Question: I think horror is such an eclectic genre. We have a ton of great sub-genres that stem from it, and horror also allows writers to push past a lot of boundaries. What draws you to writing horror in particular?
Jacqueline West: Ever since I was a (high-strung, anxious) child, I’ve been drawn to scary stories. Horror fiction has provided space for me to explore my own many, MANY fears, to examine and confront and survive them. As a writer, I even get to play with those fears. I turn them around, I reconstruct them, I use them like shades in a paintbox—hey, a color simile! And to me those darker shades are often the most intriguing and beautiful ones.
Red Lagoe: I grew up on the slashers of the 80s and loved every second. But as I got older, I saw beyond the layer of blood and guts spilling and scabbing at the surface. Horror has the ability to explore the darkest crevices of the human mind, to open scars, to cut into our hearts, or to navigate emotions, whether it be grief or fear or rage. We all hurt. We all bleed. And we all heal or die after the trauma. But either way, we’re never the same. And horror allows us to talk about that, unfiltered & unapologetically.
Lillah Lawson: I’m fairly new to the genre – this is only my second horror short (I’m also working on a thriller novel, but it’s in the early stages). My Dead Rockstar trilogy loosely falls under the horroromance genre, which is a newer one.
I’ve always loved reading horror, but it has taken me a while to feel comfortable writing it. It’s all about pacing, tone, and the things you don’t say. To me, the best horror is the stuff that leaves things unsaid; the unsettling questions that linger like a bad taste in your mouth. That feeling of unease you can’t quite identify.
Lauren C. Teffeau: What I like about horror is the way it allows writers to compartmentalize our fears and uncertainty. By putting them into a story, and then taking the time to revise and refine that story, I come out at the end of that process in a better place having put in the work to understand the source of those fears and to brainstorm the possible trajectories those fears can take. It sounds like some kind of psychological training montage, I know, but if I can look into the abyss and make sense of one teeny tiny slice of it for myself and potentially my readers for a very particular set of story conditions, that’s a win—particularly during this time of upheaval we’re all going through.
J. B. Lamping: I just don’t like happy endings (I’m kidding, mostly). A horror story can draw out so many emotions. not just fear or anxiety. It can give you excitement, revulsion, panic, elation, satisfaction. I don’t feel like other genres can put you through as much emotionally. I love ambiguous endings as well, which are perfect in horror. The audience is always imagining things worse than you could describe it.
K.P. Kulski: Oddly enough, I feel like horror has chosen me. I grew up submerging myself into poetry, fantasy, and history books to escape home life. From the Wheel of Time series to Emily Dickerson, I read continuously and voraciously. When I sat down to write my own stories, the pain came out every time, always in the form of morbid darkness. I’ve embraced it and love the genre for exactly this. There is no other genre that fits my voice as horror does.
Jo Kaplan: Judging from my answer to the first question, you might say I have a morbid sense of humor. I’ve long delighted in the way horror subverts the status quo, transgresses beyond what is considered acceptable in polite society, and plumbs the depths of humanity by forcing us to confront our darkest impulses and our place in the universe. It’s a way of living through intense experiences vicariously. I think horror teaches us a lot about ourselves.
Kathryn E. McGee: I love how extreme and truly surprising horror stories can be. The fact that the genre can be profound in reflecting life’s horrors and absurdities while simultaneously telling a high-stakes story about a haunted house, a homicidal clown or a demon burrowing inside your soul makes it so intensely entertaining.
Jess Koch: I find there’s a lot of freedom in horror to play with tropes, twist expectations, and play with genre. I’m particularly drawn to writing stories that play with elements of horror but might not sit that comfortably on the horror shelf.
Jeanne E. Bush: This is such an exciting time to be a part of the horror genre, especially as a woman writer. So many subgenres have opened up and are available for writers to explore. Splatterpunk, gothic, poetry, body horror, or comedic horror all give us the opportunity to express ourselves in this genre. I’m a person who has always been afraid of many things, so it’s fun to play on those fears, to write them out and to face them. Somehow writing about the scary stuff makes me feel stronger. I’ve read so many genres in my lifetime, but writing horror stories is not only fun, but it lets me explore the darker regions of my imagination. The sky’s the limit with where my vision and creativity can take me.
Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito: My grandmother. We watched a ton of American horror movies when we immigrated to the U.S. Horror was easy for her to understand with limited English. Watching her watch horror made me want to write in a genre that has the potential to bridge gaps and barriers between cultures and language. Everyone knows what it is like to be scared. It’s the perfect genre to bring people together.
KC Grifant: My favorite subgenres are cosmic and weird horror—really anything to do with the unknowable terrors beyond our everyday lives. As a kid, I was fascinated by the sense of something unthinkable in the darkness, and adored the disturbing endings in the Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt and Goosebumps. I had a lot of anxiety and horror was a way to deal with those fears. Scary stories show you that things could be just as bad as you think—and in fact worse—but you can survive it (at least as the reader). Facing that terrible unknown in fiction can be a very cathartic experience. Horror also helps me accept that one can do everything “right” and things can still go horribly wrong due to our misconceptions or circumstances beyond our control.
G.G. Silverman: In writing horror, I love the ability to revel in atmosphere and the unseen. I love that I can plumb the subconscious for weird imagery and explore things that genuinely terrify me.
