Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Accidental Horror Writer by Katherine Hajer

horror writer

I told a co-worker about seeing The Woman in Black. I admitted that I’d deliberately seen a matinee, but wound up putting on extra lights at night because I was still freaked out come nightfall.

She laughed. “Why did you go see it if you scare so easily?”

“I thought it would be scary like Skeleton Key.”

Pause. “I saw that. That wasn’t scary.”

“Yeah it was. For me.”

“Wait,” she said. “Wasn’t that story you got published last spring about someone being buried alive?”

Yes. Yes it was.

Horror, like its next-door neighbour science fiction, has invaded the mainstream cultural consciousness to such an extent that it can be hard to tell where the genre ends and the mainstream begins. It can be difficult for the reader, but difficult for the writer, too. It isn’t necessarily horror just because it’s scary, and it isn’t necessarily horror because it has supernatural elements and/or gore in it either.

On both the reading and writing sides of stories, there’s a tendency to feel around what a story is with syllogisms: “X recommended this to me, and I liked the last thing X recommended to me, so I will try and read this (or try to write more like that)”. Or simply, “Everything I ever like to read in this bookshop winds up being from this section, so this must be the genre I like the best.”

It gets tricky when the fit is less than perfect. Horror means gory much of the time, and if you can’t handle a lot of gore (I can’t), it means there’s a lot of perfectly good and scary books and movies that you can’t experience. It also means that it can be difficult to see yourself as a horror writer (or just as someone who wrote a horror story) if you associate the genre with things you can’t handle, rather than the stories you enjoy.

A few years ago I wrote a short story based on a passing remark a horror-fan friend of mine made. Since I quoted what he said in the story, I passed a polished draft to him to get approval for using the quote.

When we discussed the story, he gave the names of some magazines to submit the story to for publication.

“But those are all horror,” I said.

“It’s a first-person account of someone reanimating after being dead for days,” he said. “That counts as horror.”

And maybe that’s the problem with the idea of genre in general: too much overlap, too much activity at the border areas, too much debate about what is “core” and what isn’t. Just because someone likes near-future thrillers doesn’t mean they like space opera. Just because someone enjoys zombie films doesn’t mean they enjoy serial-killer slashers or torture porn.

Maybe the accidental horror writer is a sign that it’s time for the genres to be redefined.

You can find out more about Katherine Hajer at

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20 tips for the perfect short horror story

short horror story


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The key to writing the perfect short horror story is not to panic!

  1. Pick something that could happen to your reader.
  2. Pick a location that’s familiar to your reader.
  3. Eat, drink, sleep the horror that you have created before you actually begin to write. Lie back in a darkened room and really visualize it. Scare the pants off yourself.
  4. Go to your location or one that looks like it and sit there quietly for a while. If your story takes place on a quiet street in the early hours, find one, get up in the early hours and drink it up. Take a pad and write down some notes about what you see and how you feel.
  5. Try to see the story from three or four different views even if they won’t be in the final version. Choose someone timid, someone thick skinned, someone religious. The choice is yours.
  6. Take your time, build up the pressure, slowly but surely. This may be a short horror story but you’ve got more time than you think to lay out your stall.
  7. Stay focussed. Don’t get bogged down in back story. In fact, try giving back story a miss altogether.
  8. Anticipation is nine tenths of the horror story battle – let your reader know something bad is going to happen, lead them there by the hand.
  9. Dig deep into that horror. Choose one that scares you. If it doesn’t scare you, how do you expect it to scare the hell out of your dear reader?
  10. Throw a few red herrings in there, twist them on their heads. The old cat jumping out of the fridge is a bit of cliché but you get my drift.
  11. If you’re scared of heights, go and stand on the edge of a tall building and lean over, if you’ve got a spider phobia, go and put one on the palm of your hand. Remind yourself how real fear feels.
  12. Don’t overload your reader with gore. It becomes boring and they quickly attain sensitisation. A splash of blood here and there will do fine.
  13. Don’t over describe. You’re not Dickens. Give your reader some credit that they can imagine your ultimate horror. Don’t be afraid that they won’t get the point.
  14. Keep the monster/horror hidden for as long as possible.
  15. Read the best and the worst of horror. Reread the passages that got your heart racing and try to see how the author did it. Look at the way you reacted and imagine that’s what you want your reader to feel.
  16. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles. Write a couple of different versions of your short horror story to see how it comes out.
  17. Leave your first draft for a decent amount of time so that you come back to it fresh. For some people that’s a couple of days. For others it’s a couple of months.
  18. Always, always read your draft through once without touching it before you sit down to edit.
  19. Check you have the right vocabulary to scare. Choose the words to describe your fear with care. Make sure they fit and sound right. Try not to use unusual words that your reader won’t readily know the meaning to. It will break the flow. You’re trying to build fear not a larger vocab.
  20. Don’t forget that your short horror story isn’t written in stone. It can change. It can evolve. It can be totally different from the original. Don’t be afraid to delete stuff that doesn’t belong.

Got a tip of your own for writing a short horror story? Add it in the comments section below.


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What sells your book?

What really sells your book?

  • Do you get all your sales from Twitter, Facebook, a combination of things?
  • Have you made a YouTube video that’s upped your book sales by a billion percent?
  • Does persistent spamming and DMing people you don’t know work?
  • Have you tried pay-per-click?
  • Have you done a blog tour thats been really successfully or a total waste of time?
  • Have you sold your soul to the devil and really don’t have to bother with trivial things such as social networking?
  • Have you emailed people pictures of fossilized pooh asking them to buy your book?

