My deepest debt of gratitude, however, actually goes to the horror maestro, Stephen King.
King was the author, beyond all others, who showcased the versatility of the horror genre to me, which forever shaped my path as a writer. At an early stage in every writer's career, it becomes necessary to select a genre. This is the decision which will define you, as an author, and your books, as a product, from that point forward, as you strive to build an audience.
Throughout my childhood, starting around third grade, I was a voracious reader and I devoured my books, en masse by genre. I went through periods where I read every book that I could find in a specific genre and nothing else, until I grew bored with repetitive themes, characters and plots. I would then switch to a new genre.
In this fashion, I went from reading westerns to spy adventures, mysteries, celebrity bios, science fiction, detective, romance and horror novels. I'd bravely walk pass the main librarian's desk, so that I could enter the Adult section (there was one dour old librarian who'd bark that I should stay in the children's area, if she saw me), passionate on my crusade to explore of all these different genres.
There were certainly some great books that I encountered—the hard-boiled detective novels of the 1940's were one particular stand-out, but when I finally embraced the Stephen King collection, it was like a shining beacon went on. I had avoided King, due to reading Carrie at the tender age of eight (since it kept coming up during recess). That novel was the bane of my adolescence.
Whenever a prom or school dance was scheduled, some smart mouth would ask if I was intending to run for prom queen and wouldn't it be funny to toss pig's blood at me. Ha. Ha. I recall while reading that book my dismay at finding out that Carrie was such a total social outcast. She had no redeeming traits—no charm, no good looks, no intellect and she hurt the very people who tried to help her.
I couldn't appreciate, at the time, the tragedy and horror that was being depicted in this tale of bullies, victims, and the not-so-innocent bystanders who allowed this cycle of abuse to continue. My main take-away was that it would be fool-hardy for me to ever run for prom queen. I knew that it would be too tempting for my peers. After reading Carrie, I hated Stephen King.
Only when I was in college, during a writing workshop where other people kept comparing my writing to King's, did I become curious enough to try his books, again. It was a revelation. Once I was no longer reading about characters named Carrie, I found him vastly entertaining!
King showcased for me the endless possibilities, flexibility, and originality of the horror genre. A villain can be a serial killer (Firestarter), a loving father and husband (The Shining and Pet Sematary), a classic car (Christine) or a clown (It). Heroes can be just as unexpected—children, an average joe, or even a prisoner on death row as in The Green Mile series.
One of my favorites from his more recent works has to be the untrustworthy narrator of Blaze, a petty criminal who kidnaps a baby, who is both the hero and the villain in the novel. It's an elegant exercise on the duality of human nature. I also adore Misery. It is both a great horror novel and a wonderful stand-alone romance (in the chapters that resurrect the character of Misery). I could not imagine a more unlikely genre coupling, but King appeared to pull it off with ease.
I must sincerely thank King for teaching me, through his published works, that the horror genre, above all others, can be any genre. It offers the greatest flexibility, since horror can be found in any situation and seen through the eyes of any character. It offers infinite freedom. I am only limited by my own imagination!
Note--this blog was actually a guest posting on Depression Cookies, but it was so perfect for Thanksgiving that I had to post it again on my own blog to celebrate the holiday. Be sure to visit the original posting to read the more than 40 comments that it received. You'll also want to check out Tia Bach's warm and witty blog entries!
Photo credit: Shane Leonard