What is Horror?

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  • Tuesday, May 7, 2013
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  • Greig Beck
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  • Horror: noun – an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust. 

    Any author who writes stories that set out to thrill, shock or unnerve the reader will eventually be asked where their dark ideas come from. Also, and inevitably, they’ll be asked what is horror, and more importantly, what is good horror. 

    I’ll be putting together a number of interviews with industry experts, authors and publishers of the genre for ThrillerCentral. I’ll ask them to tell us what makes the subject so compelling. What scares them, and what books best represent good horror to them. 

    First up is Mr. Geoff Brown. Geoff is the President of the Australasian Horror Writers Association (AHWA), and an accomplished author in his own right.

    I asked Geoff to give us examples of authors/books that represent good horror to him. Here’s what he said. See if you agree, and enjoy! 

    Greig Beck – What is Horror – Part-1.


    What Makes Good Horror? When I am asked ‘what makes good horror’, as I often am, I usually reply with three things: vision, like Robert McCammon shows in Swan Song; powerful yet vulnerable characters, like Joe Hill’s Judas Coyne from Heart-Shaped Box; and strong prose, such as Jack Ketchum shows us in The Girl Next Door. 

    Swan Song – Robert R McCammon.

    In Swan Song, McCammon’s vision takes a post-apocalyptic world and makes it the scene for the final showdown between good and evil. The titular character, Swan, represents the good that our world has to offer, and the antagonist, the Man of Many Faces, seems an incarnation of the devil. 

    Swan Song covers many themes, but the main one seems to be redemption and forgiveness, a common theme within horror, yet one not worked very well at all in most cases. 

    Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill.

    Characters that seem realistic, characters with flaws that we actually care about, seem to be Joe Hill’s specialty. 

    Judas Coyne, the aging rocker protagonist from Heart-Shaped Box, exemplifies this. 

    I loved this play on an unreliable narrator, and found Judas to be one of the most human protagonists I have found in any horror fiction. 

    The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum.

    Jack Ketchum takes a true crime (as he usually bases his writings on), and tears it apart for the sake of great literature. In this classic of modern lit, the story of the 1965 torture of Sylvia Likens is dramatized by Ketchum. His main strength, I feel, is his sparse yet powerful prose, and his ability to take such a terrible crime, and tell a convincingly-traumatic tale without going into the realms of exploitation. 

    The secret of this is his writing style, where he manages to maintain an air of innocence that is permeated with a constant sense of malevolence, of something dark and dangerous lurking just underneath the coming-of-age surface tale. 

    For the Night is Dark - His Own Personal Golgotha.

    I try to maintain something of each of these qualities in all that I write under the pseudonym GN Braun. In my most-recent published story, ‘His Own Personal Golgotha’, I tried to create a flawed and unreliable protagonist, and a vision of something more than Earthly, something beyond what we accept as everyday occurrences. A search for redemption, a punishment, a circular purgatory; all these concepts are represented. 

    The anthology Golgotha appears in, For the Night is Dark, is available from all good websites, including Nook, kobo, and Amazon, in both print and ebook versions. 

    Geoff Brown – President, Australian Horror Writers Association


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