Today I have a guest post by JG Faherty, whose work I would highly recommend you check out. So without further ado, take it away, JG:
You folks reading this may not know me, but Shaun Jeffrey does. That's why I'm guest blogging today.
Shaun and I go way back, although we've never met. We became acquainted via the internet (no dirty thoughts – it was a writer's critique group!) and grew to be friends. This happened because we enjoyed each other's writing and shared a love of horror and what I call dark fiction, which can cover everything from straightforward mysteries to mystery-action adventure with a supernatural twist.
Shaun has graciously allowed me to hog his blog today because I'm promoting a new novel, The Burning Time. It's a supernatural tale involving country magic, good-vs.-evil, a town under siege by a malevolent being, and a touch of Lovecraftian mythos tossed in for good measure. You folks in the U.K. can purchase it on Amazon or barnesandnoble.com. But that's not what I want to talk about today.Today I want to talk about the similarities and differences between U.K. horror and U.S. horror. At least as I see them.
I don't know about your side of the pond, but over here some people find it difficult to read U.K. writers. Oh, sure, you've got the big names who do well: Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Tim Lebbon. And I'm sure we've got a few names who you'd recognize immediately: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz. But we both have many other writers, fine writers, who seem to get lost in the shuffle or overlooked because of the which side of the Atlantic they write on.
Now, right off the bat, let's do away with the silly claims that it's all about language. Sure, there are some differences. Your writers use 'ou' instead of just 'o' in certain words (color vs. colour) or 's' instead of 'z' (realisation vs. realization). Some of your slang is different ('er' or 'erm' for you, 'um' for us when expression hesitation; you use 'bloody' as an adjective to express strong irritation or to emphasize foul language while we usually just add a second naughty word). But it's not like we speak two different languages (Cockney aside; I mean, who the hell can understand that? It's worse than trying to decipher Australian slang!). Seriously. I'm pretty sure you're understanding everything I write for this blog, and if I read a sentence like "Tim realised Derrick was a creature from another planet right before the bloody arsehole shot him in the leg." I'm not sitting there scratching my head in confusion. Furthermore, with the way our planet is turning into one big community, thanks to phones and TV and Twitter and Facebook, we're sharing plenty of common slang and definitely cursing at each other in common ways.
So language is off the table. Is it sensibilities? I doubt it. If you read the horror and dark fiction genres, you're not easily offended, man or woman. Just check out Sarah Pinborough's website and blog, or her facebook page. She looks like an angel but curses like a sailor. And she's written many a bloody, gory scene in her novels to go along with the terrifyingly suspenseful ones.
Is it political or economic differences? No. That may have been true a hundred years ago, but no longer. You have a Queen and a Parliment; we have a President and a Congress. But we share a common problem – most politicians are damn crooks! Plus, we're all in the same economic downward spiral. Jobs are scarce, we hate our bosses, the rich are always trying to screw the middle class. Other than Europe mucking around with the Euro and trying to create a global currency, the only difference is who we have to pay our taxes to.
So what is it, then? Well, I have an idea. It's style.
The U.K, style for horror and dark fiction involves more suspense; things don't always start with a big bang and then rocket page after page, adventure to adventure, until a climax is reached. The pace is often slower, with a steady, suspenseful build up to the climax.
Here in the U.S., much more of our writing is rapid and fast from the start; even the pace of the language is faster.
Now, I'm not blaming you for this. I can blame you for Simon Cowell and haggis and the unexplainable popularity of Indian food, but not for the differences in our writing. This one falls entirely on us, much like Justin Bieber and the Kardashians.
America is a land of instant gratification. Fast food (we invented McDonalds so we could eat on the go), fast music (we corrupted classic heavy metal into speed metal), and fast movies/television (we took the rapid style of MTV videos and made it an essential part of all movies and TV shows). And we've done it with books, too. Nowadays, you have about ten seconds to grab a reader's interest or he/she is gone. Attention spans over here are like those of children on sugar highs.
Sure, there are some American writers who have succeeded while sticking with the more traditional suspense model – what Charles L. Grant called 'quiet horror' – but they are few and far between. Peter Straub. Charles L. Grant. Ray Bradbury. These are writers who did – and still do, in Straub's case – build a story slowly, using atmosphere like a main character. Every chapter didn't have to be the literary equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino or Guy Richie movie.
Here's the problem, though. In the U.S., most readers want that rapid-fire style, because it's the only thing that keeps their attention focused on the book. For us, it's like going back and watching the movies of the 40s or 50s. Tooooo Sloooooow.
We don't know how to sit down, relax, and just read.
This is a particular problem for me, as a writer, because I tend to prefer the slow, suspenseful model. Not that I'm writing with the same pace as Masterpiece Theater – god help me! But I do like to create layers, to build to climaxes instead of just slapping readers with one after another.
This is probably one of the reasons Shaun and I grew to appreciate each other's writing. He knows how to do this, too. He doesn't shy away from blood and guts, he doesn't forget to include the chapter and ending climaxes that make your hair stand on end or keep you wondering who the killer is until the very last page, but he does build to those climaxes. He sets the stage, he uses setting and feelings and tiny, hidden clues to make you climb that ladder before you suddenly realize how high you are and you're about to fall off.
A book is like a roller coaster. There are two kinds: the ones that race up and down the hills with two speeds – fast and really fast. Then there are the ones that go slower up the hills, so you feel each vibration, each clink and clunk that makes you wonder if the tracks are falling apart and you're about to tumble to your death. That steady uphill climb also give you time to think about exactly how high you are, and how steep and dangerous that eventual downhill run is going to be. It puts that knot in your stomach as you wait.....
It's called anticipation, and it's what's lacking in a lot of U.S. novels today. It's a style I wish more writers would return to.
Think about movies. What scared you more, The Exorcist or Saw? Sure, Saw was bloody, but did it leave you frightened afterwards? Or how about the difference between the original Alien and the foolishness of Alien vs. Predator?
Suspense. It's what makes horror and mysteries truly terrifying.
So, if you like to be frightened, like to be kept on the edge of your seat, let me recommend some books to you:
By me (gotta plug myself!): The Burning Time, Carnival of Fear, The Cold Spot
By Shaun (gotta plug my friend!): The Heist, The Kult, Voyeurs of Death
By other writers: The Hidden (Sarah Pinborough), Julia, Shadowland (Peter Straub), Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury), Pressure (Jeff Strand)
Besides THE BURNING TIME, JG Faherty is the author of the Bram Stoker Award®-nominated GHOSTS OF CORONADO BAY. His other books include CEMETERY CLUB, CARNIVAL OF FEAR, THE COLD SPOT, and HE WAITS, along with 50-odd short stories. Although he is American to the core, he does enjoy Guinness, fish & chips, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and British heavy metal. As a child, his favorite playground was a 17th-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/jgfaherty, www.facebook.com/jgfaherty, http://about.me/jgfaherty, and www.jgfaherty.com.