Friday, January 11, 2008

Subject: Re: Ghost Stories and Umbrellas - the Horror of It All at LIM & Beyond

Guess what -- Love is Murder ( has Mystery
Writers of America's Of Dark & Stormy Nights as a parter, which
means plenty of thriller, mystery, suspense, intrigue and romance
talk, but LIM also has the fearful Twilight Tales as a partner,
and Twilight Tales is about ghosts and goblins both horrendous
and slapstick. Horror and humor often combine with the
supernatural, and I'd like to go deep into the horror and the
humor of it all at LIM in its 10th year at Chicago, first weekend
of February, for Love is Murder is also presenting an Edgar Allan
Poe Book Discussion with excerpts read live (hopefully live)
authors William Kent Kruger, Tess Gerritsen, and Barry Eisler.
But there will be a lot of live authors on hand at LIM and LIM is
hosting the Horror Panel which I will be sharing with moderator
Scarlet Dean, Tracy Carbone, Marilyn Meredith, Wally Cwik, and
Michelle Gagnon--and we intend to blow open wide the preconceived
notions of what constitutes horror.

In addition at LIM there's a panel entitled Feel the Terror (JD
Webb, Darren Callahan, Wally Cwik, Sherry Scarpaci, moderated by
Jennifer Jordan of Crimespree Magazine. Another panel is on
Magic & Sex! This with Scarlet Dean again, Honora Finklestein,
Sue Smily, Rebecca Kholes, Jana Oliver and moderator Carren
Callahan. And interestingly enough one entited When You Know the
Moment is Right (I kid you not!) And of course Joe Konrath is a
one man "horror" show. Of course, Lee Child will be on hand for
the ladies who love suspense with a British accent. But you know
what? Not everyone understands the huge scope, sweep, and power
of ghost stories, supernatural tales of revenants, vaults,
disturbed graves, and horror or reality-based terror. Herein, I
hope to shed some light:

Ghost stories are a natural for the larger umbrella of horror.
Horror is not a genre first but first and foremost an emotiobn;
it is the only genre named for an emotion. Horror appeared on
stage in plays as far back as the Greeks, and I am sure it played
a large part in the gruntings of cavemen about the fire when they
retold the hunmt. It is not so much a category of fiction as it
is a fact of life and an emotion. The word romance is not an
emotion. Western is not an emotion, nor is mystery. Fear is
another word but so far we don't have a section in the bookstore
for Fear books. Under the large umbrella of what constitutes
fear and terror and horror in a reader\person certainly a serial
killer must fall, so the forensic-serial killer chase novel
certainly overlaps with horror. When I began writing the serial
killer series for Dr. Jessica Coran, my eleven book Instinct
series, it was a natural offshoot of having written books wherein
the central antagonist was a monster. It was not much of a
transition to work into human fiends.

The ghost road, ghost hotel, ghost house on haunted hill, the
modern day haunts like the underground parking lot, the
unfinished room, the local Starbucks, etc., all the supernatural
tales are, in my opinion, difficult to pull off. Creating this
niche of horror can go into what we call the psychological
chiller or the physiological chiller, that is a story hinges on
some psychological turn of the screw, or it can hinge upon an
actual, physical presence. There are legitimate ways to terrify
your reader, and there is "going for the gross out" to horrify
your reader. Or as in the best such horror, BOTH. It can be
taken on both levels, leaving it to the reader to decide how much
happened in the mind, how much in this world. And so often much
more reaction can be had from that which is offstage than on,
that which is subtle as opposed to a hammer over the head. Jay
Bonninsinga said of my City for Ransom that "this book will beat
the hell out of you." Music to my ears, and I trust he meant it
in the best most complimentary way but last time I saw Jay, he
was sporting a bandaged head (just kidding here).

When some of us horror authors insist that horror must have a
monster on stage, these folks are being narrow-minded and
somewhat bias as to what the category can and does aspire to in
its best moments. The Horror Writers of America not too many
years ago awarded their highest honor, the Stoker Award (Bram
Stoker, Dracula creator), to Thomas Harris for Silence of the
Lambs. Was that horror? In my and many an author's mind, the
answer must be a resounding yes. Horror is what makes the reader
jump and gasp and start and shakily go on to the next line. I
have had readers tell me they've thrown the book across the
room--my book! This delights me, and when the reader adds, "But
I crawled over there a little later and continued to read" --
well that is music to my ears. At an author's party in Chicago
an 8-year-old sauntered up to me and asked, "Are you the man who
scares my grandma?" I knew her grandma, wife to a writer friend
named Tom Keever, Aurelia. So I confessed up. Then the little
girl conspiratorially added, "And you know what, Mr. Walker?"
What? I asked. "Grandma, she reads your books, true, but each
night she puts them out on the porch. She can't sleep with them
in the house." More music to my ears. I created a sense of fear
and terror in the reader. No apologies.

A really truly wonderful ghost story can have that quality--that
it creates fear or a sense of wonder, or cause beads of sweat at
the back of the neck. Supernatural and ghost stories, I cut my
teeth on them with such shows as One Step Beyond, The Inner
Sanctum, Twilight Zone, and untold numbers of books, one fo the
best being the first Haunted Heartland. Ghost stories do indeed
fit snugly beneath the large, large umbrella of the horror
category in that they can and do induce terror from the reader.

Then again there are humorous ghost stories and inspirational
ghost stories that do not frighten but enlighten and touch upon
the endearing spirit of mankind and womankind. If you've ever
seen Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy in that wonderful Hallmark
tale wherein Hume's the ghost and Jessica can't leave the old
home because she fears he will really be gone and lost and unable
to find her...that is not terrifying yet it is about a ghost, and
of course you have the Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Disney's Bluebird
or was it Blackbird--comedy. These kinds of ghost stories fail
to horrify yet they do other things as important--maybe more
so--as in make us laugh. You might call these ghost stories
romances, or at east romantic and you could call this one
intrigue, and this one slapstick humor, and this other one
deviously clever literature.

Interestingly enough, just about every author considerd a classic
from Twain to the first novelist and back again has tried his
hand at the ghost story in one fashion or another. Frankenstein
began as telling tales in the dark, remember? So the ghost story
too is a large, large umbrella but most certainly the most
terrifying ghost stories fall into the horror category. In the
end, it is all to do with the author's skill and purpose.

For those looking for folks really into ghost stories go to Tell 'em I sent ya!

Rob Walker
Chicago Tribune calls Rob's Inspector Alastair Ransom Serues
"arguably the most underappreciated series in historical fiction."

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