How Do You Define the Horror Genre?

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelly created the modern monster character, Frankenstein.

 

I’ve been “bear baiting” a bit in my last posts on horror. Yes, I have tried to be evocative, but I want to alter the tone for this blog. There are people that actually enjoy horror and probably don’t know it. Recognizing and defining horror fiction has become difficult in the new millennium, and not because it’s really hard. The true reality of horror as a genre has been eclipsed by the successful marketing of  the modern horror slasher and spatter films. Talk about horror as a genre and no one brings up Universal Studios “B” monster movies anymore. What everyone thinks of are films that are wall-to-wall blood and gore. Movies and movie franchises like the Saw films, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and others have done a lot to obscure modern horror stories of the 18th and 19th, and 20th centuries. Maybe that’s because we have a hard time defining what “horror” as a literary or film genre is.

How should we define the horror genre? One of my favorite working definitions of horror comes from Dr. Donna Casella, instructor\scholar of film theory, film studies, and early American Literature at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Casella states that horror is an, “An atmospheric genre — populated by creatures of dread – that plays on human and cultural fears.” Give a story a creepy atmosphere (whatever that is) to give it legs, while making sure the themes play against cultural fears and throw in creatures of dread (monsters, but monsters that can be human, or natural creatures, as well as supernatural).frankenstein-cartoon-character_zJJoosvu

The first recognized modern horror genre is known as Victorian Gothic horror. Reading those books says a lot about what got under the skin of the people of that time, especially women. During the Victorian era, significant amount of horror was written by women for women. That’s pretty progressive, considering society of that time didn’t allow women to vote, hold property, or even have checking accounts. I fell in love with Gothic horror when taking a graduate course on women authors. As tough as the stories from that era could be to read, many that were preserved had rich payoffs and were completely worth the effort.

If you accept Dr. Casella’s definition as a primary definition, and I do until someone comes up with a better one, horror as a genre can be about every day things, as well as the paranormal. Remember Stephen King’s Cujo? An adorable St. Bernard becomes one of the scariest monsters in twentieth century literature.

Horror can also contain the fantastic or mundane, but to be sure, horror isn’t always about ghosts, vampires, zombies, blood and gore, or flesh-eating monsters. Creatures of dread can be rats (Willard 1971), sharks (Jaws 1975), bears (Night of the Grizzly 1966), rabbits (Night of the Lepus 1972), relatives (Uncle Silas by Le Fanu), and even ordinary people turned murderous for one night every year (The Purge 2013).

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

Best selling author from the late 18th century. Her mysteries of Udolpho was ground breaking.

One of my favorite all-time horror movies is Jack the Bear with Danny Devito. Devito’s character is a host for late night horror movies on television. There was no blood or gore, but when a neo-fascist shows up to indoctrinate a vulnerable neighborhood kid in Hitler style Aryanism, the atmosphere amps up and propels the creature of dread theme forward.  And yes, I consider neo-facists creatures of dread. Remember, horror has to play against personal or cultural fears. That doesn’t mean horror is always intended to incite fear, sometimes it’s an incredible tool for evaluating fears.

Lest you think horror can’t be humorous, you should check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahme-Smith. I laughed a lot in spite of the “bone crunching” scenes. The novel can very tongue-in-cheek in parts, at least I thought so. See what I did there? I didn’t say whose tongue in whose cheek as this is a zombie novel, right? Let’s move on.

A very hilarious and clever book is a grammar textbook called The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. I have used this to successfully tutor college students in English grammar. Yes, infinitives, prepositional phrases, gerunds, passive voice, and everything else English can be truly terrifying, but Gordon successfully mimics the Gothic horror style and uses it to teach English. Pretty useful for a genre blacklisted in the minds of many .

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire:

 

Douglas Winter, horror author and critic once stated,“Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” But if you think the only strong emotion allowed in horror is horror, terror, or dread, you’ve not read very much. Pathos is just as much a part of horror as the emotion of horror itself. Consider a truly iconic horror/monster movie of the twentieth century, King Kong (2005). Personally, I find a lot to dread in this scene as to what it says about humans.

