PPW Workshop: Scaring Your Readers, Part I

November 3 was the PPW workshop, "Scaring Your Readers." Steve Rasnic Tem, Melanie Tem, and Carrie Vaughn attended; Ed Bryant was ill and missed.

Turns out writers, both amateurs and professional, like to talk about random stuff that just happens to be interesting. I could get used to this...

A caveat: I tried to catch everything I could, but I missed a lot and paraphrased even more.

PPW: What drives you to delve into the darker side of things?

Melanie Tem: These things are of foremost interest to me, in theme and character.

Steve Rasnic Tem: I've always been interested in the dark and strange, things that nobody else wanted to talk about.

Carrie Vaughn: I always get the reaction, 'Oh, but you seem like such a nice person." I like to peel back layers. Stories get darker than you intend. I like to get a reaction out of the reader.

PPW: What were your early influences?

CV: Ray Bradbury is very atmospheric and has lots of twists. Charlotte's Web.

SRT: King Arthur, Robin Hood, Jules Verne, fairy tales. British ghost stories.

MT: My father wanted to be a writer but passed it on to me. My book Yellow Hound will be about that. It's coming out in 2009. My father thought genre fiction was not important literature. But we did read some page turners. Eugene Fields's poem, "Little Boy Blue." The Diary of Anne Frank.

PPW: Who do you read now?

SRT: Cormack McCarthy. Robert Parker.

CV: Moby Dick. Steven Ericson. Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Ian Banks.

MT: Francine Prose, "A Changed Man." Maria Doria Russell, "The Sparrow." Toni Morrison.

PPW: Where do you see your genres going?

CV: My genre is "urban fantasy." I've also heard, unfortunately, "Bit-Lit" (Chick Lit with vampires), but thankfully the term hasn't caught on yet.

SRT: I don't like genre classifications. Horror, other than vampire fiction, is death in the marketplace. My agent says they [publishers] want "Stealth Horror." It's a good thing creatively. Horror tends to be a very conservative genre.

MT: To me, you write what you ant to write. I know, it's an ivory tower approach, but it's an honest creative approach to write first and then look for a market. If you write for a market first, you can skew your style.

PPW: Are there any taboo subjects?

CV: I'm going to channel Ed here. Different people have different tolerances.

MT: We wrote a book about repressed memories of sexual abuse.

SRT: It depends so much on the editors.

PPW: What do readers take away from a good scare?

CV: Why do people ride roller coasters? They're in danger, but they're perfectly safe. It's a primal hindbrain thing.

SRT: It's a safe release. Readers can try out different lifestyles, situations they don't experience in real life.

MT; My day job is as a social worker. For me, I ten to go for disturbing people. Fearing the demons. There's a Buddhist [technique?] called "calling death out of shadows." You put it on your shoulder, where it will be less scary, more understandable at a primal level.