To Scare, Or Not To Scare

October is the perfect month to talk about a genre I’ll probably never write. Horror. That’s not to say I won’t write paranormal, or stories of haunted houses, or ghosts. I’m just saying I don’t think I’ll ever write Horror. I can’t. I think the ability to do so was scared out of me as a child.

By the end of this post, you might wonder why I say that I had the most wonderful parents a child could have, but I did. We lived on a farm, far from our neighbors, in a house full with kids. And we had books. Lots and lots of books. Adults, and children alike, were encouraged to read, and no book was off limits. Let me say that again: No book was off limits. I think I was ten when I picked up THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by author Shirley Jackson.

Did my parents know what I was reading? Yes, yes, they did. When I showed my mother the book she calmly told me that it would scare the “bejeebers” out of me, and then handed the book back to me. I knew that meant nightmares, but it was too late, I’d already started reading the story and there was no way I was putting the book down. It was one of the first “page-turners” I can ever remember reading. Several times, I slammed the book shut, vowing not to read another word, but I quickly realized that my thoughts didn’t stop just because the book was closed. I had to finish the story.

I didn’t fear the supernatural (that’s a story for another October) but this wasn’t just your regular run-of-the-mill haunted house tale. It was a psychological horror story. It was terror personified. Why in the world would any parent allow their ten-year-old child to read anything written by Shirley Jackson? I wasn’t able to answer that question for decades.

Looking back, I can think of dozens and dozens of books I read after that, trying to find another writer with the same unforgettable impact. And although many writers have come close, Stephen King for one, Shirley Jackson might be my biggest influence on the importance of honing the craft of writing. My only regret is that I do not possess the power to study her incredible art in depth, because anything she wrote still terrifies me.

Although I do not write horror stories, the art of writing one was not lost on me. Maybe Shirley Jackson’s influence translated into the writing I do today. I’m willing to say that she played a role. So, thank you, Mom and Dad, for allowing me to read whatever I wanted. If credit belongs to anyone, it rightfully belongs to you two first.

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