Monday, August 10, 2015

Summer Thrills and Chills

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: It’s been hot here in New York City — probably where you are, too. (We know it is in Texas for Debs, but at least she has her inflatable tub!) August generally is a long, hot, sticky month and, for some reason, I associate it with the thrills and chills of horror novels.

Well, maybe the association isn’t so random. I remember staying at a friend’s cottage one summer when I was twelve or so and discovering a shelf of well-thumbed paperbacks, mostly Stephen KingCujo (why I was afraid of dogs for so long), Christine, Pet Cemetery, etc. You know, old-school Stephen King. I remember reading on the porch at night, cooled by breezes from Lake Erie and a glass of iced tea, scared out of my pre-teen mind.

This summer, as I work on THE QUEEN’S CONSPIRATOR, about a 1942 Blackout Jack the Ripper, I’ve been rereading a lot of classic horror for inspiration — Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s been all kinds of creepy shivery fun.

I don’t think of myself as a horror fan per se, but as I look through books that I’ve absolutely loved — Donna Tart’s The Secret History, Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger, Alice Hoffman’s The River King — there’s often a supernatural element.

And then there are the TV shows. I’m a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, True Blood, Hannibal (will Hulu pretty please pick it up for season four?), and, most recently — and thanks to Kristopher of Bolo Books —Penny Dreadful. Love Penny Dreadful.

Reds and lovely readers, do you think horror chills help beat the summer heat. Is it a genre you read or watch? And, if so, what are your favorites?

HALLIE EPHRON: I do like a dab of supernatural, anything that makes that Twilight Zone music go off in my head (love Alice Hoffman and Jennifer McMahon).  

But horror, not so much. Stephen King is another category entirely. He's just a great writer and I'll read anything (or almost anything) he writes.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Oh well, Stephen King. Of course. I stayed home from work in 1980 — I mean, called in sick when I wasn't sick! — to read The Stand. (At the Edgars, I told that story to Stephen King — I was quivering with starstruckness the entire time. He said: Good for you!)  I am a huge Twilight Zone fan--it's all about the writing, right? And as for the X-Files, well, I just wrote an X-Files short story that'll be included in Jonathan Maberry's coming authorized anthology! SO that's cool.... 

I guess... I don't like gruesome. Just suspense. (And we are watching The Whispers, I'll admit. But no more Strain

I have to say, we read Dracula when I was in college. I clearly remember thinking--how scary can anything like this be? It's just a BOOK. Wrongo. I slept with my arms crossed across my chest--figuring the vampire would be put off by the "cross"--for weeks. I was beyond terrified.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I can't watch viscerally graphic films and I hate what my family calls "pop-ups" - the sudden jolt when the bad guy/innocent person/dead body jumps into view, so I prefer subtle movie scariness. I adored CONTAGION, and went around for a week afterwards with a gallon of Purell in my purse! Loved the X Files, and the first season of THE WALKING DEAD. I haven't seen anything in the past couple of years and would love some recommendations! Anything with that creeping sense of something wrong will capture me as an audience member. 

Books: THE STAND, of course, which I read as a college freshman while my roommate and I both had bad colds (we were sure it was Captain Trips.) SALEM'S LOT - good think I met Ross many years after reading this, or I never would have agreed to move to Maine! THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE  and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, two delicately creepy masterpieces by Shirley Jackson. Oh, and the horrifying/funny/scathing/haunting WORLD WAR Z (which has nothing in common with the movie except for the name.) It's been nine years, and I don't think he's really published anything since then, but Max Brooks will be a horror giant based on that one work alone.

LUCY BURDETTE: I can't do horror--too easily scared! though I really must read THE STAND, and I too love Jennifer McMahon's books — they're a little creepy, but not enough to keep me up nights...

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Yes, Stephen King's The Stand!  I remember working for King's editor at Viking/Penguin in the early 90s when the miniseries came out and he treated us all to a screening — soda, popcorn, candy and everything. No work! We all that that was pretty darned terrific. (I once fetched him a BLT sandwich, too....)

Of course, Hubby would say: "Oh right, the book where all of humanity is wiped out except a few straight white people — and two 'mystical negroes' who are too old to reproduce?" (He kinda has a point there...)

