Giveaways Halloween Week

Halloween Week 2015 (& Giveaway): Tough Girls Don’t Fear (Horror)

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. HuangS.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 and on Twitter as @sl_huang.

Out now from Book Smugglers Publishing: Hunting Monsters and Fighting Demons
Follow Halloween Week 2015.


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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  • Mia
    October 28, 2015 at 6:21 am

    My favorite horror movie is You’re Next. So badass and fun to watch!

    Stories, my favorite would have to be Selfies by Lavie Tidhar, and of recent fiction I have very much enjoyed Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong.

  • Eve
    October 28, 2015 at 6:25 am

    The Hong Kong movie Rigor Mortis (2013) is a tribute to the vampire hunter movies of the 1990s. Beautifully shot and has a couple of scary sequences.

  • Shana DuBois
    October 28, 2015 at 6:29 am

    Whew, where to start with recs… Obviously I’m not sure what you’ve read or what your tastes are within the genre. Growing up I read a lot more of the blood and gore horror, and I still read some, but now I drift more towards psychological, the really creepy stuff.

    The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum is a phenomenal book but it is not for the faint of heart. It can be a rough read but if you can make it through I think it’s worth it. The horror at what humans can do to one another is worse than anything we writers could dream up and this book is such an example.

    Anything by Ania Ahlborn and Adam Nevill. Both authors are fantastic at upping the creep factor.

    I could keep going as horror is my favorite genre but I have to run to start the morning. Happy reading and I hope you enjoy your exploration of horror!

  • T.
    October 28, 2015 at 6:41 am

    If you want to begin with something dark, I would highly suggest Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa series (The Hum and the Shiver ; Wisp of a Thing ; and Long Black Curl). They are borderline–fantasy (the fae are in living in the Appalachian mountains) and dark without being outright horror.

    Anything, anything, anything by Tanith Lee. If you have never read her works, you can dive in anywhere and find rich prose and dark tales to tickle your fancy. I adore her short stories, but you might like her novels, too.

    Horror (keep in mind that I tend to gravitate toward cerebral horror):

    The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters — one of my favorite novels ever. A Gothic horror with a cool twist at the end.

    Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman — It is 1348 and a fallen knight helps a Cather girl on a mission to save France. It’s now one of my absolute favorite novels.

    Absolutely anything by Andrew Pyper (one of my favorite horror authors). My two favorites from this year were:

    The Demonologist and The Damned (with The Demonologist as my favorite, because Milton).

    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón — Another Gothic novel and it is positively splendid. Set in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War, it is dark and more spooky than outright horror, but it wonderful.

    I am broadening my own reading list, and while I haven’t finished it yet, I can tell you that Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough is definitely worth a read.

    That’s all I can roll off the top of my head early in the morning. Good luck and happy frights!

  • T. Frohock
    October 28, 2015 at 7:02 am

    I’m sorry … just found my book pile. In my to-read stack are:

    I have my first Gemma Files’ novel on my stack (A Book of Tongues). I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about her stories.

    Gideon by Alex Gordon.

    A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh.

    The Border by Robert McCammon (he also wrote The Wolf’s Hour, another all-time fav–a werewolf is a spy in World War II).

    Okay, that’s it … I’m going away now.

  • Gerd Duerner
    October 28, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Horror recommendations are always a tough one, people are scared of and by very things – and me, I’m a wuss, I avoid the scary stuff when I can…

    So with that being said, one story that I keep mentioning is Donald Kingsbury’s “Survivor” in “Man-Kzin Wars IV”.
    This is a piece of SF actually, and a very slow building story on top, but I think it draws to a truly haunting conclusion which does earn it a place in horror fiction.
    It’s a the very least the kind of stuff that scares me these days.

    The most recent piece of direct horror fiction I’ve read was “Tooth and Nail” by Craig diLouie.
    Not scary at all, but a fun read if you consider yourself a fan of George A. Romero’s “Crazies”.

  • SL Huang
    October 28, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Oh my goodness, thank you for all these lovely recs!

    @Mia — I love Alyssa Wong. w00t!

    @Eve — And I love Hong Kong movies!

    @Shana — I don’t know what my tastes are either, heh. But psychological sounds like it might hit just right. Thank you!

    @T — Wow, what in incredible list! Thank you so much, especially for the mini-summaries. So helpful!

    @T.Frohock — Thank you… and yeah, I also like the sound of a werewolf in WWII!

    @Gerd — SF that builds to haunting sounds like a great introduction. 🙂 Thank you!

  • Becca Shea
    October 28, 2015 at 10:49 am

    I really relate to this a lot! I used to avoid horror because I was afraid of being afraid (and because I didn’t like the kind of horror that’s just about grossing you out with gore). Now I’m starting to get into more psychological horror, so thanks to Shana for those recs!

    As for recs, Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the movies that started to get me into horror– really creepy stuff against a great mix of stark historical fiction and magical realism. I also really enjoy things that mix horror with comedy, like Cabin in the Woods and Shaun of the Dead. Welcome to Night Vale sort of falls into that category, though there’s less straight-up horror than there is comedy that’s based on horror tropes. I’ve also recently started listening to Psuedopod, which has a good variety of horror short fiction. It’s a great length to listen to on your commute, so that’s nice if you’re having trouble making time to sit down and read.

  • VanessaRenee
    October 28, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    I’m still a fan of psychological horror. Alfred Hitchcock always comes through for me. The Birds. Psycho.

  • Lauren
    October 28, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    When it comes to horror, I love Sci-Fi horror best – it gets under my skin, and leaves me feeling much unnerved more than murder and gore. That being said, one of my favorite horror Sci-Fi novels is 172 Hours on the Moon, by Johan Harstad. Atmospheric and creepy as hell!

  • Lexi
    October 28, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I like the horror novels by Dan Simmons. They provide a great atmosphere.

  • Amanda Helms
    October 28, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    I’m trying to read more horror myself, but in terms of movies, I highly recommend:

    The Babadook–available on Netflix streaming, if you have access. More along the psychological lines (though it does still have a scary monster) and a neat exploration on themes of loss and grief.

    Let the Right One In–the original Swedish version is better than the American remake, of course, but even the remake is creepy. I really ought to read the book; haven’t managed yet!

    But oh! I did read Girl with All the Gifts which I guess is on the horror spectrum. Highly recommend it. And I’m currently reading The Library at Mount Char, which is more dark fantasy than horror, I believe. Still less than 1/3 into it, but it’s good so far.

  • sara
    October 28, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    It wasn’t officially horror I don’t think, but I was completely terrified (But couldn’t stop watching) Fringe.

  • Sydney
    October 28, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Love the movie the purge

  • Sabrina
    October 28, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Book-wise, I recently enjoyed The Girl from the Well, by Rin Chupeco; I’m excited to read the review of the sequel here later this week.

    Movie-wise, if you want some silliness in with your horror and gore, I recommend the movie “Black Sheep,” which features – I kid you not – zombie sheep. And were-sheep. It’s every bit as awful and amazing as you’d imagine.

  • Sabrina
    October 28, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Oh! And I highly recommend this 2002 manga that is available online in its entirety:

    It’s called the Enigma of Amigara Fault. After an earthquake, a new cliff face is revealed. In the cliff face, there are multiple tunnels that are the shape of a person’s body. Soon after, someone finds a tunnel that exactly matches the shape of their body…
    (For anyone less familiar with manga, I’ll note that the panels are meant to be read from right to left).

  • Carlie
    October 28, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    I picked up The Suffering (the sequel to The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeko) without initially realizing it was a sequel. I decided to read it anyway and loved it, highly recommended. Now I have to go back to read the first. 🙂

  • Jennifer
    October 29, 2015 at 12:13 am

    I tend to avoid horror movies, and used to with horror ones. So I don’t have a lot of recs. Maybe Ring from Koji Suzuki or We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

  • Sharon Anderson
    October 29, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    I confess an intense fondness for the first Blacula. Also Candyman and Hellraiser 1 & 2.

  • SL Huang
    November 12, 2015 at 3:25 am

    Whoa, thanks for all the recommendations, everyone! I’m looking forward to diving in. 😀

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