell K. Hamilton and Stephenie Meyer: Rafferty notes that their novels “don’t appear to be concerned, as true horror, should be, with actually frightening the reader.” Rather, he comments on novels by Sara Gran, Alexandra Sokoloff, Sarah Langan, and Elizabeth Hand; writers new to me, but whose work I look forward to reading (especially, Langan whose novel The Keeper I just ordered).
Frankly, I would love to write ** good ** horror. I tried my hand at it in last year’s National Novel Writing Month and, most recently, in a short story that has been revised multiple times. But writing horror is much more difficult than I thought it would be. Anyone can write gory scenes of zombies eating humans or ghosts wielding axes and chopping off body parts; but to instill cold prickly fear in the reader requires skill and precision. I grew up addicted to horror films, mostly from Great Britain but pre-Hammer Film Productions, and the ones that always scared me the most were those that were heavy on suspense: What’s behind the door? Is the monster there? Should our hero open it? What’s behind the door?
Writing horror down is not for the feint of heart.