And in recently rereading Dracula I find myself laughing at unexpected places — for instance: "Note to self: must get chicken paprika recipe for Mina."

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am loathe to admit this, but I've never read a Stephen King novel. I have tried, really, I have. But I just couldn't get going on them. I have promised my self that I will read The Stand, since everyone I know loves it.

There's a very fine line between horror and supernatural, isn't there? And is there a distinction between supernatural and paranormal? I could never watch straight "horror" movies. The only one I can think of that I not only sat through but liked was John Carpenter's The Thing. And not the remake--the 1982 original with Kurt Russell. And absolutely no slasher movies for me. Ugh. 

But, like Susan, I loved Buffy and Angel (will watch anything written by Joss Whedon--can we talk about Firefly sometime?) I liked True Blood but didn't keep up, I'm afraid. I was a HUGE X-Files fan (Hank, so cool!!!) I loved an odd UK series called Being Human (starring Aidan Turner who you now see galloping across your screens as Poldark). Now I'm going to look up Penny Dreadful.

Books. I LOVE Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels. LOVE Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, and have just read a terrific YA series called The Shades of London by Maureen Johnson. The first book is called The Name of Star, and Susan, it's a very interesting contemporary take on the Ripper. You should read it! 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I will! And, Debs, I'd love to talk Firefly with you any time — and please let me know what you think of Penny Dreadful (it took me a few episodes to get into it). Lovely readers, do you cross genres to read horror? If no, why not? And if so, what are your favorites? Please tell us in the comments!


  1. The original Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits are about my limit . . . the creepy, scary, horror stuff is just not my cup of tea.
    I have read Stephen King, but mostly I steer clear of any real horror books [or movies or television shows]. I tend to like the good science fiction much better and I am enjoying The Whispers.

  2. The Secret History, which I read for book club, was as scary as I can stand. Shiver.

    And hot? I'm in Phoenix right now, spending post-funeral time with family, after losing my favorite uncle. It was 108 today. When we were booking our flights I told my brother we were crazy to go to Arizona in August. Might as well spend time in Hell.

    Reine, I'm thinking of you. I am in charge of my mom or I'd try to get down to see you.

  3. Hi Joan -- do you like The Whispers? I may try it -- but it looks SCARY -- maybe too scary.

    Karen, so sorry for your loss.

  4. Karen, thinking of you...

    Thanks, Deb, for the recommendation. Just put that UK series Being Human in my Netflix queue. And I did forget, I too am a huge fan of X-Files which only occasionally strayed into horror. I never could get into Buffy. For awhile it seemed every TV station you turned to had characters with exploding or rotting heads. I had to click fast.

  5. Susan, so glad that you gave Penny Dreadful a chance and ended up enjoying it. Season Two is much stronger than the first, but they are both needed to tell the overarching story. Can't wait to see where Season Three goes.

    I'm also a huge Stephen King fan. I think he can do no wrong. Even when it's not his best book, it's still gripping and well-written. Deb, I would suggest giving Bag of Bones a try before The Stand. The Stand is his masterpiece, but I do think it's daunting for a first time reader of his work.

    I love a good horror movie or book, but I prefer when they try to do something different. Like The Passage by Justin Cronin, a vampire story that is really a dystopian epic.

    As for The X-Files, I am a huge fan. I actually went to an X-Files convention - what an experience. I am thrilled to learn that Hank has a story in this new collection that is coming out. All the more reason to pre-order.

  6. Y'all are braver than I am--although I did read The Shining, go figure. No horror, but some supernatural, paranormal is good. Loved Buffy, but closed my eyes at the 'scary' parts--I mean, it was Buffy, right? Also loved X-Files, Twilight Zone. And The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (film AND tv versions) ;-)

  7. Deborah, just a point of trivia: the original "The Thing" was produced in 1951 and starred James Arness. According to Wikipedia, the official name of the movie was "The Thing from Another World," but it was generally referred to as "The Thing" until the 1982 remake. You gotta be really old (I also was produced in 1951) to remember these things!

