I’m so privileged to have the talented Gail Z. Martin today talking about horror, suspense, and urban fantasy as part of her Days of the Dead Blog Tour!
How do you decide whether a book is horror, suspense or urban fantasy? Does it matter? Do you care?
I categorize ‘suspense’ as something like The Woman in Black or Rose Red—creepy and atmospheric with a lot of implied threat and monsters in the shadows so that your imagination does the rest. Personally, I favor these over the blood and gore fest kind of movie. I like the way the tension builds.
In many ways, I think the suspense movie is the darker cousin of a mystery. You think something is wrong, but you don’t have the information to prove it, so no one believes you, not even you—until it’s too late. Usually, there’s an old scandal or injustice awaiting long-delayed vengeance. Often, the protagonist is drawn in against his/her will but not actually kidnapped or taken by force. The main character doubts intuitive warnings, and by the time he/she is convinced that something bad and spooky is going on, it’s too late. Suspense specializes in the movement you almost see out of the corner of your eye, the shadows that are a little too dark, the chair that rocks by itself. The individual images aren’t horrific in and of themselves, but they play on your nerves, building a sense of impending doom from an enemy you still haven’t seen so you don’t know how to fight.
I’ve heard it said that horror creates a sense of helplessness which is key to the impact. The monsters are bigger, the blood flows in rivers, and especially toward the ‘goreno’ end of the genre, too much is never enough. Horror plays on revulsion as much as helplessness, with a dependence on the demonization of physical deformity that may cue primal reactions but doesn’t live up to our enlightened best.
Horror is also often heavily moralistic. Teenage sex leads to dismemberment. Not reading your map carefully leads to death by cannibal hillbilly. Not being where you belong results in really bad stuff. Teenage girls should never answer the phone when they’re alone in the house. In that sense, they are the inflated version of the warnings you probably got from your mother. Lock the doors. Don’t talk to strangers. Make sure your cell phone is with you and charged. Check your gas tank and tire pressure. Don’t be alone in dark places. Break the rules and bad things happen.
Some experts say that horror is one way we as a culture deal with uncertainty. (I’ve never heard if it’s just Americans, or everyone. We might just be weird.) Supposedly there are studies that prove that when the economy is bad, monster and horror movies come back into vogue. Maybe it’s a way for us to project our real-world worries (that we can’t do anything about, thus making us feel helpless) onto the silver screen, where we still feel helpless but it’s okay because it’s just a movie. Gotta love catharsis.
And then there’s urban fantasy. To me, urban fantasy borrows a lot from suspense (as well as noir/detective) and adds in elements of horror. That can be played for laughs, as with Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shambles zombie detective, or played with British wit, like Simon R. Green’s Nightside, or played for straight horror, like the early Anita Blake books and some scenes in the Harry Dresden books. (One reviewer who read my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy complained it gave her nightmares!) Urban fantasy plays on our uneasiness about the big city (or our qualms about how well we really know our neighbors, even in a small town like Sookie Stackhouse’s Bon Temps).
Urban Fantasy gives us much worse explanations for the movement in the shadowed alley than a mere purse snatcher. The genre tells us that while we might be safe in the light, the night is still ruled by beings much older and hungrier than we are. The use of ancient mythological figures and monsters as well as beings like the Fey and vampires reminds us that humans are a young race and that we don’t know nearly as much as we like to think we know.
To me, I think the scariest thing that suspense, horror and urban fantasy provides is knocking our pride down a few pegs. We don’t know everything. We don’t have it all figured out. We aren’t really top of the food chain. Money, power and privilege isn’t worth a flying rat’s ass if you can’t outrun a zombie. Gated communities won’t keep out the walking dead. The things we put our trust in to save us can’t rescue us from the worst situations. Maybe now and then, we need a horror movie to remind us of that.
Pass the popcorn.
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www.AscendantKingdoms.com
Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! Grab your envelope of book swag awesomeness from me & 10 authors http://on.fb.me/1h4rIIe before 11/1!
Trick or Treat! Excerpt from my new urban fantasy novel Vendetta set in my Deadly Curiosities world here http://bit.ly/1ZXCPVS Launches Dec. 29
Treats not Tricks! Enjoy a super-scary excerpt from my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure Monstrosities http://bit.ly/1ZG0TMW
Trick Or Treat from my friend John Hartness’s Quincy Harker series Raising Hell Chp 1 http://bit.ly/1MEMFSQ
More Treats! Dragon’s Lure excerpt http://www.sidhenadaire.com/books/DLEmberling.pdf
Plenty of tricks! And excerpt from my Retribution Deadly Curiosities short story in the Athena’s Daughters anthology http://w.tt/1sipN0O
About the Author
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.
Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books.
Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures, The King’s Convicts series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Realms of Imagination, Heroes, With Great Power, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space, Contact Light, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens.