Hello, Creeps and Ghoulies and welcome to the first in a three-part conversation with the darling and intimidate, Kristen Jett of PenandMuse.com, one of the lovely hosts of The Dark Carnival series. I didn’t even have to bribe her!
Kristen and I got to talking over Twitter about horror movies and it was love at first geek. So in the first bit of this mini series, Kristen shares with us how she got into horror, what scares her, and an extremely disturbing experience. You did read the title, right?
What is your earliest horror memory?
KJ: Somehow as a child, I managed to get myself into a room showing The Exorcist. To this day, no one’s sure how this happened – my mother swears she wouldn’t have let me watch such a thing at the tender age of five, while my father questioned if I snuck into the room unknown. (If you’ve ever watched me try to sneak around a house quietly, you probably won’t buy this answer.)
I have no answers. All I know is Regan MacNeil fascinated me. Her filthy mouth. Her savage changes from innocent to tainted. The lesson of just what could be lurking in the everyday shadows. The possibility of that being any girl. It could happen to me. I was too terrified to climb out of my blanket and leave the room, and I was too mesmerized to even consider not watching. This was my first encounter with horror – how fear could be entangled with so many other emotions to become something almost enjoyable.
What got you hooked on horror?
KJ: I’ve always been fascinated with the taboo. Ouija board? I was going to try it. Haunted railroad? Sure, I’ll go sit in the dark and wait for it. Since this activity wasn’t always encouraged as a child (I can’t imagine why), horror movies and books were my go to. I enjoyed the rush, the flirting with darkness, and the hint of the shadow world represented in them, but I don’t think I quite understood how powerful horror could be until I read Stephen King’s IT. I’d never met a book which could reduce me back to a little girl who needed a nightlight to go to sleep before. I’d never met a book that had me eying the sunset, knowing I was too superstitious to read the book past it. The concept that mere words could take over my life in such a way was addictive.
We could psychoanalyze this with the comparison of how fear is like sex. (I spent my first semester of college studying this. There’s a scientific reason why you should take your dates to horror movies, boys.) But there’s more to it than just that. Horror is about letting go – losing control, and finding the peace in that. Horror is about discovering the complexities of your shadow self. Most importantly, horror is about breaking all the rules.
Note that my horror addiction hasn’t ever brought me back to read IT again. Oh, I’ve looked at it in bookstores. I’ve eyed it like a long lost lover. And with one small shudder, I always turn away in a hurry to reach for the unknown – which is somehow safer than the known lands within the pages of IT.
What scares you?
KJ: Cornfields. I grew up in an one-stoplight farm town, but I still could never rationalize my fear of cornfields away. There could be people hiding in them. OR CREEPY LITTLE BLONDE CHILDREN TRYING TO SACRIFICE ME TO THEIR DEMON OVERLORD. Thanks, Stephen King. On a similar note, (as you may have guessed) I hate clowns. You can blame Stephen King for that too. Don’t let your children read IT when they’re in middle school, y’all. Just don’t.
Not to undermine my fear or cornfields and balloon toting clowns, I think people tend to be frightened by the unknown or the unexplainable. As a reader, I’m more frightened by what I can’t rationalize. I expect the unknown and the unexplainable in novels. But if I can rationalize it away in any form, I can quiet the fear. Otherwise, I’m awake at 4am during a snowstorm muttering about how there’s no such things as vampires and I’m sure they can’t possibly be on my roof as I cringe at the sound of every fallen snow bluff.
Do you have any real life horror stories?
KJ: Enough to fill a novel. I’m the bonafide supernatural expert in my friendships. I’m also not sure this is a title one should wear with pride, but… *shrugs*
My first encounter with the supernatural was a ouija board at a slumber party. Aren’t they all? (Hadn’t I learned anything from The Exorcist? Apparently not.) I didn’t believe one single bit, especially as we were doing it in the daytime. What ghosts are out in the daytime anyway? We were “talking” to a boy about our age, as I rolled my eyes at the whole ordeal. Did I believe in the supernatural? Yes. Did I believe that some spirit didn’t have anything better to do than come amuse a bunch of bossy little girls? Nope. Little naive KJ learned better when “Be my girlfriend” spelled out, and a wet kiss landed on her cheek – followed by visible (and touchable!) kisses on all her friends. A few high-pitched shrieks later, a run to the bathroom to inspect our faces, and that Ouija board was tucked firmly away.