  8. We are watching the Whispers too, and I think it is just interesting enough to be… Not stupid. It is very difficult to come up with a satisfying and satisfactory and if the solution is "aliens." Not that we really know what the whispers is about.
    We will try again for Penny dreadful… Many of our friends really like it, too.

  9. I'm in the psychological suspense camp. Not so much on the gore. The only King book I made it through was The Stand (I see a theme here). My daughter is much more of the horror fan, although she doesn't find King particularly scary. She's watched multiple movies and says while IT was creepy, it wasn't scary. She watches American Horror Story all the time and continually asks me to watch it with her. Thanks, no.

    A touch of supernatural is fine. Loved Buffy. Love Joss Whedon. When you have that conversation about Firefly let me know. I could watch that show a million times and not get sick of it.

  10. Karen and Reine, thinking of you both. Xxx

  11. Oh, and thank you all for the X-Files love! It was quite a challenge to write such a different kind of story. I'm very eager for you all to read it. I think.

  12. Right now it is called "We should listen to some Shostakovich."
    (It uses the proper capitalization, but I am dictating and that is too difficult.)

  13. Hank, how great you have a story in the new X-Files collection! I loved the show, but never saw the movies. There was something about bees? That was before the days of DVR and I'd miss some episodes and get confused...

  14. I love that title Hank. Very X-Files-ish.

    I forgot to mention The Whispers. We are watching it as well and enjoying it. Unfortunately, the ratings for it a very poor, so I don't think it will get a second season. My hope is that the production team got this message early enough to make for a satisfying ending, otherwise, we are going to be left without answers and that will not make me happy.

  15. OK, if Krisopher says he like The Whispers, I am off to try The Whispers..... EVEN THOUGH IT LOOKS SUPER SCARY!

  16. I've never read anything by Stephen King either. I haven't even really tried. I read the set-up for The Secret History and got too freaked out to read.

    But I love Buffy and The X-Files and Penny Dreadful. During Penny Dreadful I even catch myself think "Wow, there is nothing about this I would ordinarily like, but I LOVE this show."

    (Mary Sutton, if you ever need to chat about Firefly, I am there for you. Firefly is my perfect show. :)

  17. kate, -- I'm the same way about Penny Dreadful!

    Firefly.... "I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you."

  18. I may have to look up Penny Dreadful now.

    "Things could get interesting."

    "Define interesting."

    "Oh god, oh god we're all gonna die?"

  19. Yes, Mr. Cozy has a dark side. I enjoyed Buffy and Angel (although I don't think of them are horror). Well, the only good thing in the final two seasons of Buffy was the musical, and I hated the way that Angel ended. Couple that with Serenity, and you can see why I'm leary of watching anything by Joss Whedon. Three strikes, he's out. (And I'm about to give up on Agents of SHIELD, which turned into a mess last season.)

    But here's the part that will probably really surprise you - I'm obsessed with slashers and a huge fan of the Scream franchise. Yes, I'm even watching the show on MTV.

  20. I can see we have some Firefly fans. Makes me want to watch it again, and I can't do that right now. (Damned book deadline!)

    I have seen every single episode of the X-Files, probably more than once. Does everyone know it is coming back for a mini-series this year? And, yes, with Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny???

  21. Oh Susan, I'll talk Firefly and Serenity and Nathan Fillion with you any time! And Penny Dreadful, too. This post is chock-full of things I love: Buffy, Joss Whedon, classic Stephen King, paranormal/supernatural (even the show Supernatural!), The Little Stranger, The Secret History, The Whispers ...

    What to comment on specifically? :-)

    I saw a trailer for what looks like it will be a really good scary/suspense movie. I love quiet, creepy horror that is just unnerving. It's called Goodnight Mommy. Can I leave a link here ... Let's see:

    It's in the The Babadook genre of horror, and if you haven't seen The Babadook, you gotta. Trust me on this one. (Stoker is another good film of this type.)

    What about zombies? I'm not into the serious gore zombie films (blech), but I like a nice campy zombie film. There was the romance one last year, I think -- can't remember what it's called. Also, there's an older one called "Fido," which is great.


