This Month’s Question: Why Horror?

As I mentioned the other week, my new feature called “The Question of the Month” over at FEARnet is a mix of “The Final Question” from Cemetery Dance magazine and also original content.  What I forgot to mention was that last month’s column ran before my blog was launched, so I’m going to post that content here today to catch everyone up.

The feature has a simple premise: each month I’ll ask a handful of horror/dark suspense authors to answer the same question and then I’ll publish their responses exactly as I receive them. In theory, this should give you some insight into how these authors think and where their work comes from.  Each month you can read the answers here on this blog or over at

This month’s question is: why horror?

Given the immensity of the gulf between what we desire and what we must live with, given also our own dread of what lies in us of both monstrosity and transcendence, horror was an inevitability.
— Peter Straub

Because there’s nothing so extreme — from there you can work your way back to courage, loyalty, community, tenderness.   Then there’s that old sex ‘n death thing….
Jack Ketchum

Horror is a genre in which I can throw characters into dire situations, strip away the veneers of their self-imposed personas, and then explore with them their most basic human emotions and reactions.
Elizabeth Massie

I misspelt “humor” on the application.
Kealan Patrick Burke

I read horror for the same reason I read any other kind of fiction. I want strong stories about interesting and sympathetic people. The bonus with horror, as with science fiction, is that the writer can conjure a world of his own to comment on our world. Ramsey Campbell and Christopher Fowler are two good examples. They twist reality into hyper-reality so that a visit to a pharmacy can become a horrific comment on the medical system. Their monsters are not only the great dark Them, they’re also Us.
Ed Gorman

Why horror? … Indeed. Because horror in all its manifestations says … and sometimes whispers … the deepest, darkest secrets about what it means to be human…. Horror addresses and, when brave, confronts the twin terrors of existence … and non-existence.
Rick Hautala

Horror! What a rotten name for an amazing genre. Because Horror’s great appeal isn’t just the screaming and the gore–it is a voyage into our spiritual natures. It asks questions about that “otherness” that’s so important in our lives, but which we cannot taste, touch, smell, see or hear.  Horror allows us to encounter that dimension, which we intuitively believe in, but lies just beyond our fingertips.
Simon Clark

Because, as–for instance–H. P. Lovecraft so deftly asserted, the greatest fear we can experience is, not the fear of the dark, or the fear of death, mutilation, rape by monsters, impregnation by para-dimensional abominations, or what have you, but the fear of the unknown.  No genre transfigures this fear more potently to the reader than the horror genre.  Even in great “literature,” I’ll contend.  True, great literature often exists on a much more important level than horror (though not always!) but it seems to me that horror must stimulate the reader’s mental pressure points more effectively and more consistently than other genres. It must!  And with that mental stimulus comes the provocation that makes us ponder our inner-selves.  Provocation is the key, and it can be just as legitimate in horror as any other field of creativity.  I very passionately appreciate the works of, say, Faulkner, Kafka, Sartre, Marquez, etc., and regard their literary contributions as paramount and more significant than even that of the most astute horror writers.  Ah, but horror is so much more fun, isn’t it? And the provocation of thought that it induces in us is just as functional.
Edward Lee

Haunted houses, bloody footprints, hitchhiking ghosts, and devil dogs–the stories I heard in the backyard as a kid were the first stories that made my imagination boil, and there was something about them I understood. Or wanted to, because those stories always left questions. Did that really happen? Could it happen to me, and what if it did? The tale became a springboard to an answer or conclusion that made the reader/listener reach, and that’s a very good thing.
— Norman Partridge

Why not?  Nothing wakes you up in the morning or lets you know you’re alive like a good scare does.
Brian Keene

It’s not that I made a conscious decision to write in the horror genre.  It’s just that when I wrote, what came out of me didn’t fit anywhere else.
Ray Garton

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