On What Ifs and Horror Writing

Oh, October. I love you. Somehow, even when I was a scaredy cat growing up, I still wanted to live in a haunted house and played pretend that I was some sort of ghoul/ghost princess in a graveyard or ran around wanting to be a ghostbuster getting sucked into an alternate dimension…you know, normal kids stuff.

It probably had to do with the sheer amount of different things I was around to as a kid, so I can actually totally, completely, mostly blame my parents, family, friends, and the 1980s on me turning out this way. It’s a relief, let me tell you.

I think I’ve always been in awe of the what if in horror. Obviously, this is a thing in other genres, but it’s especially powerful when coupled with the fear, pessimism, anxiety, or whatever outlook you’re shaping it with in horror. What if there’s someone calling from inside the house? What if vampires are real? What if one typical day turns into your worst nightmare?

There’s something empowering about exploring it, as well as something chilling about reading it. In some ways I think I like writing horror for a sense of control, in others I think I like it because there’s still this weird viewpoint that as a gal I’m somehow not supposed to think like this or whatever (obviously those with that pov haven’t hung out with a ton of women, just sayin’).

A lot of my short horror has started from the what if concept: What if all your inanimate objects were conscious and secretly hated you? What if vampires existed in the untamed woods in the 1800s? What if on one of the happiest nights of the year, the world was ending? What if this little incident that you think is so mundane is far from innocent?

I kind of blame this on the ’80s, too. Growing up in the time of stranger danger, just say no, razorbladed halloween candy, people trying to get you in a van, combined with just how bizarre Saturday morning television was, well, I mean we really didn’t have a chance. Something was always on our minds, even on the playground. Seriously, don’t kid yourself. Kids are way savvier than you think, they pick up on stuff, but they also misstranslate it and get it all turned around. To this day I still remember odd convos in the cafeteria about like what a friend of mine thought communism was and how we’d all die at any minute, along with urban-legend type stuff, like a spot on the ceiling of a dining room that grew as a family ate and took them straight to hell.

I think I was seven or eight for those, by the way, so yeah, talk to your children, because they’re probably walking around with some amazing irrational fears.

Combine THAT with things on the news like the Challenger, the economy fluctuating, and THAT with episodes of Punky Brewster showing the kids getting eaten by a demon and Care Bears going borderline possession in a Dark Heart storyline, Ponyland getting eaten by ooze, and characters getting their souls sucked out every other week, Freddy Krueger might come get you, spiders could take over a whole town, and who knows what else – and put all of that in a blender…in a world full of what if’s, Halloween felt like a relief, a constant: you always cut jack-o-lanterns, you always dress up, you always go out and come home with candy. Heck, you alwsays come home, as long as you’re careful and wear reflectors and obey the rules. These days, I realize how naive that sounds, but back then it was comforting. Witches and monsters and vampires can’t really hurt you, the masks in the store are always going to smell weird, the same houses are always going to give big candy bars. Those constants gave way to fun what ifs – what if a house could really be haunted, what you actually went to one of those haunted houses no one has ever gone all the way through, what if…whatever.

It was almost a balance as a kid – accepting some things with belief while still being rational enough to be wary. I suppose writing horror as an adult is a little like that, too. It takes some suspension of belief to write some of the concepts I do and have them be effective. It takes a balance of fear and technique, of keeping one foot out and one foot in.

It was fun to just drop everything and embrace what I considered scary. It’s fun these days to drop everything and embrace things that lurk at the edges of my thoughts and freak me out. And if those what if’s freak out other people, hey, so much the better.

So what’s a what if that gets under your skin…what are the things that get to you?

***

If you want to explore some creepy what ifs (and some that aren’t so creepy), feel free to check out my books!

Or, if you just want a taste, there are a lot of quick flash horror fics in the free read section!


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