1. Books

Festival of Reading: Horror writers on the books that scared them

Richard Lee Byers
Richard Lee Byers
Published Oct. 14, 2015

Tampa Bay area horror writers Richard Lee Byers (The Reaver), Russell James (Dark Vengeance), Peter Salomon (All Those Broken Angels) and Jeff Strand (A Bad Day for Voodoo) will appear together in a panel discussion at 10 a.m. Oct. 24 in USF PRW 118. From Byers, Salomon and Strand, here's a taste of why they write horror novels.

What one book scared you more than any other?

Byers: It's really impossible to pick just one, but I'll go with a collection of H. P. Lovecraft's best stories that I read way back when.

Salomon: I grew up on Stephen King, but his book that haunted me the most was Gerald's Game, mostly due to its relative lack of a paranormal element. It was so realistic, and so plausible, that it really got under my skin. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, while a short story, haunted me that way as well, again for its plausibility and realism.

Strand: Things You Always Wanted to Know About Monsters (But Were Afraid to Ask) by Tony Tallarico. It was a nonfiction book about classic horror movies, written Q&A style.

How old were you when you read it?

Byers: Early teens.

Salomon: I first read Gerald's Game in my 20s when the book was released in the early 1990s. The Lottery I read in elementary school, and it had a definite impact on my seeking out the King books to read, which led to Gerald's Game.

Strand: Six or 7.

What made it so frightening?

Byers: There are many scary aspects to Lovecraft's work, but the thing that grabbed me most was that, unlike any other author I had read up to that time, he most dispensed with ghosts, vampires, the devil and the other standard menaces of horror fiction to create a new pantheon of monsters. The reader doesn't have the comfort of knowing what the monsters are capable of, and because Lovecraft's mythology is a work of science fiction as much as fantasy and does not invoke real-world religion, we're denied the comfort of assuming there's some sort of cosmic force for Good to counterbalance the Evil the protagonists encounter.

Salomon: Gerald's Game takes a very small cast (two people, soon to be one) and puts them in a claustrophobic, potentially fatal situation. There's no escape for a very long time, and that sense of "I don't want to die" (which is also present throughout The Lottery) provides an increasing tension that makes the book very difficult to put down.

Strand: The right-hand pages were the text; a discussion of horror flicks, almost none of which I'd ever seen. This was more fascinating than scary. But the left-hand pages of this book were all full-size black-and-white stills from the movies. Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Wolfman … no problem. But Lon Chaney from the 1925 Phantom of the Opera? The mummy? Ack! Nightmare fuel!