I was on a Twitter ramble earlier about horror because, you know, I write it and the further I get into this book process, the more I’m learning about STUFF. Book stuff. How people react to book stuff. I make no secret that I’m a horror fan. I’m not a maniac like Dave, but I’m no slouch. I watch a lot of horror movies, I have a solid background in all the classics. I get how horror fandom works. I understand the “beauty” of gore (even if I don’t particularly care for it myself) and I can sit through most horror movies without flinching.
I want to touch on that last point today. I, Hillary, can sit through most horror movies without flinching.
Most people I know cannot.
Because I’m desensitized thanks to extended exposure to the genre.
Most people I know are not.
My friend Autumn likened it to growing up eating spicy foods. I really like this analogy. A person who is fed spicy food day in and day out will have far more tolerance for spice. Their palate is far different than someone who eats only mac and cheese every day. What’s mild to your spice eater will be BOOYAH HOT to your mac and cheese eater. Horror works in the same way, I think. A movie has to work harder to make me spook because I’ve seen so many others, but relatively “mild” scares could send my non-horrorite friends through the ceiling.
This isn’t a bad thing, but it is noteworthy, especially considering there is (in my estimation) a significant gap between a full-throttle adult horror novel and a YA horror novel. The body count is less in YA, the gore is tuned way, way down. You are writing for teens, after all, so the vanilla slant is to be expected. But I think for people who are used to something more extreme, there’s bound to be a sense of disappointment picking up your typical YA horror novel. It’s going to seem very bubblegum. And sure, some people will temper their expectations, but some won’t because all they want from their book is entertainment—which is absolutely fair–and the book is giving them a hamburger patty when they hunger for prime rib.
So what’s the horror author to do? There’s an unspoken choice here, yeah?
A) Write a book aimed at the mac and cheese eater.
B) Write a book aimed at the spice eater.
Sure, some people find that magical line between (I think Charlie Higson does it with THE ENEMY) but for the most part you will lean one way or the other. Choice A is the more commercial choice. You can cast a wider net and snag more “regular” readers that way but you’ll inevitably disappoint the horror aficionados. You’ll also appeal to more editors because horror isn’t quite like other genres–it gets a visceral reaction from people. Folks can either do gore/violence/scares or they can’t, and if you have an editor who’s a mac and cheese eater, they’re going to fling a hardcore horror novel away like it’s the hottest tamale in the universe. (For a point of reference? MARY had editors who couldn’t get past the first “real” scare during the sub process. And according to my palate, that book is on the mild side.)
Choice B might feed the horror writer’s soul, and they might feel that they’re speaking to their tribe, but it’s also a more limited audience and it’s definitely going to have more limited publication options. It’s also risking being a put-down for a lot of non-horror fans and that’s money out of the pocket. From my experience? More people AREN’T fans of horror than are. We might all enjoy The Sixth Sense or a rewatch of The Shining, but that’s not quite fandom. That’s indulging in a genre film every once in a while. The fans I’m talking about will see twelve films playing at the cinema and almost always pick the horror movie despite the new Leo DiCaprio blockbuster. They’ll know who Fulci was. Coffin Joe will be a thing to them.
Being a horror fan who wrote what I comfortably call introductory horror probably means I’m a sellout in some ways. I’m letting my tribe down. I’m okay with that, I think. MARY does what I wanted it to do, and maybe someone will read my book and decide that horror is for them and extend their search to bloodier, more visceral reads. The notion delights me. But acknowledging that I pulled punches means I also acknowledge that this book probably won’t appeal to the seasoned horror vet, and that makes me a little sad.
Complicated! Interesting, yes, but complicated.