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Confessions of an Accidental Horror Fiction Writer

 

Like most kids, I grew up with a healthy enjoyment of spooky sleepover stories and campy black-and-white critterfests. Though my mom drew the line when I requested a pet werewolf, these tormented puppies have always remained close to my heart.

I write lifestyles features, though. As my bio says, I have tackled subjects ranging from street kids to spas, and I specialize in maritime issues. My English as a second language textbook, "Life Goes Wrong for Harvey" has just been released on Kindle by my publisher, JAG. 

Horror? Horrors!

So how did this happen? Why did I end up with a guest post on "Wicked Writers," a short story published in Pill Hill Press's "The Bitter End ~ Tales of Nautical Terror," requests from student filmmakers to produce screenplays for their horror flicks, and a developing snarl-a-minute werewolf novella?

Well, here's why.

Obviously, the current thirst for fictional blood in lupine, vampirical or zombie form - Seth Grahame-Smith's brilliant "Pride and Prejudice and Zombie," anyone? - is behind some of it. 

In my case, it is all about being a writer taking a leap into the unknown. For several years, I'd played around with flash fiction for my own amusement, presenting it at writers' conferences before anyone even knew what it was. "I don't even know how to critique that," said one workshop leader, gently. But what I called "verbal photographs" drew the attention of  filmmakers, not for money's sake, but because they understood it. From there, I was introduced as an observer to the world of 48-hour film competitions, and that led me to explore New York City Midnight Madness and their weekend challenges. As fortune would have it, they were offering a brand new type of 48-hour competition: flash fiction. One thousand words, to include an assigned word, genre and location, and to be completed in 48 hours. I jumped right in.

Pacing as I awaited my specifics, I begged the Muses, "Not sci-fi and not horror, please ... " and at 9 p.m. PST, midnight EST, I was emailed "word: ruler; location: police station; genre: sci-fi," and the accompanying phrase, "Good luck!" With that, my short story "The Light Chasers" came to be. It was - and still is despite tweaks - a bit quirky and tricky to follow if you aren't into science, but it did well enough to get me into the semi-finals, with a new assignment.

Same pacing, same pleas to the same Muses; the assignment arrived. "Word: piggy bank; location: moving van; genre: horror." I logged in to the NYCMM live chat to commiserate with other equally shocked writers, and wondered if writing about being assigned this genre would qualify as a horror piece. They laughed, or at least their avatars did.

What followed was one of the most successful pieces I have ever written, in terms of acclaim. I called it "The Last Hunter," and it was of course a werewolf story. It did well enough to send me to the finals - "Attic; butcher knife; romantic comedy" - and was the beginning of my little fan club, the Wolf Circle. Who knew? Everyone kept asking for more, and I sent out other stories with the same character to my readers, and soon I had a good start on a novella. It might even be longer, but I like short, punchy, action-filled pages. 

By this point, I had the confidence to write short fiction for public reading. I knew I could write maritime-themed stories. On a whim, I typed "maritime flash fiction" into Google one evening, and nearly dropped my coffee cup when a call for submissions to Pill Hill Press appeared. It was the only item on the page. Upon closer inspection, I found the genre: horror; and the deadline was in two days. "Of course," I laughed, picking up my coffee and walking away from my computer - and an idea hit me. I hesitated for only a moment; I've written horror now, I can do this. Right? Walk the plank, woman, do it! I wrote "The Thing in the Crosstrees," ran it past a couple of readers, and submitted it. A week or so later I received an email from Pill Hill's editor, Jessy Marie Roberts, with a contract and a letter of acceptance.

Dang.

Each of these adventures has given birth to another. "Crosstrees" led to a speaking engagement on a writers panel at the San Diego Maritime Museum. This year I am branching out to learn 48-hour competitive scriptwriting, and of course the film teams have asked me to write horror. There's no money in it, but there wasn't when I was entertaining myself with "Tales From the Streetlamp," either. It's about stretching, pushing, facing the scariest demon any writer can encounter: the one with the twisted face who says, "Oh, I can't really do that kind of thing."

Blast that demon. Go out there and stake your writing claim.