Horror (Of Not Writing)

My copy of On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association (edited by Mort Castle)

My copy of On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association (edited by Mort Castle)

Before NaNo2012, I decided to educate myself in how to write horror. The idea I had for my NaNo manuscript was dark and I thought it’d end up either being in the YA Horror genre or the YA Paranormal Thriller one. (I’ve been told it turned out to be Horror because of its overall sinister tone, which is good to know!)

Of course, one of the best ways to learn about a genre is by reading it. I think I mentioned my October Horror Book marathon before on this blog. Most of the books I read were YA (and zombie related, which has nothing to do with the plot of my NaNo story… I just love zombies) and dark, but not all could be considered horror. There’s just really not a huge pool of YA Horror books that you can dive into — though when I heard Laini Taylor talk about DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT, she said the genre is on the verge a huge growth spurt.

Gretchen McNeil is the first YA horror writer that comes to mind for me. I really enjoyed reading her book POSSESS, which was marketed as a Paranormal Thriller but could really go either way. TEN is her latest book and while I have it… I haven’t read it yet — bad me, I know. Another inspiration and most read, I think, is Courtney Summers’ THIS IS NOT A TEST (which I only now realize I didn’t write a review of… I promise to do soon!). It’s a zombie book, but not overtly/grotesquely so even if you aren’t a zombie fan I think you can still enjoy this book. Her voice and the overall tone of the book… it’s just amazing.

Of course I’ve read the classics, like Lovecraft and King, but what I mostly took away from them is how to build suspense and frighten the readers. You can’t really hope to write like either of them in this day and age and think you’ll get away with it. No one could write a book the length King’s usually are, unless they’re already an established writer, plus he gets wordy — nothing wrong with that when you’re a superstar like him, of course. Lovecraft, while a great horror writer, lacked in character development.

While I was looking into writing horror, I came across the Horror Writers Association (they even have a YA Horror section!). After reading through their website, I decided to buy a copy of ON WRITING HORROR to see what they had collected. In my opinion, reading books helps me with writing more than reading books about how to write, but I still find them fascinating.

There’s a wonderful collection of essays by writers on subjects I’ve never even considered (such as Freaks and Fiddles, Banjos and Beasts: Writing Redneck Horror by Weston Ochse) and the history of the horror genre. Over all, I think the book helped me get a better grasp on the genre and all that is expected of a writer that aspires to compile a horror manuscript. I’d recommend it to anyone curious about what it means to write horror.

If you are particularly interested in horror books, I’d also like to refer you to Hellnotes. It’s a blog and newsletter devoted to the genre. They have contests every once and a while, too.

Henry James summed up writers well when he said: “We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of the art.” He was talking about horror writers in particular, but I think it applies to all of us. Don’t you?

But lately… I haven’t been writing. I’ve written down a lot of ideas (I often suffer from the Shinny Idea Syndrome that Gennifer Albin mentioned) and did some research for a contemporary YA I’ve been thinking about writing. I’ve been reading a lot, too. I’m three books closer to my 100 book goal and since it’s just January 8th, I think that’s pretty good, but I just feel horrible about not revising my NaNo manuscript at all lately…

On the bright side, I have my SCBWI book talk/critique group this Thursday night so I’m forced to do something with my NaNo-script. Though I’m very open to being late to it and/or missing it for another opportunity that might come up Thursday night…

On an unrelated note, if you want to enter for a chance to win a copy of some amazing YA books check out Publishing Crawl. They have three amazing giveaways going on right now!

Possess: Hearing Voice

Recommended? Yes, if you like paranormal things and can overlook the initial overused idea of Catholics and exorcisms. But the Main character, Bridget, is pretty kick ass and well worth the read. Plus, McNeil has a powerful voice that can easily carry the story.

I actually finished this book about a week ago but I’ve been busy… so here’s the late review. I’m not sure why it is, but generally I’m overly critical of leading ladies. I’d say seven times out of ten I really don’t like the main character if it’s a female. Either they are too perfect, which drives me crazy, or they just rub me the wrong way. In the case of Possess, the MC is Bridget Liu and I really adored her. She’s strong, but flawed, and does not mess around. If she needs to get something done then she gets it done — no matter what. Plus her half-Irish Catholic half-Chinese heritage makes her pretty interesting.

The side characters are really amusing, too. Hector, her queer fellow social out cast at their Catholic High School, is hilarious. Kevin, the obsessive friend/stalker, is interesting but I was lukewarm for a while towards the love interest: Matt Quinn. At first, he seems just… like all over high school love interests — perfect, handsome, clever, and sportive. Blah. Boring. But, like a lot of things in this book, if you look passed the initial “oh that’s been done before” moments then you’ll really enjoy it. Matt turns out to be more than I thought.

The story is interesting and keeps moving from start to finish. There’s no boring lull and the end is sort of a surprise. It seems like the end leaves the book open for a sequel but — as far as I’m aware — there isn’t one. If there were, I’d read it.

The problems: cliches and so-been-done moments flash up all over the place in this book. For example, Bridget is a social outcast. What? A girl with paranormal powers is a social outcast, who could see that coming? Not. Plus, just the natural Catholics and exorcism thing. We all have been through that before. Then her mortal nemesis is Miss Perfect Bitchy Popular Pretty Girl. Owww, never seen that one before… not. Still, if you can overlook those few minute details then it’s a good book. It’s entertaining, the MC is kickass, the story just keeps going, and I really enjoyed the ride.

One more down side, the ending comes quickly and wraps up in like two pages. So for those out there that don’t like rushed endings, beware.

But the best part of the book? The voice. It’s flawlessly weaved throughout the story and really interesting. It nails a snarky teenager and can keep you entertained even when you encounter one of those so-bee-done-before moments.