Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Last weekend I was on a panel at the Burbank Public Library with a group of interesting writers from Sisters in Crime. Gayle Bartos-Poole coordinated, and Gay Degani was our moderator. But there was no moderation among the other participants: Mari Sloan, Christa Faust, Lori Wolf and myself.

We were there to discuss what makes a story scary – and what scares us in general.

Before I go any further, I want to add that right up front, sitting with her Daddy, was a delightful ten-year-old writer named Lynette, who graciously allowed me to critique one of her own stories about poisonous plants from outer space. The inclusion of a child in the audience forced us to moderate our language, probably a good thing with me there.

Gayle brought props, so across the table we had an assortment of bones, skulls, a ghost and vintage (and handmade) Hallowe'en gear. Gayle knows how to set the scene.

Mari based much of her story, Beaufort Falls, on her Southern upbringing, which included odd relatives like a jail-matron great-granny. Her characters included a cross-dressing serial killer with a fondness for decapitation.

Christa Faust is well-known for her hard-boiled and noir work – the only female writer (so far) to have a book published by Hardcase Crime. With her diminutive figure encased in fishnet tights, a black lacy bra and a little bitty dress, her now-platinum pixie hair done up in barrettes resembling horns and her winged tattoos, she looks like the epitome of a naughty girl. She is, in fact, a sharp cookie with an even sharper wit and a tremendous amount of publishing and writing savvy (she was the only full-time writer in the group.) Put me on a panel – or in a room – with her anytime. She holds the audience spellbound and knows how to sell books, too.

Lori Wolf is a sweet and unassuming lady with a quick smile. Her books, Parrot on a Limb, and Gothic Doo-Wop blend magic realism with quirky humor. There was nothing frightening about Lori, but her books send shivers up my spine. And she knows how to tell a ripping good story.

Gay Degani was a bang-up moderator – she and I will co-host a short story panel at the San Dimas Public Library on November --. Funny, frightening and a skilled writer, her stories have recently appeared in Landmarked for Murder (with me!) and in the new Little Sisters in Crime anthology.

So what scares us to death?

Well, zombies and vampires and creatures (or plants) from outer space.

Stephen King, Dean Koontz and all the usual suspects, of course. And Edgar Allen Poe.

And we discussed the current vogue of over-the-top violence movies and stories, the disgust-me-with-gore trends which feed a different sort of appetite.

But there's something else. The scariest things are not the ones busily going bump in the night. The scariest things of all are what Christa called the Adult Fears: loneliness, the fear of betrayal, and failing health. The loss of a loved one, a child or beloved partner. War and its inevitable and appalling consequences. Financial destitution. And this week, in my area, the great equalizer of rampaging and indiscriminate fires. The things that really scare us are sometimes too difficult to write about in our usual stories.

Our scary stories offer us a way of dealing with the real horror of our everyday lives in a way that lessens the real fears even as we are reaching for a light to snap on while enjoying Stephen King.

So enjoy the season of scary stories, and the thrill of bumps in the night that can't really hurt you.

And temper your own scary stories with hope.


Being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Now I can deal with it. I was so afraid my symptoms were of something much, much worse (see above.) I am enjoying my new meal plan and have lost 7 of the pounds I so desperately need to lose. And I feel terrific!

Being back to the blog – I have been gone for three weeks of mostly medical stuff. Now I'm looking forward to getting back to my writing.

A flock of Canada geese flying overhead yesterday, escaping the smoke of the fires. Film of people rescuing horses from the flames. A kind and generous soul who opened her several acres in a fire-free zone to house and care for animals endangered by the fires.

The best in people always comes out in adversity.


Precie said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere!

I hope you're getting back on a healthy track.

And thanks for the reminder about hope. Sometimes I have trouble finding the hope in my fiction.

Kate Thornton said...

precie - Thanks for the good wishes and for stopping by! Yes, the hope is important, even in the dark sort of things I write.

Bernita said...

Yes, the adult fears, like helplessness.

Sorry to hear about diabetes, Kate, but glad it's identified and controllable.My husband has it.

"The best in people always comes out in adversity." - generousity, grace and gallantry.

I'm glad you're back.

Sonnjea B said...

I'm also glad you're back! I'm sorry about your health issues, but hopefully they won't keep you from doing what you love to do.

Angie said...

It's good knowing what your problem is, at least. [nod] When I was diagnosed (bipolar disorder) the first thing I felt was a profound relief that at least then I could begin to figure out how to deal with it, whereas when you don't know you're just paralyzed with not knowing what to do or what to anticipate or anything. That's a lot scarier, I think, than looking your condition in the face and recognizing it.

And I think that's what's scariest for me -- not predatory aliens or marauding skeletons, but things I can actually imagine happening to me, for real. The "real world" scary stuff, the Adult Fears. [nod]


bunnygirl said...

What's truly scary is that which we cannot avoid, control or mitigate in any way.

That sucks about the diabetes, but good for you for taking charge of it!

Usiku (oo-SEE-koo) said...

Adversity and tragedy do seem to have positive effects. Hopefully we can reach into the depths of our decency without the need for these types of trying times.

writtenwyrdd said...

Sounds like a great talk! Thanks for sharing!

Sorry to hear you've converted to diabetes, but now that you know you can take proper care of yourself.

ren said...

hi am ren just to let you know i too have type 2 diabetes or should i say i have it but it doesnt have me. i still go out and do my thing and enjoy life yes it is a bummer but so are alot of things in god loves you take care.