Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The “H-word”

At Terrible Minds, this guest post from Alan Baxter: The H-Word

I often used to have conversations that went something like this:

Some person: So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a writer.

That person: Oh, cool! What do you write?

Me: Horror, mostly, usually mixed up with a lot of crime and thriller stuff.

But they already narrowed their eyes at the first word. Everything I said after “horror” was a blur to them, and I just know they’re visualizing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Freddy Kruger, slicing knives and gouting blood. 

Baxter discusses this phenomenon and then segues to his newer conversational gambits:

Some person: So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a writer.

That person: Oh, cool! What do you write?

Me: Supernatural thrillers mostly, often mixed up with a lot of crime and noir stuff.

Or

Me: Dark fiction, thrillers with weird supernatural and crime elements.

Much discussion then ensues. It’s worth reading, so click through if you have a minute and find the topic interesting. I do find it interesting, partly because I have exactly the reaction Baxter describes … oh, wait, no, not exactly.

When I hear the word “horror,” I do think, How gross is this going to get, because I hate too much disgusting imagery. That obviously overlaps with the slasher flick idea, though spurting blood is not gross. I don’t feel inclined to describe the kinds of things that are too gross for me, but violence alone is not what I’m thinking of.

But more importantly, when I hear “horror,” I also think, Probably too grim and awful for me. When I hear “supernatural crime thriller,” I think, Oh, that sounds like it might be pretty keen. I don’t think of horror as a code word for slasher flicks, I think of horror as a code word for “Characters you really like are probably going to die in terrible ways and the ending may be completely awful and tragic.”

Baxter points out that Steven King is (a) the best-known horror writer, and (b) not writing slasher novels, which is true, but you know what King does write? Books where characters I really like are probably going to die in terrible ways, no matter how he has to contort the plot to kill them. He didn’t used to predictably do that, but then all his books started to include this element, and now I never touch his novels because I simply hate that. I never watched enough slasher flicks to have much of an association with them, but I read enough King novels to have this other association set in pretty firm concrete.

When I hear “dark fantasy” or “supernatural thriller” or something like that, I don’t have the same reaction. This is largely because I expect dark fantasy and thrillers of all kinds to have positive endings, and I can at least hope the gross-out factor might be low-ish. So, though I have no problem if Baxter wants to try to reclaim the word and get people to think of something less awful when they hear “horror,” if he wants to make readers like me click through to Amazon and check out his books, he really ought to continue saying “supernatural crime thriller.”

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2 Comments The “H-word”

  1. Robert

    Yeah, pretty much everything you said. And for anything labeled “dark” I’ll also usually check out goodreads to see if anyone mentions how gory it is.

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