My last encounter could be a novel by itself – I worked in a haunted office where I’d leave the room for thirty seconds to find my very heavy keys were on the middle of my desk, sitting on the papers I was just using, instead of in my zipped purse (that resided inside a tote bag)…when I was the only person in the building, had a parrot scream at me in what I think was German before telling me to go lock the door, and have been called into a dark corner by my coworker’s voice after I just saw her walk out the front door. (If you’re imagining my OH, HELL NO face, you’d be right there.) At the peak of the….activity…in the office, I refused to walk into two particular rooms by myself unless EVERY SINGLE LIGHT was on because you can’t exactly tell your boss “Oh by the way, there’s something very dead in the other room, and I don’t think he likes me very much.”
Not if you want to sound sane anyway.
Why do you think people are drawn to horror?
KJ: I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for this, and I typically find them lacking. You know the sort: adrenaline, arousal, to escape the horror in their own lives, that sort of thing. Those do make up for a bit of it, but that’s a bit incomplete. I pick up any book to escape from my life – regardless of how good or not so good it may be at that time – so what is it that makes me pick up a horror novel over say a smutty romance? I’m certainly not an adrenaline junkie, so we can rule that out as the sole why.
I keep buying those horror novels and sitting through marathon hours of horror films because it fills a void. Even when they’re entirely implausible (Hey Halloween series, I’m looking at you.), they drum up real feelings. I can depend on horror to make me feel something, even if that’s just shock or fear. I can depend on horror to make me want to be something – to be brave, to be strong, to be a better character. I can depend on horror to keep me questioning why people behave the way they do, and what secrets are being unraveled in the dark. Other genres may make me think and feel as well, but they’re not dependable.
What would you like to see more of?
KJ: Intelligent horror. I think it’s become easy to use tropes in horror – and as enjoyable as the tropes are (and as much as I love campy horror novels!) – I really like to relate to a character. I don’t want to spend large portions of the book or movie rolling my eyes at the protagonist, or screaming WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? DO YOU WANT TO DIE?
Sure, the average person isn’t going to do the perfect thing in the face of sheer horror (says the girl who once stuck her head out of a window when someone knocked it in the middle of the night), but I expect a character to still mostly make rational decisions, and react in a way that makes them relatable to me.
Also, I’d LOVE to meet a character who really knows their supernatural stuff. I’m tired of amateur ghost hunters who walk into a building unprepared. (To get me into a truly haunted house, you’d have to promise me a supply of Holy water, Florida water, and sea salt as a bare minimum. I wouldn’t say no to one of those handy rock salt shotguns from Supernatural either.) I want smarts, wits, and spooks. Can’t a girl have it all?
What’s your favorite scary movie?
KJ: The Exorcist.
My guilty pleasure movies are: 30 Days of Night (because vampires who are monsters are a breath of fresh air), Wrong Turn (because I secretly want to be as tough as Eliza Dushku’s character), and Resident Evil (because if zombies ever attack, I hope I look as hot as Alice does). I’ll also never say no to a Scream movie, even if I’m the only one in the room who appreciates the clever parodies of the genre hidden within the film.
I hope you all enjoy this little chat with Kristen (I did, and now I’ll be salting my room this evening). Come back tomorrow–yes, it’s a THREE POST WEEK–when KJ and I will be talking and showing our favorite horror tropes.
Kristen Jett (or KJ)
writes YA fiction – often with a touch of paranormal presence. She hopes if vampires exist that it’s the drop dead gorgeous kind, and not the eat you for dinner kind. She’s the co-founder of Pen and Muse
+ Pen and Muse Press
, havens for those who love the written word. Feel free to scream with her on Twitter
when girls run up the stairs instead of out of the front door in horror movies.