What scares me?

I started off thinking that I should write a post about why I write what I write.  As anyone who takes a look at my Amazon page can see, I write mostly horror.  My contribution to the anthology QUANTUM ZOO was NOT horror; it was science fiction, in that it was set in a far-off future where people don’t really live on Earth anymore, except for those needed to keep the planet running.  Earth is a sort of zoo-planet (hence the link to the zoo theme of the anthology) and without human interference strange and wonderful things happen.  (I’m considering releasing it separately for $0.99 but for now the only way to read it is to get QUANTUM ZOO!)  Also, two of the offerings in my collection DIE 6 are not horror:  one concerns the possibility of uploading a conscience into a computer network, and the other involved time travel.

But everything else is horror, or at least contains supernatural elements, even when the story itself isn’t horrific.  (SARAH’S PUPPY, THE MOMENT, and GHOST OF LOVE in the collection 14 DARK WINDOWS come to mind, as do BLOOD TIES and THE TOOTH FAIRY in DIE 6.)  And the forthcoming novella THE CAVE is horror also.  I also have another work tentatively titled THE INN (but that will change, I hope) and one called RECIPROCAL EVIL, both of which are a bit longer (38K and 45K respectively) and both are straight horror.  Not gross-out horror, or splatterpunk horror, but definitely horror.

So I started thinking about why I write in that genre, and what it says about me, and I realized that many of the things I write have a “damsel in distress.”  Why?  I don’t know.  I think I can’t imagine very much that is more frightening than a threat to a woman might be.  Why is it always a woman?  Why not a man?  Again, I don’t know.  I don’t think of a man being terrorized by a serial killer or something supernatural as being particularly terrifying, though when I read works by other authors, I see that it can be.

When I think back on the things that really frightened me in my life, to a point that I lost sleep after seeing or reading such things, I came up with two examples.  And no, it wasn’t Jason or Freddy chasing around pretty damsels, which perhaps one might think I would find frightening after reading some of my stuff.  It also wasn’t something like JURASSIC PARK, or GODZILLA or any of those types of horror films.  It wasn’t SALEM’S LOT or THE SHINING, and it wasn’t Richard Laymon’s or Ed Lee’s work.  I found them to be (mostly) pretty interesting stories that grabbed me and made me keep reading, but I didn’t stay awake at night thinking about them.

What scared me was HELTER SKELTER.  I think I read it in high school, in the late 1970’s, and it really affected me back then, so much so that I still think about it today.  The second thing that scared me was a movie called DRESSED TO KILL, which starred Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson and was directed by Brian DePalma.  I don’t know why it creeped me out so much, but it definitely did a number on me.  I had dreams (nightmares?) about it.  And the prosecutor’s account of the Manson Family crimes scared me to the point where I couldn’t fall asleep, certain that every sound in the house was some nutcases crawling around and preparing to kill my whole family.

I don’t know if I’d have the same reaction to that movie, or that book, today.  Maybe I’m too jaded, too grown-up now to really be afraid of anything I read or see.  I’ve seen films and read books that seem on the surface to be far scarier.  But none of them bother me.  My own stories don’t bother me either; I hope they’re entertaining but they don’t scare me any more than Bryan Smith’s works, or J.A. Konrath’s or Blake Crouch’s stories, or Tim Miller’s or Matt Shaw’s books, or John Everson’s tales do.

As I think about it, William Malmborg’s works have made me think and creeped me out, if not to the point where I lose sleep over them.  And one of the most frightening short stories I’ve read in a long time was J. Michael Major’s “A Letter To My Ex” which was published in a SPLATTERLANDS anthology.  Scary stuff.  All-too-human horror on both counts.  I think I’ve been influenced a lot by Malmborg’s books, especially in writing THE INN.

I have two topics to write about this week before the weekend release of THE CAVE:  first is sort of a continuation of this post, a bit more about why I write horror instead of SF or mystery or thriller novels, and second is about how my writing career (such as it is) is going and why I’m lowering all my prices to $0.99.  Probably I’ll write and post them on Wednesday and Thursday, right before I formally announce the release of THE CAVE.

2 thoughts on “What scares me?

  1. Steven M. Moore

    Hi Scott,
    So, has The Cave been released?
    Three movies stand out for me as scare-ific for me. The first is Hitchcock’s The Birds–just something about mindless attacks by gulls and so forth. I’m betting Patterson’s The Zoo isn’t nearly as frightening! (And probably your zoo is a better story!)
    The second was about a group of future FBI agents studying to be profilers…one decides to do a psych number on the rest. I can’t remember the title. It just struck me as horrific. Maybe a damsel in distress there, but everyone was a target.
    The third movie was Alien. You might guess which scene if you saw the movie. It was just totally unexpected. Of course, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, is the ultimate damsel in distress. Ridley Scott set me up perfectly for that one scene. Alien and Blade Runner are perhaps the best sci-fi movies ever made. (The little soldier android running crazily around was very creepy in the latter.)

  2. Scott Dyson Post author

    I plan to finally release THE CAVE this weekend. I am also going to upload new versions of each of my three collections with some minor copy edits (things I found after reading over the books on my Kindle). And I’ll lower the price of everything to $0.99 and see what happens. Since I don’t do much promotion beyond Facebook and this blog, I doubt that I’ll see any huge sales, but anything’s better than nothing.

    I found THE BIRDS to be scary when I was watching it. But it didn’t give me nightmares. I don’t know why that DePalma film did — I suspect that if I watched it today I’d be like, this is pretty tame. But the image of Michael Caine in drag, with a long overcoat and sunglasses and a hat and wig just creeped me out. I think it owed a debt to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, which of course was also very scary but didn’t give me nightmares either.

    Agree on ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER. I loved BLADE RUNNER when it first came out, but I never saw ALIEN in the theater. Only on video. I suspect that made it lose some of its frightening impact. I know that in the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a part of the ride brings you through Ripley’s ship and of course there’s an AA of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. If my kids’ reactions were any indicator, it was a pretty frightening part of the ride. Way scarier than the campy (but loveable) Haunted Mansion!

    Take care, Scott

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