Those are just some of the questions The Feckless needs to answer about what sells your book. If you are an indie writer, we’d like to hear from you.

So get writing, do it from the heart as usual, and get your views down and dirty in the comments section below. Whether you’re a beginner or a marketing demon, we want to hear from you…

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Writing Horror by Lisamarie Lamb

It seems an odd thing to do, writing horror. When there is a wealth of genres out there and I could be writing about perfect love or fantastic dragons or gun-toting cowboys, why choose to create the most terrifying, the most soul-shredding, the most unwelcome?

My answer is a simple one: because I like it. I like horror.

I like to read it, I like to watch it, I like to think about it, and I like to write it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.

As to why I like it, that’s a more complicated question, with a different kind of answer.

As a child, I was scared. A lot. Most of the time. Not that I wasn’t a happy child, with a normal family and normal surroundings and normal friends. I was. Perfectly normal. But I was also perfectly scared. There was a seeping, creeping horror that hovered around me, enveloped me, and at night I would scrunch my eyes shut and hide beneath the covers in the hope that whatever it was wouldn’t see me because I couldn’t see it.

And there was, as far I can tell, as far as I can remember, no reason for it. Nothing that particularly stands out as being that one specific moment in which something happened – something ghostly and ghoulish and downright petrifying – that haunted me for the rest of my days.

I was a normal girl, but a strange one.

Being alone was bad. I hated it. These days I crave a bit of solitude, but then, when that fear stole over me, I only wanted to be around people. It’s just that sometimes, there were no people to be around. And so I created some. I reached the age of twelve and simply decided that I needed constant, immediate access to someone.

But who? And how?

I started to go to bed and instead of cowering under the covers I moulded myself heroes and heroines, safe houses and refuges. I began to make up stories. These stories became my talisman, protecting me from the real evil by pretending about it. It seemed to me that nothing in the real world could possibly be as frightening as the world I was creating in my head, and so my heroes were slain, horribly. My heroines were kidnapped and tortured. My safe houses and refuges were pillaged by monsters and demons and ghosts.

And because I’d made it all up, just me, by myself, it wasn’t so scary after all. I enjoyed it. And I began to write my stories down. I began to read other people’s stories. I began to watch the films. Because it was all safe. It was all made up.

I’ve been doing that ever since.

Just don’t ask me to read or watch any ‘true’ horror stories.

They keep me up at night.

You can find out more about Lisamarie at The Moonlit Door.

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Should indie writers hire an editor?

hire an editor

A big subject in the indie/self-publishing world, the general consensus is that you should hire an editor to look at your work much the same as if you had been taken on by a “proper” publishing house.

Before thinking whether to hire an editor or not, every indie writer and self-publisher should ask some searching questions:

  • Is my work of art good enough?
  • Am I prepared to listen to what the editor says?
  • Can I find an editor enthusiastic enough to look at my book and work on it with me?
  • Can I afford this editor?
  • Then, once again, just in case you lied to yourself the first time round: Is my itty-bitty book worth the effort and the financial outlay?

Be honest before you hire an editor

You have been working on this remarkable novel for the last two years. You’ve poured your heart and soul into it, not to mention a good few litres of cheap vino to get your creative juices flowing. You’ve finished. You think it’s the bee’s knees. Your sister thinks it’s the greatest thing that’s ever been written. Your mother has called from beyond the grave to say it’s marvellllllouuuussssoooou…

But ask yourself this question:

Is it going to set the world on fire?

In all probability, the answer to this is going to be no. Ouch! Did that hurt? I apologise.

Face the facts

90% of the self-published stuff out there is crap. Yours may or may not be amongst that pile of shit-drivel, or it may be. You might be honest enough with yourself to admit that. But you have to accept the fact that, in all probability, your beautiful novel is not going to be in the top 10% of Kindle all time greats.

Accept this and be free: Your novel is not going to cause a major sensation, people are not going to be talking about it at bus stops and in cafes, you’re not going to be invited to posh soirees, drinking champagne and discussing literary shit with the glitterati, and no one but your immediate friends and family is ever going to know you as a serious writer.

It doesn’t matter! Let it go.

So, once more with feeling, should you fork out on a professional editor?

If you’re a decent writer and you’ve written something good, and you have the money to burn/waste/invest, then it’s worth the effort.

First off, make sure you find a good editor. A good editor will tell you before she’s even asked you for money that your book is:

  1. Worth some effort, or
  2. A pile of KACK

HEALTH WARNING: A good editor will charge you a fair whack but she/he won’t take you on without you being sure your book is worth it.

If your book is a pile of KACK and the EDITOR takes it on, they’re not an EDITOR they’re just a piss-taking-fuck-wit-troll who knows a sorry ass when they see one.

Research your editor. Don’t accept them at face value. Find out who they’ve worked with. Contact those people to see if they’re happy.

If you’re one of the five zillion or so writers with hope in their hearts but not quite enough talent to make the big splash, then stop looking for an editor. The work you have created is your own. It belongs to you and it may even sell a few copies and you may get some rave reviews from your friends and a couple of negative ones from people you’ve never met.

As Humphrey Bogart once said: “It don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

But do me a favour…

If you are going to self-publish. DOOOOOOOO get yourself a proof-reader. Your story may be shite but at least the grammar and the typos should be ironed out. Have a little respect for your dear reader.

By the way, proof-readers cost a lot less than an editor.

Leave your comments down below as usual, you rat-arsed scribes of the dark and twisted tale…

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