Shivers down my spine…

We all have had those moments of spine-chilling fear…when the shivers of chill make their way slowly down our spine, every hair on our body rises, our bones seem to turn to water and the back of our necks prickles. Our bodies surge with adrenalin and we fight the instinctive response to flee or fight. Fear is one of the core base emotions. We all know what it is. We all know when it has struck…

Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them. – Edgar Allen Poe

I am a part of a stellar group of authors called TESSpecFic ** We are “The Emissaries of Strange: A Speculative Fiction Writer’s Collective” is a group of writers whose fiction fits under the speculative fiction umbrella. Our captain, the lovely Marie Loughin set us a question that stirred in each of our hearts this week: What is Horror?

This is a question that I faced at the end of 2011 when I was getting ready to pitch my WIP to an agent. Genre can be a tricky question. Especially these days when there are so many variations on the classic genres and so many sub genres to further muddy the genre waters. When I set out to write my WIP, I was not thinking in terms of genre. I was thinking STORY and CHARACTER. I wrote the story that poured forth and decided to leave the question of genre until it was absolutely necessary to come up with an answer.

Right up until the moment that I sat before the agent, I was second-guessing how to genre-alise* (Yes, it is a term I made up.) my story. The days before my pitch I researched other stories similar to mine to see how those authors had genre-alised their stories. One term kept on cropping up: Horror.

There is a quake that rips the soul asunder. . . it is the pain of remembering. – Nrb

The day of my pitch arrived and as I sat before the agent and she asked me what genre the WIP was, out came the word: Horror. She allowed me to continue with my allotted 10 minute pitch and then kept me talking because she was intrigued and wanted to know more. After I had basically given her the synopsis, she sat back, clicked her pen on the table-top between us and told me that though she could see how I genre-alised the plot into HORROR, she thought it would sound better as a Paranormal Historical. She was concerned that the term HORROR would limit the marketability of what she thought was a very marketable story.

We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. – Stephen King

Mmmh I wonder what Stephen King  would have said if someone had told him HORROR would make his market limited? Seriously, who has not heard of a Stephen King story  whether in books or movies. I think the HORROR genre has served Stephen King very well and he has done more than ok with finding a market for his work.

So what is HORROR and why are so many people afraid of that term? Pun intended*

I think Hollywood and B-Horror movies have given us a vision of blood, gore, guts and general grossness. But that is just one variation of HORROR. Below is the definition of HORROR…

horror |ˈhôrər, ˈhär-|noun1 an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust: children screamed in horror.• a thing causing such a feeling: photographs showed the horror of the tragedy | the horrors of civil war.• a literary or film genre concerned with arousing such feelings: [ as modifier ] : a horror movie.• intense dismay: to her horror she found that a thief had stolen the machine.• [ as exclamation ] (horrors) chiefly humorous used to express dismay: horrors, two buttons were missing!• [ in sing. ] intense dislike: many have a horror of consulting a dictionary.• (the horrors) an attack of extreme nervousness or anxiety: the mere thought of it gives me the horrors.2 informal a bad or mischievous person, esp. a child: that little horror Zach was around.ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’ (see horrid) .

I think the very origin of the word answers the question: What is Horror? Horror is an involuntary trembling and shuddering from sheer terror. For me however, true horror is those scenes that play with your mind. Psychological fear is far more intense and horrific than mere physical fear. The mind is a scary place. It’s capacity for imagining the worst and the darkest is scary. Think of your favourite horror movie, the imagined monster behind the shadow at the foot of the door that is ajar is far scarier than the monster that is seen and can be fought. What is unknown is far scarier than the known? For me, that is true HORROR.

We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe. – Johann von Goethe

So I take the stand on my trilogy. It is HORROR Paranormal Historical. It deals with death, ghosts and revenge. There are scenes that gave me the creeps as I was writing them. There are scenes that I still don’t like reading after midnight because they literally have me seeing the ghosts I have written become real.

It is dark. You cannot see. Only the hint of stars out the broken window. And a voice as old as the Snake from the Garden whispers, ‘I will hold your hand. – John Wick

Horror is the difference between the UNKNOWN vs the KNOWN and the UNTHINKABLE vs the IMAGINED. Horror is those shivers down my spine, that prickling on my skull and the bone-deep chill that makes my heart want to stop.

This is how Stephen King defines Horror:

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”

What is Horror to you? Is it a misunderstood and misaligned genre-alisation of a core human instinct? Is HORROR just a label or is it more a style of story-telling?

Join my fellow TESSpecFic members on their blogs below as they delve into: What is Horror?

Schedule for blog tour: What is Horror?

Marie Loughin – Wednesday, 9th May

Jaye Manus – Thursday, 10th May

Paul D. Dail – Friday, 11th May

Aniko Carmean – Sunday, 13th May

Jonathan D. Allen – Monday, 14th May

Penelope Crowe – Tuesday, 15th May

Book Country – Genre Map

Off the Map
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Book Country – Genre Map.

