Guest Post: Paper Fear


As you all know, I don’t read or represent horror. I’m just not one of those people who enjoys that anxious, scared feeling, knowing something terrible is going to happen when you turn the page. I mean, the only Stephen King book I’ve ever read is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which you should all go out and buy right this second.  But scary? Not for me… Well, except for anything written by my client Damien Walters Grintalis! Damien is such a master of all things dark yet literary that I can’t help but read her work. I get through the scariness because I just love what she does with words. Look for Damien’s debut novel, INK, in December of 2012. But for now, listen to what Damien has to say about writing scary stories…

I never set out to write about all things dark and scary. In truth, I would say I’m a writer first, a writer of horror second. Horror is not the only thing I write, but most of my writing is kissed with a touch of darkness.

But what is scary? In the real world, it’s a sound in the night where there should be silence. Pacing a hole in the rug when your child is late and your phone calls go unanswered. The lump in your throat when you find out your company is downsizing and half the employees will be out of a job by week’s end.

My horror is usually of the supernatural variety. Cursed tattoos, haunted photo albums, hands that can heal, but at a great cost. I don’t write what I know. I write what I can imagine.

Except fear. Fear is universal. Although my characters might have to face something otherworldly, I try to ground their fear in reality – a small sound in the quiet, an absence where someone should be (or a presence where solitude should reign), that unsettling feeling that something isn’t quite right.

Loss of control, a shattered sense of self, a fear of the sickness inside. My characters experience these things in ways that are impossible in the real world, but they are all common fears from the human experience that anyone can relate to, even if they’ve never encountered a monster or a ghost.

Sometimes fear is easier to face when it’s fictional.

What emotions do you try to invoke in or evoke from your work?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Guest Post: Paper Fear

  1. Beautifully put, Damien. I have never been drawn to horror, but the way you explain what you do makes me wonder whether I should give it a try.

    I have never thought of my writing in terms of evoking any particular emotion. Of course I want my reader to be emotionally engaged in a story, and to experience the world as my characters experience it. And sometimes that experience is outright fear or grief or anger or awe or joy. But more often the experience is some combination of conflicting emotions. Guilt over stealing that candy bar cutting into pride of accomplishment and relief at not getting caught. Fear of the raging storm mixed with awe at the power of nature. Compassion for the kid who got hurt falling from the tree competing with anger at her for climbing up there in the first place.

  2. I like horror — not the bloody kind, but the creepy, psychological kind. I love the sound of your approach, Damien. I’ll definitely be buying your book.

    As far as the emotions I try to evoke? I’d say wonder is at the top of my list. But what I love about books is that you have no control, really, about how your readers will ultimately feel. You can aim for something but then that whole subjectivity business comes into play. I guess there’s wonder in that, too. :)

  3. King is fabulous–in the memoir section, I learned by example why I write the way I do. He invoked his peculiar way of looking at the world to tell otherwise mundane stories about the Horror Babysitter and the Ear Infection Torture Treatments. :) It made me realize I see the world through the sensibilities of great, magical children’s books and a countryside childhood. I’ve never quite shaken that off, so that’s where my writing leans.

    What Damien says about fear–I think that’s what makes really compelling fiction, translating the real-life experience we all know into a setting where we can wrestle with it. In real life, we tell ourselves, “Oh, that’s silly of me,” but storytelling knocks that aside and allows us to wrestle with our non-rational intuitive side.

  4. Steve McCann

    Essentially, I try to get the reader to give a rip about the characters. You have to start with that, or no amount of atmosphere or mellifluous writing is going to matter. That’s why Stephen King is a great read despite his sometimes clunky style. And that’s why Poppy Brite would be a dreadful read despite her stunning command of the language. I love horror and look forward to giving INK a try (its description on Amazon definitely piqued my interest).

    I think of the short story by J.C. Oates as a wonderful example of a horror story not advertised as a horror story. It begins with a character to care about and is told with some wowzer writing. And it has all the elements of horror story: an everyday world that devolves into chaos, isolation of a character from others, disfiguration, loss of control, imminent death, hint of mysterious supernatural forces, etc. Wow, I love that story!