Geneve Flynn: I don’t think I can help it. I was recently invited to contribute to an anthology that called for humor with a “dash of darkness,” and it was such a struggle—I don’t do just dashes! I went through countless story outlines and rewrites before I finally managed to get something that worked. My brain naturally heads down dark and creepy alleyways.
I also happen to think that horror is one of the most honest genres, and has the capacity to say things that sometimes aren’t allowed in polite company. I have to admit that I get a special thrill when someone tells me my story kept them awake at night, or affected them deeply, and that I don’t seem the sort to write such things. As a woman, there’s a lot of pressure to be nice, to be a nurturer, to make space for others. Horror gives me the permission to be as forthright and shocking as I want to. It’s quite a heady rush of power.
EV Knight: It’s always the feeling of “that could really happen.” Even in books of the paranormal or the monsters. Horror authors have a way of making their characters so realistic, so “everyday” that you relate to them, find yourself going mad along with them or fighting evil beside them. It crosses the boundaries into the safety of our daily life and takes us on a rollercoaster ride. No other genre does that for me.
Christa Wojciechowski: Strangely, I never set out to write horror. My first attempt at fiction was in 2012 for National Novel Writing Month, when I planned to write a romance just to see if I could do it. What came out was so dark and disturbing, it freaked me out. Clearly, I had some issues to resolve.
As I continued to experiment with writing, I realized that dark fiction was my happy place. I don’t write about monsters or demons. I don’t have to. Human beings are mysterious and frightening enough. What’s funny about humanity is that good and evil are our constructs. The universe is oblivious to our pain, fear, and anger. We create huge, unnecessary drama for ourselves. So I like to use horror to explore psychology and motivation behind our desperately clutching species. When we have a deeper understanding of why we do what we do, heinous or good, then we ground ourselves in our own truth. Knowing ourselves and forgiving ourselves empowers us to have more compassion and appreciation for all we experience.
Christine Makepeace: For me, the draw to horror is its ability to be both literal and metaphorical at the same time.
Pippa Bailey: I’ve always enjoyed horror, whether watching, listening, reading, or writing. I love that horror isn’t constricted by society’s boundaries placed upon other genres. For example, if you’re approaching a murder mystery, you’d expect a resolution, an answer to the question set to the audience at the outbreak. If you’re looking at romance, you’re expected to create a barrier to love for your main character, have them rediscover themselves, and fall in love with the person who had been there all along. Of course, I’m just throwing generalizations out there. Horror means never having to say; I’m sorry I stabbed your mom, ate your cat, and found romance, whilst fighting a sock monster, in the portal, inside the arsehole of a taxidermy goat that stands at the entrance to the blood museum of Sodom and Gomorrah. Horror is fluid, and I adore it in all its squishy, sticky moistness.
Sonora Taylor: I have a dark sense of humor, one that leads me to look at (seemingly) innocuous things and add a dark twist to them. What if a stick figure family on the back of a car window signaled a body count? What if a murderer’s mother displayed trophies from their kills on the wall like a painting or perfect test score? What if someone could see the dead, but no one wanted to talk to them? Even though the stories I write usually come from thoughts that make me laugh, they ultimately become more dark than dark comedy; and horror is a natural response to what happens when the characters’ journey is no longer a laughing matter.
Chelsea Pumpkins: I absolutely love the creativity and imagination that is the foundation of the horror realm. One of the scariest things we face as humans is the unknown, and horror creators plunge themselves right into that deep dark place simultaneously devoid of rules and full of possibilities. From that amorphous blank space, they tap into the most elemental instincts of the human condition—fear and survival—and they emerge with a fresh idea, new monsters.
I also find horror to be a source of bonding. When writing, I investigate the things that scare me. By tapping into my own fears and anxieties, I create an experience born from something personal with the hope it’ll resonate with others. And the magic is that it usually does! The individual can become universal, and there is beauty in that. What’s more powerful than your most private vulnerabilities being seen and validated?
I was inspired to try my hand at writing after reading lots of short fiction. It’s not a format I grew up with, and I never really pictured myself writing a whole novel. Once I saw what was possible—that big stories could be told in few words—I wanted to try!
Nu Yang: I like exploring the dark side of people, places, and things. Whether it’s supernatural or human, evil exists in the world. But why does this evil exist? How was it created? Where did it come from? Can it be destroyed? Those are all questions I like to explore in my fiction. And as a horror writer, I get to create fear, but I also get to control that fear. I can turn it up or dial it down as much as I want!
Bindia Persaud: I’m drawn to horror because it’s more visceral than other genres, and it allows one to approach difficult and painful topics in a slantwise fashion, so to speak.
Tiffany Morris: I love the expansiveness of horror, which is also part of why I write both horror fiction and horror poetry. As a genre, a mode, and a style, horror points to the dark that exists beyond the bright veil of our mass culture’s many distractions. What I love about horror is confrontation: it allows us to turn over the rocks of consciousness and reveal the rich, subterranean, shadowy life that teems underneath.
Ali Seay: The honesty of it. You can lay out all your fears—rational or otherwise—and it’s going to resonate with someone. Fear is a great shared experience.