Ginger Nuts of Horror
The book that made me want to write horror was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I was 12 when the book really started to take off and my 6th grade teacher Mr. Flener even read us a few of the sotries in class. I was already pretty well primed to enjoy horror because I had a pretty steady diet of it at home. Everything horror Z-A grade had gone across our TV Aliens, Class of Nukem High, Silver Bullet, Swamp Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street, Critters, Gremlins just tons of films, many of them on The Big Chuck and Little John Show or Elvira Mistress of the Dark. Horror was practically a part of my DNA at this point.
What I hadn't really sorted out was how my imagination and being scared linked up, how I was taking what I saw and letting it grab hold of me away from the screen. Don’t get me wrong I’d read some spooky stuff before this, those black and orange books about the monster movies and some of Grimm’s darkest fairy tales but none of it really set me off like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Listening to Mr. Flener read those stories “The Big Toe”, “Bloody Fingers” and “Wonderful Sausage” from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in class I noticed that all of us were being spooked, that the words and the pictures gave us each our own scares and that we took that somewhere and owned it. Not only that we enjoyed them for giving us that. It was the detail, those pictures, that tone, just the right elements of creepiness and the way the teacher was reading it, it started to make me think about making up my own stories. But how would I do it?
I started by reading the rest of the Scary Stories books, letting the images get burned into my head (that girl with the fingerbone, Harold and several other are with me to this day) and then I started reading ‘true” ghost stories, collections of paranormal events, old legends about terrible ghosts and monsters and unexplainable events, serial killers and what inspired them. I ate it all up and soon I started to put things together.
My first story wasn't horror. It was a Christmas story called “The Last Lonely Christmas” about a homeless family and the awful Christmas they were having until met a nice family that took them in. Even so, some of the elements were there. I invested a lot of detail in how the cold hurt their feet, the awful pain of the child’s broken ego and the terrible cruelty of the people they met begging for help.
Mr. Flener was impressed, the detail showed clear signs of a real imagination and with time all the earmarks of a kid who might grow up to be a writer. He devised the idea of doing a talent show in class and he encouraged me to write stories for it. Being a kid, my first horror story was a gory mess about the teachers and students being murdered at a hotel, the next was an apocalyptic story where the students were assembled in the gym and a series of awful events lead to scare after scare and death after death. I loved reading them to my class, loved watching them get so wrapped up in my stories I could get them to show their fear when I dropped a book or gave them detail after detail and they wanted to know what happened next so much that they asked out loud.
Instead of my fear and my imagination eating me alive I was using them to affect other people. Scary Stories to tell in the Dark gave me that gift, gave me the drive and the passion to write it all down, make it my own and get it out of my system. I was owning my fear and using it to frighten others.
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