Ever looked at an agent’s/editor’s list of genres and wondered where your story fits in. My friend and CP, Leigh K Hunt, wrote a post about the frustrations of genre-mapping your story.

Some story plots are clear-cut. They fit into one of the overall genres: Romance, Thriller, Mystery, Fantasy or Sci-Fi. But what happens if your story is a fantasy with a mystery element. Or a Thriller with a Romance element. 

Above is a link to a genre map that might help you make sense of your story’s genre. 

Now do you know which genre you are writing in?

– Kim

Possibilities and fat purple figs

Photograph of a large fig tree taken at Centen...
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I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.  From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.  I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7

I have been thinking a lot about branching out creatively speaking. 2010 was a year of experimentation in different genres of fiction for me. Today I came across the above quote from The Bell Jar and it summed up that last year perfectly for me…it also gives me a clue to what 2011 may hold.

Have you noticed that most authors tend to stick to one genre? Does that mean they have not explored writing in others or did they just know instinctively which genre they would be good in? This question has been in the back of my mind for a while now when it comes to my own forays into the world of fiction writing.

One of the most common pieces of advice that seems to run through the world of fiction writers is “to write what you know”. This can sometimes not seem like much of an answer. In fact I would argue that I have always found this piece of advice very frustrating and vague.

Then there is the other common vein of thought especially in the last few years: write for the masses for instance if the big craze of the moment is vampires then vampires is what you should write. This is another theory of advice that I do not agree with.

So what do I think?

I think that a person should go ahead and experiment with different genres before coming to a final decision. If you have never written fantasy, for example, how do you know you will not excel in it? The answer is that you won’t know until you try. Life is ultimately a thing of change…without change there can be no growth. Although life can be lived without challenges, challenges are needed to strengthen you. In just the same way, this can be applied to your writing.

This brings me back to my introduction quotation. I am definitely enjoying branching out and trying new figs in a matter of speaking but ultimately I think that all the branching out can and must lead you to a theme genre where you find your niche. So I am not saying branch out and experiment so much that all the ripe figs fall off the tree leaving you with no fruit. I am saying that if you are truly tuned in to your muse, the branching out will strengthen your writing by creatively stretching those muscles but that it will also lead you to your main fruit.

How do you know which fig is the right fig for you?

Well although I would love to be your guru and give you the exact symbols and signs that you will have to know which is the right branch and the right fig for you, I am not going to tell you that. I will tell you how I am finding out which is the right branch and the right fig for me. I use the word “finding” because I am still working on it. I have not got all the answers yet. I am glad I don’t because I am the type of person that when something stops being a challenge for me, I tend to grow bored very quickly and move onto the next. This is still a challenging concept for me. This is how I know that I am moving in the right direction along my tree of life and writing.

The answer is simple and complex all at once. Like the most important answers to the big questions usually are. The simplest way that I can sum this up is that it is a gut-feeling. It is similar to that first moment when you fall in love. That feeling deep in the centre of you that is surging with turmoiled emotions that first uplift you and then make you feel sick with nausea simultaneously. It is that moment when things start falling into place in a way that seems improbable and surreal. It is when you are so close to the subject/genre that it pulls at your gut and that you feel you can write one moment and the next that you dare not try. It is the moment when you feel naked and vulnerable on the page, like someone has shone a flash-light into your deepest thoughts and emotions. It is the moment when you start living your story and you start being in your character’s heads. You are not just writing about them but you are writing from within their thoughts looking out at the world and the story they find themselves in. All of a sudden you are no longer just the narrator but you have become an integral part of this story. It is the moment when you realise nobody else could tell this story because this story is a reflection of you – the artist not just the writer. It is the moment when to write this story becomes unbearably intense and you almost want to give up. This is the moment when I know that I am on the right branch and about to pick the right fig. I know that this fig will come off easily. I know that this fig will not be too ripe or not ready yet, it will be perfect for me. But to know that I have had to climb out on to other branches first and try other figs.

So my final piece of “wisdom” I leave you with brings me to my Word of 2011:


You don’t know what possibilities are available until you try them out. The key phrase here is POSSIBILITY, not decision and not choice. You do not have to stick to every possibility. The way you reach your perfect fig might be a different pathway from the way I would choose mine. Just like your parents always told you how you would know you were in love: You just will. It will just feel different. It will be consuming, intense and gut-wrenching but it will just click in your thoughts and your emotions.

So if you have not had that feeling yet, if you have settled and compromised; I urge you to get back out on those branches and try some other figs. It is better to have tried and failed then to settle and compromise on what is safe. Go against the grain. Challenge yourself and your own concepts of who you are and what type of writer you are. Don’t let other people tell you what you feel and how you should write. Just like someone cannot tell you when to love someone or something, only you can know which genre is “write” for you.

Until then…I leave you with my favourite quotation for the year:

Dwell in POSSIBILITY…it could lead you to the most interesting branches.

© All rights reserved Kim Koning