One of the founders of the Horror Writers Association, Robert McCammon, once said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe….Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many things and go in many, many, directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.” (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

Once horror is allowed to grow beyond zombies, vampires, werewolves, and Amish vampires in space (author Kerry Nietz is my hero) in the minds of the audience. The genre of horror becomes a potent agent of confrontation and change. So let’s remember there’s more to horror as a genre than just wall-to-wall gore.

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Happy Release Day to Amish ZOMBIES from Space!

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Read it. Enjoyed it. Have the t-shirt. 🙂

In 2013, I had the chance to read my first Kerry Nietz book – Amish Vampires in Space. I wasn’t sure what to expect because, let’s face it, it’s a title that can’t be taken seriously. I was pleasantly surprised because not only was the book strangely plausible, but it was really, really good. (Read my review).

Fast forward to today, and Kerry Nietz is one of my favorite authors, and his new book, Amish Zombies from Space, has released! I couldn’t be more thrilled to host him on The Scriblerians again (first interview is here) and ask him some questions.

Everyone, say hello to Kerry!

Kerry Nietz

Author, Kerry Nietz

Q: Last time I interviewed you, I asked “I understand that AViS is the first of a series. What can you tell us about the other books and when can we expect to see them on the shelves?” To which you answered. “LOL. Now that’s news to me. Who have you been talking to?” It’s not even 2 years later, and Amish Zombies from Space is here! What led to the sequel?

LOL. That earlier interview probably had something to do with it, Lisa.

Around that time I talked with Jeff Gerke (my then-publisher) about the possibility of Amish Vampires in Space having a sequel. Given the interest in AViS, he was confident that Marcher Lord Press could publish a series of Amish-themed science fiction books. I just needed to write them.

The subsequent sale of Marcher Lord Press complicated matters a bit, though.

Q: And really, why zombies?

Jeff was convinced that the next monsters I had to explore were zombies, simply from a pop culture standpoint. Zombies were ubiquitous—both in print and film. In fact, one of the Hollywood people that contacted us had connections to the Walking Dead. So it seemed an obvious way to go.

Q: Unlike most people, I’m not a zombie fan. I don’t watch the Walking Dead or any of the zombie apocalypse movies, but I did enjoy your book. How long did it take you to come up with a plausible scientific explanation for the zombies?

Not long. A day or two, maybe. I’ve been really blessed in that the science seems to present itself right when I need it. Much of what happens in Amish Zombies, though, is an outgrowth of the first book. The characters and situations of AViS fueled the characters and situations of AZfS. Same goes for the science.

Q: Amish Vampires in Space received a lot of notoriety–from worst book cover lists to the Tonight Show. What has been the craziest thing to come out of this series so far?AViS

Last year was a fun ride. There were so many unexpected twists and turns. I never knew what I was going to wake up to.

For instance, much of the week before the Tonight Show mention I spent trying to get the print version of AViS back on sale. I had some typos I wanted fixed and the time seemed right to do that.

Unfortunately, CreateSpace takes your book out-of-print while you make corrections. The AViS print galley has a few stylistic things that makes the CreateSpace reviewers nervous, things they flag even though the book would print fine. Consequently, it was a stressful process. I finally got the book back on sale on a Tuesday morning. That night it was mentioned on the Tonight Show. Good timing, huh?

But there were lots of fun things that happened last year. I got to chat, via Twitter, with folks all around the world, in at least seven different languages. (Thank you, Google translate!)

I also exchanged tweets with a gentlemen only to learn he was in the cast of the Ghost Hunters show. I talked to a handful of people from the film industry, in fact.

(In case you wondered, Amish Vampires in Space was considered too far out for the SyFy channel. Ah well.)

So yeah, it was a crazy, crazy time. Loved it.

Q: They say no publicity is bad publicity. Have you found that to be true with AViS?

For me, I think that’s true. It probably depends on how you approach it, though—on your attitude going in.

With Amish Vampires in Space my conscience was clear. I knew what I wrote, and why I wrote it. So most of the mockery and near-slander just rolled off my back. I embraced it, in fact. Every situation, even the confrontations, became an opportunity to dialog with people, and hopefully, leave as friends. It was a great little faith exercise.

