I just spent the past five days at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to get “F”ed. Or to start getting “F”ed. Let me explain…
Back in 2006, I completed SHU’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program to earn a Master of Arts in genre fiction writing. Death Perception (my fourth novel) was my thesis. SHU since upgraded the program to an Master of Fine Arts (a terminal degree), so I applied again last fall and was accepted. So I’m going back for the F.
The extra 27 credits will center on the teaching of creative writing and writing about popular fiction—something I want to do more of in the coming years. I’d also like to teach at the university level when I retire from technical writing.
The program consists of three week-long residencies, one in January and the other in June, graduating the following January. I’ll be working on another novel, tentatively titled Elder-Feral. My faculty mentor is Scott A. Johnson, author of Shy Grove: A Ghost Story and Cane River: A Ghost Story.
Wish me luck!
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I’ve been a lover of horror since, let’s see… Well, I don’t ever remember not being a lover of horror.
One of my earliest memories is of my family watching the original Salem’s Lot miniseries when it first aired in 1979. I was five. In the intervening years (no, I won’t tell you how many, and how rude of you to ask!), I’ve delved into every conceivable type of horror there is, and I love it all.
But when it comes to subgenres within the wider genre, I must admit I have a favorite.
Tales of spooks, apparitions, and hauntings really hit my sweet spot. I enjoy other subgenres—vampires and serial killers and werewolves and, yes, even zombies—but ghosts thrill me most.
I’ve written many ghost stories. Hell, I published a haunted house novel, 324 Abercorn, last year, and my latest release, 2B, is about a haunted apartment. I can’t get enough of exploring this subject.
Why, you ask? Good question.
It boils down to my penchant for atmospheric horror over the more graphic. Don’t get me wrong, blood and guts don’t bother me, but when it comes to what really scares me, I favor more subtle things and the ambiguous. Uncertainty and the unknown haunt me, pardon the pun, longer than something more concrete and in my face.
Ghost stories aren’t the only types that employ the atmospheric approach, but they do it most effectively. At least for me.
Ghost stories often start out subtly, with things slightly off kilter, the characters questioning if it’s all in their minds. This early part, when things are uncertain, is what I find the most suspenseful and unnerving, because we’ve all been there. Did I move my wallet from the table to the counter and simply don’t remember? Did the glass fall because it was sitting too close to the table’s edge? Is that noise like footsteps only the house settling? (After years of watching haunted house movies, “the house settling” has become to me a euphemism for “This house is haunted as shit, and we should get out before blood starts pouring out of the walls!”)
In my favorite ghost stories, such as The Dwelling by Susie Malonie and Stephen King’s The Shining, suspense gradually builds and tension tightens as events escalate. Even then there can be ambiguity. Some ghost stories intentionally leave you unsure if the haunting was real, suggesting the main character had a breakdown and was imagining it all. This in itself can be horrifying. I’d rather have an undead spirit in my house than realize I’m losing my mind and my grip on reality.
One terrifying implication of ghost stories is that we can never truly escape toxic or dangerous people. If death cannot stop some folks from tormenting us, then what hope is there?
The flipside is that those we love and cherish may never really leave us and, in this respect, some ghost stories can end on an uplifting note. This doesn’t make them any less horror, as I don’t believe all horror stories must end with the death of hope.
These thoughts are why ghost stories are my favorite horror subgenre and why I keep going back to it.
To see what I mean, check out my new novel, 2B, available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. “When your ex wants you dead, they will take you to the grave with them!”
Mark’s blog is at https://markgunnells.livejournal.com/. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @MarkAGunnells, and Instagram.
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