  22. It's been years since I read it, and perhaps it wouldn't hold up on re-read, but Golden Age mystery writer Christianna Brand wrote a ghost story titled "The Brides of Aberdar" that scared the you-know-what out of me. And for classic horror, nothing beats Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw".

  23. P.S. Yes, Debs, can't wait for the X-Files mini-series! I love me some Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny.

  24. Now The Babadook, that was a movie that scared the sh*t out of me. I can't even explain why, but it totally freaked me out. Also happens to be an amazing metaphor for grief.

  25. With all this talk about Stephen King, I realize that it's about time for me to read one of his books again. I read him with long periods of abstinence, and with all the mystery reading I've been doing over the past five years or so, Mr. King has been neglected. Susan, Cujo was a scary one for me, too, and the fear factor was hyperextended throughout the reading. No relaxing on that one. The Shining is perfect in its isolated setting, the snowed-in factor of cozy with crazy. Delores Claiborne is another King I highly recommend. One of the reasons I have to take breaks from King is having read some of his more bizarre, not in a good way, stories. Gerald's Game and Rose Madder about sucked the life out of me. Oh, Susan, I continue to be amazed at the interesting people with whom you've worked. What a life! And you're still so young.

    Debs, my all-time favorite Stephen King is one I'd like to recommend for you. It's also one of his shortest novels. But, I consider it his most powerful. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon will satisfy every desire of being alone and lost with the boogey man on your trail. It also has a spiritual touch to it that really grabbed me and gave me the Wow factor. Oh, and Debs, I have had Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star on my shelf for ages and haven't yet read it. I actually pulled it out the other day and added it to my books I definitely want to get to this year. Now, you've spurred me on to read it sooner rather than later. Thanks!

    Hank, my favorite Dracula book is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, a brilliant author who doesn't publish nearly often enough. I think I've had my fill of vampires for a while, but I've always found vampire stories intriguing. I was a fan of True Blood when it was on HBO.

    As for the creepy, scary shows on TV. My husband said something to me about a show, which is not a scary one (Hell on Wheels), that made great sense. We watched a lot of the first season of that on DVD, one right after the other. It played out really well that way, and he mentioned that some shows really don't grab you during the first season if you watch them week by week. I think that happened to me and Penny Dreadful. I was excited when it first started, but I lost interest. I think if I watch the first season straight through to get to season 2, I would feel differently now. I may try that. I didn't start watching Whispers because I thought it was going to be stupid. May have to revisit that decision, too. The Walking Dead is a favorite for my husband and me, but we have watched the marathons that really help you get into it and stay with it, too.

    One show that I want to go back and watch is American Horror Story, or I think I do. I watched several episodes of the Freaks season, and I had to stop. Hard for me to handle children getting harmed. But, I want to see the Asylum one, and then maybe the others. Isn't the new one Hotel? Kristopher, didn't you watch American Horror Story?

    The classics like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits will always be favorites with me. I don't know how many times I've referenced wishing someone into the corn. Hahaha! And, the librarian with all those books and his glasses break. Tragic. I used to like Tales from the Crypt, too.

    Oh, and anything with Nathan Fillion is at the top of my list to discuss!

  26. I love spooky scary stuff, books, movies, TV shows, whatever. Deb, if you are going to read only one Stephen King book, I recommend 11/22/63. I was living in the DFW area at the time Kennedy was shot, and I loved every word of this book. Trust me on this. I am a nurse. ;

    Right now I am revisiting Shirley Jackson, just read LET ME TELL YOU: New Stories, Essays and Other Writings, and therefore have the need to scratch the Jackson itch. I think she does horror better than anyone, present company excluded naturally.

    And Kristopher, I agree with you re The Babadook. Also L'Orfanato, which I went to see two days in a row, no kidding. Geraldine Chaplin, in a small role, is a treat.

  27. Love, love, love the X-Files. The truth is out there. It was great when they had Darren McGavin guest on it. I used to read Stephen King years ago but I got mad at him and quit when he came out with Cujo. I was tired of nice people and pets buying the farm. but Salem's Lot was fun to watch on TV. The Shining really got to me when I read it since I had a very young son at the time. My youngest sister got me hooked on Buffy. Loved the humor. Remember the loan shark after Spike? I really enjoy paranormal stories too. I recommend anything by Simone St James. Ann Charles' Deadwood series is hilarious and scary at the same time. I've read 3 books in the Shades of London series; I hope there will be more. My sister and I have followed American Horror Story from the beginning. We always hash it over. I liked the insane asylum season best; she liked the carnival season. I could blather on and on. I've enjoyed spooky stuff since I was a kid and watched Twilight Zone (scared me to death at times), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Alcoa Presents, Thriller with Boris Karloff, and so forth.

  28. Karen, I wanted to add my condolences on your uncle's death, too. So sorry for your loss.

  29. I know, right, Kristopher? Wow. So well made. I almost couldn't handle it. I'm hoping Goodnight Mommy will be similar, hehe. (Gawd, am I masochist, or what?)

  30. Ann, I'll definitely check out L'Orfanato -- haven't heard of that one.

  31. I forgot to mention the upcoming Ash v the Evil Dead. Love Bruce Campbell. Gimme some sugar.

  32. Sure. I cross genres. I love Harry Dresden. I hang with Harry, Mouse, and Bob when stuff gets too real.

    Another goodie I just discovered is the Iron Druid Chronicles about a handsome modern Druid (note for Julia - a hot ginger hero! Yay! Plus, another charming pet!) by Kevin Hearne.

    I just finished reading K C Tansley's THE GIRL WHO IGNORED GHOSTS which has ghosts (of course), a curse, a murder, an American castle, and accidental time travel. You also may know K.C. also as Kourtney Heintz, who wrote the award-winning THE SIX TRAIN TO WISCONSIN, another paranormal/crime mix about a man trying to save his wife from her telepathy.

  33. Yes, Kathy, I do watch American Horror Story. The Freak Show season was just dreadful, so I am hoping that it has not lost it's "charm" (although that is not the right word). I did enjoy the other seasons, however and will be watching the Hotel season this year.

  34. Yes, exactly, Susan, sobering about bees. But I was never quite sure what…..but that's the X-files, right?

    ANd I'm not much on HORROR, you know. I usually close my eyes and wait for the music to change.

    Scariest EVER movie? The Vanishing, the real one, the Dutch one, not the Kiefer SUtherland one. Truly, I wish I could unwatch it

    And what I was trying to say hove, but spell correct got me, was that it's difficult to have a satisfying ending if the answer is "Aliens."

  35. I love Twilight Zone and Outer Limits and Hitchcock, suggestions and suspense instead of gore and noise, and plots developed enough that in my family commercial breaks were for discussion, interpretation, forecasting. I showed some TZ episodes to students. "To Serve Man" sparked excellent discussions and provided a perfect example of foreshadowing.
    Stephen King is usually too scary for me, but a student I trusted brought me her copy of Nightshift and told me to read "Quitters, Inc." I was right to trust her, and used the story with many future classes, again with great discussions.
    There are many books and movies that are too much for me, and several good friends have warned me away from many.
    Hugs and hope, Reine <3

  36. Ann, I have 11/22/63 on my to-read shelf. And my daughter loved it. I will get to it. I will, I will...

  37. Oh my gosh, Firefly! Yes please. And definitely Buffy/Angel-- somewhere on YouTube is a wonderful video of Buffy vs Edward (from Twilight).
    I'm not a horror book fan so much-- the last Steven King I read was "It"-- but I find that in most writers' groups I really like horror writers. I'm not sure what that means...

  38. For paranormal I highly recommend Tanya Huff: the Henry Fitzroy series (a vampire detective who is Henry VIII's bastard son), the Gales (about a family of witches), and a couple of others. Novel series with intelligent writing are one of my favorite things (obviously, or why am I here?).

  39. Susan, I really do enjoy "The Whispers" and I'm hoping it doesn't get canceled.

    Hank, I definitely want to read your X-Files story!

    So sorry for your loss, Karen; you and Reine and both of your families are in our thoughts and prayers.

  40. Oh, Hank, yes I want to read your story, too. I want to read everything you write!

    And, Reine, after your FB post today telling about your appointment not even being scheduled, I am furious that you are being treated like this. I so hope somebody in the wheelchair repair office gets their stuff together soon.