Welcome to Halloween Week 2015! Over the course of the week, you will hear from guest authors, bloggers, and your very own Book Smugglers about all things Halloween–including reviews of horror novels and films, essays on the genre, and any number of spooky topics in between.
Continuing with this year’s Halloween Week, we have guest author S.L. Huang to talk about her journey to learn to read horror, with a special giveaway.
Tough Girls Don’t Fear
I have decided, recently, that I want to learn to read horror.
Let me back up a step. No, let me back up a quarter century.
The first time I remember being afraid of a piece of media was Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I was… probably four years old? …and oh, that witch was scary. I hid on the stairs that led down into our family room, peeking through the banister (because I still wanted to know what happened), and hating the fact that I was scared.
I remember this very clearly. I was four years old, and I was ashamed and angry at myself because I was scared of a movie.
That feeling only intensified as I grew up. I was a Tough Girl, you see. I slid into the bases and climbed the tallest trees in the yard. I walked fences and scoffed at needles and loved snakes. When I was ten I had to be pulled out of the ring in sparring class and sent to the ER because I’d broken my nose but wouldn’t stop fighting.
I wasn’t going to be scared of fiction. Bah!
So I trained myself not to be.
My technique was very simple. If I found myself getting tense, I would figure out a way to distance myself, to take myself out of the experience. Movies had an easy way to do this: I would imagine the whole film crew standing around just outside of frame.
When I started making movies myself, this ploy was even more effective. The villain sneaking through the dark with a weapon becomes positively mundane when you’re imagining the DP yelling at the grips to get the shadows right and the prop master swapping in a rubber knife.
Or sometimes I would stop watching or stop reading for a moment and think about something else. Not fully invest. Concentrate on some little detail that didn’t matter. If I was watching a movie at a party, I’d nonchalantly get up to refill my chips, watching with only half an eye until I didn’t feel the urge to be scared anymore. If I ever jumped or flinched, ever, I would immediately castigate myself.
(I did the same thing with roller coasters, carnival rides, and haunted houses. Distance myself, force out of any sort of physical response because God forbid I should scream, because then I wouldn’t be a Tough Girl.)
Eventually, like in the hubris of a fairy tale, I got my wish. I ruined horror fiction for myself. And so it came to be that I had no interest in consuming the genre — not any longer because I was ashamed of my fear, but because horror had become words on a page, movement off a script. I felt nothing.
It’s only recently that I’ve looked at this feat and slowly ceased to feel any pride at all. Instead, I’m flooded by a mounting regret, a rising tide of disquiet that I bent the thing inside me that would let me enjoy horror. Because — what was I thinking? I love being gutted by good media in so many other ways! And the more invested I become in telling stories myself, the more troubled I am by how and why I severed this additional way I could lose myself, let myself go, let myself feel, and appreciate stories.
Furthermore, the more involved I get in the speculative fiction community, the more I’ve begun to realize my notions and preconceptions about horror are almost certainly oversimplified and one-dimensional. I suspect it’s a bigger and deeper place than I ever let myself see, so determined was I to avoid engaging with it. Now I’m pressing my nose against the glass wishing to take part in all the types of emotional resonances these stories can offer, and it’s my own fault I can’t.
But if I trained myself out of enjoying horror, I can train myself back in, right? I can learn to let go. To experience.
I can let myself fear.
It will take some courage, I think. But I’m a Tough Girl. I have courage.
I’ve started asking around for recommendations for good horror, and I’ll ask here, too — share your favorites with me! I want to see what I’ve been missing. I want to join in.
I want to discover what the horror genre is, and let those stories grab me by the throat.
I scream at roller coasters now. And I dare say I enjoy them many times more.
S.L. Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. In real life, you can usually find her hanging upside down from the ceiling or stabbing people with swords. She is unhealthily opinionated at www.slhuang.com and on Twitter as @sl_huang.
About the giveaway:
We are giving away a digital copy and a paperback copy of SL Huang’s novel Zero Sum Game. The giveaway is open to all and will run till Saturday 31 Oct 11:59AM EST. Use the form below to enter and good luck!