Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


There’s an old adage that says that writers should write what they read. In other words, those who read fantasy novels should be creating their own worlds. And those who love a good chilling horror tale should breathe life into their own creepy-crawlies.

I don’t necessarily agree with this. I’ve certainly met plenty of successful authors who do exactly the opposite. At one conference, legendary horror writer John Saul was asked which horror writers he liked to read. He laughed and said, “Oh God, I couldn’t read horror! It would scare me to death!”

That said, I do understand the logic behind the adage. Those who read mystery novels voraciously should have a better idea of the mechanics of a good mystery than those who have never strayed from the world of science fiction. But maybe not. Maybe a die hard reader of literary period fiction will wake up one day with the makings of a perfect mystery running round her brain…you never know.

I tend to write the type of books that I’d love to read–if I could find them. IĀ adore a good eerie tale, but one where the spooky stuff is at least partly left up to the imagination. Was it a ghost, or was it just a bad guy messing with her mind? Those are the books I love, but they’re very hard to find.

< Warning: Spoilers for the move “Sixth Sense” below!>

I’m always looking for something–be it book or movie–that will scare me. That will genuinely unnerve me, or make a shiver cross my spine days later. The Sixth Sense was that type of movie. Yes, the ghosts in that flick were very much in-your-face, but the fact that Malcolm Crowe was dead and would never have a chance to patch things up with his wife haunted me for days. Even though the thrill of the twist ending is over, I still enjoy watching that movie. It is character-driven, and it is brilliant. Sadly, in my humble opinion, M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t been able to replicate that success ever since. He churns out another “scary” movie almost every year, and each one is a pale imitation of his first big hit.

As for books, I love Stephen King’s Bag of Bones. While not exactly terrifying, King managed to slowly build this great feeling of foreboding. “There’s something not right in this town,” you think, and you are right. Few can pull off this mood-setting like King–he’s the master.

Are there books out there you’d like to see but can’t find? Do they inspire your writing?

And, most importantly, do you have a good spooky story you can recommend? Book or movie–it doesn’t matter. I’m always looking for my next fix.

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  1. Elspeth Cross

    My ultimate creep-me-out book is “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde. It is, literally, evil personified. I had to stop reading “Cujo”. I’m not sure if this is scary, but last year I picked up “Dying Bites” by DD Barant. The premise behind it disturbed me for a year. Then the sequel came out a couple months ago and I bought it. It’s urban fantasy (I don’t read many and I like less) but it is incredibly disturbing.

    A book that I’d like to see? A noir-romance. A hard-boiled love story. Set up at the end of WWII. I think I’ll have to write that one myself. Fortunately the idea well is full.

  2. Kim

    The thing I always liked about Stephen King was not the gross out horror but how well he does emotion in his characters. The Body. Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption. It and The Stand. Those were my favorites. But I did like Bag of Bones. And I liked The Gunslinger series until he cranked out the last three books like he was trying to get this over and done with and put himself as a character in the series.

    I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read when I was 18. And I am a little more on the literary side so I am not ever gonna be a best seller unfortunately.

  3. Story Teller

    Thanks for your comments! @ Elspeth, I was inspired to read Dorian Gray after seeing “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, of all things. It’s here on the shelf, but I still haven’t cracked it. I’ll move it up on the list, and take note of the other book you mentioned as well. Thanks for the suggestions.

    @ Kim, I could have written your post (except for the last graph, of course). That’s exactly what I love about King – the character, the humanity. Sometimes, the monster just does NOT have to make an appearance, and sometimes King gets that. Other times, unfortunately, he doesn’t. I think Christine is a very underrated book. The haunted car thing I can do without, but the relationship between the two boys – priceless!

    Don’t discount your potential as a literary writer, though. Some literary authors make it very big. Anything is possible.


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