Q: AZfS picks up a few years after AViS and many of the characters are still the same. Who was your favorite character to write?

Two of my favorite characters were new ones. I don’t want to spoil too much, but one of them is a friend of doctor Darly’s. He’s a bit of a wit.

Another favorite was Jeb and Sarah’s son, Isaac. It was neat to put my mind into “boy mode” again. To try to experience the world as a child again. Science fiction should have a good dose of marvel and wonder. What better way to present that than through the eyes of a child?

(Darly’s friend ended up as my favorite character as well, although I have always had a soft spot for Jeb.)

Q: Both your books do a great job of portraying the Amish and their love for a simple life, and you use them to sprinkle theology throughout your books. People who haven’t read your books might think you have no regard for the Amish or Christianity in general. Have you had any throwback from the Amish loving community over your books?

There was some of that initially, yes. People saw the cover and the title and assumed I was bashing the Amish. I even had one author tell me I couldn’t write about the Amish because I hadn’t been Amish. <sigh>

My goal all along was to be as realistic as possible. To keep everything plausible. That required portraying the Amish as faithfully as I could. Most of the criticism went away after people started reading the book.

Q: So, what’s in store for the next book – werewolves? 😉

Not sure yet. I’ve been working on Amish-something for nearly three years now and mentally I need a little break. I might circle back to some of my earlier characters and their worlds. See what excites me.

There will need to be another Amish book at some point, though. Werewolves seem to be the most commonly requested antagonists, so I would be foolish not to consider them. I need to find a way to make the concept interesting scientifically—to not travel paths I’ve already travelled.

We’ll see. Hopefully, the answer will come right when I need it. 🙂

Kerry’s doing something different with this book. In addition to the print, and eBook versions, he is also doing a serial version (3 parts). It’s cheaper to buy the entire eBook, but Part 1 is discounted for those who might want to try before they commit.  If, like me, you enjoyed AViS, why not show Kerry some love and puchase a copy of AZfS today?

LET US HEAR FROM YOU: Where are you on the Zombie fan scale from 1 (burn them all) to 10 (eat my brains)?

AZfS shirt

Getting bloody with Ben Wolf

P1030475[1]Nickname: Ben Wolf
Genre: Speculative
Personal Philosophy: Live Free or Die Hard
Fave Scripture (& why): Romans 8:28 – Read it. God always fulfills his promises to us.
Fave Quote: “The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.” ― Mickey Spillane
In high school I was an outspoken Christ-follower, actor, musician, and wannabe writer.
Ben as Dracula in high school

Ben as Dracula in high school

Ben is the author of Blood for Blood, a classic vampire tale that asks the important question: is anyone beyond the redemption of Christ’s blood?

B4B

Hunger drove Raven Worth to the big tent revival that night, but it wasn’t what made him stay. Usually in such a public gathering he’d have lurked just beyond the edge of the crowd to scan the fringes for stragglers. In other settings he’d often harvest the ones who looked the most destitute or lonely. He could relate to them. He knew their pain.

But not that night. The crowd seemed devoid of the transients and homeless nobodies Raven preferred. Everyone beamed with happiness—they enjoyed the service, the evangelist’s booming voice, and even each other in a form of unity Raven hadn’t seen since before he turned. Then again, that was almost a hundred years ago. Sometimes it felt more like a thousand.

A few children wandered along the crowd’s outer ring, not engaged by the service in the least. One of them, a small girl with hair so blonde that it seemed to glow under the moonlight, sat alone on the ground and played with a rag doll. Raven couldn’t help but stare at her.

Who would leave such a beautiful child unattended? Raven clenched his fists. Didn’t her parents know what kinds of horrors roamed the night in search of weak, vulnerable prey exactly like her? Perhaps she was an orphan, with no one to look out for her wellbeing.

A rumble in Raven’s stomach and a brief spell of lightheadedness reminded him of why he’d come tonight. He shook off the weakness and resigned himself to his task.

To feed.

– Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Blood for Blood, by Ben Wolf

Ben, it’s a pleasure to have you on The Scriblerians today! And how cool to hang our with you twice in one week! Tell us, whom did you have in mind when you wrote Blood for Blood?

10% of me wrote Blood for Blood for Christians who wanted to enjoy a solid Christian spec fic novel. 20% of me wrote it for nonChristians who might be willing to read it and enjoy a good story. 70% of me wrote it for Christians who don’t know how to show God’s love to people who are different than us.

That’s a struggle for all of us. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

If you’re a nonChristian reader, know that God loves you.

If you’re already a Christian, be reminded that we need to be careful how we treat people who are different than us because our actions, right or wrong, affect nonChristians’ perceptions of who Jesus is. So endeavor to treat everyone with love, be they vampire or not.

You know vampires aren’t real, right? 😉 Which character is most like you and why?

I’ve been told I’m a lot like Raven (the main character) but at times I think I’m more like Garrett (the villain) because I get it wrong so often, but God’s not done with me yet.

If you could meet one of your characters in real life, which one would it be and what would you do together?

I’d like to meet Luco. I think we would talk a lot about my life and he could give me some wise counsel on how I could better follow God.

Luco is a great character. A testament to what it looks like to love people like God loves them.

Thanks for hanging out with us today, Ben!

You can connect with Ben at his website (sign up for his newsletter in the lower right corner and get a bunch of free stories), and on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

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Lisa Godfrees

GIVEAWAY! Ben is giving an ebook of Blood for Blood to one lucky reader. If you’re interested in a chance to win a copy, head over to my blog (lisagodfrees.com) before Monday and leave a comment. For an extra chance to win, comment here as well.

TELL ME: What is the most thought-provoking novel you’ve ever read?

Kerry Nietz tells all…with an Amish Vampires in Space sneak peak

Kerry Nietz, before we can talk, you’ve got to sign our author slam book!

Author Photo
 Nickname – These days, I mostly answer to “DAD!”
Genre – Science Fiction
Personal Philosophy – In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Fave Scripture –Cast your care upon the Lord, He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22-23)
Fave Quote – We walk from here…
In high school I was a… friend, but shy.

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Kerry in high school


Amish Vampires in Space is Kerry Nietz’s newest novel.

I reviewed the book previously, and have described it as strangely plausible (and really good). Want to know where Kerry came up with the idea? Read all about it in his interview.

Still can’t decide if it’s the right book for you? How about we take a sneak peek at the first page?

AViS

Jebediah had a secret.

It was a weight, really. Something the songs of church service couldn’t lighten. Even daily prayers and scripture reading were no help. It was always present. Always hidden.

“It is Gelassenheit,” his father had said. “Surrendering yourself for others.”

So Jeb bore the weight. It was God’s will. Like Abraham tying Isaac to the altar. We hold the knife with the faith that God will stop us from using it.

With a groan, Jebediah pushed his way out of bed. Beside him, Sarah sighed and rolled his direction. Even with the passage of decades, she still appeared as beautiful to him as when they married. A day twenty years ago now. Her in a simple white dress and kapp. He in his best black suit. Family and friends, similarly attired. A simpler time. A happier time. An early spring.

Before the secret had passed to him.

“Is it morning so soon?” she whispered.

Jeb smiled. “Ya, it is.”

She made to get out of bed, but Jeb frowned and held out a hand. “Stay in,” he said. “At forty, you’ve earned a few more minutes.”

She put the back of her hand over her mouth and yawned. “So much to do today. The Troyers need breakfast. And Eli will need help with that baby. And the garden.”

Jeb glanced out the bedroom window. The sun had not yet begun to rise. And neither moon. Only a few distant stars and the mass of what was commonly called the Morning Nebbit.

Still very dark. That was a comfort, at least.

Excerpt used with permission. All rights reserved.

So, dear readers…who wants to win an e-copy?

Ways to get entered in our drawing [1 entry per action]:

(1) sign up for this blog,

(2) tweet about the giveaway,

(3) share about us on Facebook

(4) leave a comment–tell us your favorite vampire (or Amish) movie or book!

Drawing to be held on December 1.