Writing & Editing

What is Horror?

This year I’ve ventured into a new genre of fiction. Horror. Granted, all of my books have an element of horror in them, but typically the focus is on something else. The St. Sebastians books are paranormal romance, so they’re pretty well focused on my two main characters falling in love. Also, the supernatural aspects aren’t so scary…at least not to me. The Zoe Matthews/Bridgeport Mysteries books could be classified as horror, I guess, but they’re mysteries. They have the quintessential amateur sleuth, her team of misfit helpers, and an assortment of cursed manuscripts, ghosts, and supernatural beings. Doomsday could be horror, with a few tweaks, but it reads more like an urban fantasy.

The Thing Beneath the Stairs and Something in the House are the only books that I’ve ever written that are entirely focused on the horror elements. However, something odd happened while writing these books. Shifting my focus from a mystery or a romance to horror had the unexpected effect of forcing me to focus entirely on my characters.

Creating the right atmosphere of horror — good horror — is so subtle that the reader shouldn’t even realize what the author is doing. This means the setting has to be right and the characters have to be right. The reader has to understand them, understand why they’re scared, understand their reactions to what’s happening.

In, The Thing Beneath The Stairs, the story focuses on Barb. And the thing Barb cares about most in this world are her two sons. Her sons are what drive her decisions throughout the book. So while I was writing horror, I was more focused on creating a solid relationship between mother and sons. Creating a scenario where people would understand her decision-making process and why she does what she does at the end of the book. In the end, the book is horror, but it also feels like one of the most human books I’ve ever written. In the end, the monster under the stairs feels secondary to how the monster under the stairs impacts this woman and her children.

In Something in the House, the story revolves around Holly, her siblings, their mother, and their emotionally cruel and distant father who has suddenly disappeared from Holly’s childhood home. He’s a man who is obsessed with his work in the supernatural. His obsession created a house of horrors for his family (literally), with repercussions each child–now grown up–is still dealing with. When Holly is forced to return to her childhood home she has to face her fears once and for all if she hopes to get to the bottom of her father’s disappearance. There’s a monster in this story, several in fact, but the real story is about Holly and how her family copes (or refuse to cope) with the things that happened in that house so many years before and how it has impacted them as adults. The animosity and sibling rivalry it created.

Horror to me is like the best cozy mystery. It’s a supernatural mystery. It makes me want to get a mug of coffee or a cup of tea, a treat, curl up in my favorite chair, and lose myself for a while.

Horror to me is about that big old house in town that everyone thinks is haunted. You drive by it every day and wonder where all the creepy stories come from. You wonder if those stories are true. In horror, you get to step into that big old house and see those creepy stories unfold before your eyes. You have a front row seat, but nothing can hurt you.

Horror is about quaint towns, family struggles, not fitting in, trying so hard to make it all work, failing, succeeding. Even though it’s made up it feels real. It feels human. And you love getting that glimpse into the big old house, you thrill at learning all its secrets, and you take comfort in knowing it’s not real and you can close the book any time you want.

I love reading horror. Since you’re reading my blog, I’ll guess that you do, too. Here are some of my favorite horror stories.

Tananarive Due – The Good House  (one of  my favorite books ever!)

Stephen King – It

Dean Koontz – Darkfall

Darcy Coates – The Haunting of Ashburn House

Brett J. Talley – That Which Should Not Be

Barbara Michaels – Stitches in Time (gothic horror)

Guillermo Del Tor, Chuck Hogan – The Strain (the book)

David L Golemon – The Supernaturals

Okay. That’ll do it for now. You can thank me later.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Heather Elizabeth King is a novelist who lives in Virginia and writes paranormal mysteries. She's been a story teller since she can remember. Some of her favorite memories are of telling stories to her girlfriends at slumber parties when she was a pre-teen. Heather is a recipient of numerous book review awards, including: *The Gold Star Award from Just Erotic Romance Reviews *A Recommended Read from Fallen Angel Reviews *The Joyfully Recommended Award from Joyfully Reviewed *A CAPA Award nomination from The Romance Studio.

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