My Life as a Horror Fan

I get scared easily. You could call me a wimp, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I approach horror movies with extreme caution. If I’m going to watch one, I’ll do it at home, where I can cover my eyes and keep a light on if I need to.

Still, sometimes it’s fun to be a little scared. I’ve never had the same aversion to horror books that I do to horror movies. It’s easier for me to get past spooky stuff on a page than it is on a screen. Besides, when I read a book over the course of several days, it gives me time to get invested in the world and characters in a way I can’t with a two-hour movie. The thrills, when they come, don’t seem so cheap.

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When I was a pre-teen, I loved authors who wrote about ghosts and hauntings, like Mary Downing Hahn and Betty Ren Wright. John Bellairs was my #1 favorite for years, although I have to admit I shamefully preferred some of his posthumously published, co-written books to the ones that were all Bellairs. (*whispers* sorry John I still love you if you’re a ghost and you’re reading this let’s hang out).

As I got older and started to read more adult fiction, horror often blended with fantasy. I preferred the paranormal to straight-up thrillers. Still true. That’s partly my general “wizards, aliens, or get out” attitude about fiction and partly self-defense. I can get a satisfying shiver from zombies or vampires, but I’m too much of a skeptic to worry about them after I close the book. Actual human monsters have been known to exist, though, and the feelings those stories inspire aren’t as easy to shake.

I remember being fifteen and reading House of Leaves while I lay in the grass outside my high school, waiting for my mom to pick me up. The sun was shining, but I was completely absorbed in this dark, twisty book about a book about a documentary about a house with hidden secrets and a family coming apart. File this one under “things I am afraid to reread because adult perspectives might crush my happy memories.”

I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, like many horror fans do. I also discovered that I prefer other authors’ pastiches of Lovecraft to the real thing. Neil Gaiman and Caitlín R. Keirnan come to mind. I read enough of the genuine article to understand what the fuss was about, though.

I came to Stephen King relatively recently. I can’t explain my reluctance on this front, except I have a giant hipster mental block that makes me assume I will dislike anything that lots of other people like. I’ve read Pet Semetary, The Shining, and ‘Salem’s Lot all within the last year. They’re all really good, good enough to shut up my hipster brain for a bit.

Being a lightweight horror fan is good in the way being a lightweight drinker is—it takes way less effort to get my fear-buzz on. If you have any good books to recommend, I’ll be over here, with the lights on.

What I’m writing, what I’m reading, and one more thing about The Magicians

Hi everyone, Happy Friday! This is another bits-and-pieces blog, just to let you know what I’m up to. I had more feelings about The Magicians since Wednesday. I put those feelings at the bottom of the post, so you don’t have to bother with them if you’re not into that. If you are into that, be warned that the last part of this post contains major spoilers for episode 1.9, “The Writing Room,” and also discusses sexual assault.

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What I’m writing:

I finished a short story yesterday! I don’t think I’ve done that since my junior year of college, when they were assignments. When I took my two fiction writing classes, any time I shared or work shopped a short story, I got at least one piece of feedback to the tune of “you could really expand this into a novel.”

I could never tell if it was a compliment or just a polite way of saying “you are bad at expressing yourself succinctly.” Probably varied, depending on the source.

Here is the ugly truth, then: I do not like writing short stories. Part of it is just that you get out what you put in. I read a lot of novels, so I tend to think in novels. The things I am inspired to write just don’t seem to lend themselves to short form.

However, I don’t actually require inspiration to write. It just be about trying out new ideas, whether they’re from my brain or a list of writing prompts or wherever else. Since I’m taking a break between revision cycles of my novel, I’ve made a commitment to try more short stories.

I’m proud of this one. The first draft is about 6,000 words long. It has no title yet, but after talking it over with my husband last night we’ve labeled it “genderswapped aromantic Beauty and the Beast in space” which is a hell of a tagline, IMO.

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What I’m reading:

Penryn and the End of Days, Susan Ee

This is actually a series, and I’m sort of not reading it right now, for a stupid reason. I listened to most of the second book in the trilogy while running. They’re good running books, interesting but not too complicated, so if I miss a bit because my mind wanders or I’m running by a weed-whacker, it’s not the end of the world (lol, apocalyptic fiction jokes). BUT when I went to download the third book to my phone, it refused. It has been in my Cloud, not downloading, for several days now. I have space on my phone. Other books have downloaded without a problem. It’s very frustrating. Please send help, or reassurances that the third book isn’t as good as the first two and I needn’t bother.

‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King

I’m realizing it’s weird that it took me as long as it did to get around to reading King’s books. I have two parents and one best friend who are longtime fans, not to mention I generally like horror so it’s kind of a no-brainer. I’ve started going after his books in the last year or so, and I have yet to find one I don’t like (everyone assures me it will happen eventually, but that’s a problem for future!Andie). So far this has been less outright scary than some of the others I’ve read, but I’m enjoying the story more. I really like vampires and claustrophobic small towns with secrets, so I’m here for this.

Friday’s Child, Georgette Heyer

This is for after the sun goes down and I can’t read ‘Salem’s Lot anymore.

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That thing that happened on The Magicians:

Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and wrote 1,000 more words about The Magicians and “The Writing Room.” Don’t worry, not going to make you read it, it was more of a getting-my-feelings-out re: the sexual violence exercise. I came up with two big things that affected the extremity (or non-extremity) of the reactions I’ve been seeing:

  1. This was mentioned in the novel. It’s one sentence, towards the end of The Magicians. Blink and you’ll miss it. Page 381 of the Kindle version if you’ve finished the book and want to go sleuthing. The promos for “The Writing Room” focused more on Prudence Plover abusing the housekeeper’s children, so I wasn’t sure the part about Christopher Plover and Martin Chatwin would come in it all. When it came I was braced for it.
  1. It’s male-on-male sexual violence. When it comes to TV, movies, and other media, women are more frequent victims of sexual assault. It’s still pretty rare for us to have men or boys getting raped on TV, unless it’s played for comedy. I think the fact that this was played straight, not to mention really well written and acted, made it much more shocking.

I think it’s okay to portray sexual violence in fiction. I’d even go so far as to say it’s necessary. That type of media can help survivors and the friends and family of survivors. It can also help to challenge harmful cultural assumptions about abuse. But I do think that writers are other creators have a responsibility to portray that abuse in a conscientious way. I think The Magicians did a good job with that for this one episode and I’m tentatively hopeful. I’ll be interested to see how they handle the topic going forwards.

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I’m on my way to run. I’ll be listening to a podcast, thanks to the aforementioned technical issues. There’s a new Serial and I’ve actually been saving the last episode of Mystery Show for just such an emergency, so I can’t complain too much. Have a good weekend!