When I was a kid, La Llorona and Bloody Mary frightened me more than any other whispered childhood mythology. Part of that was circumstantial — a prank by some older girls at a summer camp ensured that even today I don’t like being in dark rooms with mirrors — but part of that came from doing it to myself. Nothing that someone else could describe in lovingly gory detail would be as uniquely horrific to me as the things I devised for myself. It wasn’t even what might happen after that frightened me, but the actual process of seeing the monster and being attacked by it.
Horror is one of those genres that has been discussed thoroughly by people a lot better qualified than I am; I’m not a scholar or a critic, only someone who enjoys the occasional (or, okay, semi-frequent to frequent) creepy story. A lot of what I could say about my opinions has been said, with better examples and concrete logic.
(To summarize, jumpscares are cheap and used for the startle rather than the scare; the more you force your viewer to imagine what the monster looks at, the more terrifying it will be; pacing is incredibly vital and also the aspect that a lot of mainstream horror media flubs; and there is an overreliance on certain horror tropes. The dead-eyed little children, the spooky doll, the jumpscare again.)
So less about that, more about the childhood mythology I built for myself as a kid. A lot of it was influenced by high fantasy of the epic quest sort of style, but a lot of it also came from horror stories. During the summer, my mom took me to the community library every other week and I’d come away with a stack to read, usually split between books of fairytales and mythology and horror novels. Today, I’d say that most of what I write takes from the former; I think everything I’ve written for publication has a much stronger fairytale resonance than horror.
At the same time, I think the intersection between those two genres has tremendous overlap. There’s the witch who wishes to eat children that stumble across her candy cottage in the woods; the king who wishes to marry his daughter; the innocent child cursed to death because of the neglectful memory of her parents. The make-believe stories I narrated into a tape recorder as a kid certainly contained elements of both. They weren’t terribly good stories, but they usually involved a fake fantasy country that was idyllic and Disney-style by day and creeping horror by night. (Discovering Silent Hill was one of the happiest moments for me as a consumer.) There’d be some kind of amorphous Terrible Conflict where, after some false deaths (and some real deaths that could be magically retconned), peace would be restored and everyone would live happily ever after.
(Except for, you know, the ghosts and monsters that continued to lurk at night, but they were polite and only really went after you if you went outside at night.)
I’d hesitate to say that I’m ever going to write a story that is explicitly within the horror genre. For one thing, my favorite style of horror is the sort exemplified by the Japanese word 不安, “fuan.” It means a sense of unease and anxiety — stories where the horror element isn’t resolved, but lingers with the sense that the trouble could start again at any time. It’s the sort of feeling that the slasher movie franchise attempts to evoke by showing that the killer has somehow survived and escaped his fatal injuries. Even as the story reaches its resolution, few things are explained or resolved, and there’s a continued sense of something unpleasant lurking just around the corner.
But (and even more in this current day and political climate), that honestly feels a little too real. If I wanted to evoke that feeling in myself, I could just as easily read the news as browse Reddit’s /nosleep or the online archives of horror stories. I want happy endings, where if there is some malevolent supernatural element, that can be resolved and made peaceful. I want to both write and read things that were more like the stories of my childhood mythology: certainly a great deal of adversity, but in the end, things would be resolved and everything neatly put away. I understand that the characters’ lives continue after the story closes, but at least for the set boundaries of the narration, there’s a clear-cut ending.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to, eventually; I think it’d be fun, and if my attempts at flash fiction on my tumblr every week has shown me anything, it’s that I enjoy experimenting in my writing. And Halloween IS in two days…
But first I have to do my edits. Oops.