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Been There, Read That on Halloween: 5 Reasons Your Horror Novel Won’t Even Scare a Wimp (Like Me)

5 Reasons Your Horror Novel Won’t Even Scare a Wimp (Like Me)

Yeah, yeah, it’s Halloween. Woo.

I’m sorry, I’m just a bit unenthusiastic this year because I wanted to be the Mad Hatter and I’m actually a pirate. Which would normally be cool if it wasn’t my costume from last year… and I REALLY WANTED TO BE THE MAD HATTER. So, I’m moody. Even though it is a day of The Free Stuff. Maybe once I leave this house and actively participate in getting The Free Stuff, I’ll feel better about my life. But, there’s no more appropriate evening to be pessimistic than on Halloween, the day of unabashed darkness, and so I will say I very much don’t think so. This B With An Itchy attitude makes this also the perfect time to write a post like this one. Recently, I read Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake and almost finished Velveteen by Daniel Marks. I betcha you already know where I’m going with this, but I’ll drag you there nonetheless, if I have to punch you in the face.

It’s safe to say I’m a wimp. A scaredy-cat. A quivering child under The Impervious Blanket. I make Shaggy and Count Rugen Post Meeting Man-Inigo look braver than Aragorn on a really fabulous day when the sky is cloudy and black and Nazguls are chewing on people and wreaking general havoc. After attempting movies like The Grudge and The Ring (which I’m told repeatedly isn’t that scary), I know my limits. Which is to say I don’t have any because I won’t watch a horror movie double never ever. I get so pissed when a commercial for Paranormal Activity #85 comes on WITH NO FREAKING WARNING. Is “excuse me, this program will be interrupted by a shit-your-bricks-scary preview in two seconds” really too much to ask?

Very needless to say, it should come as no surprise that I stay away from horror novels as well. Gothic ones, I approach slowly with trepidation and gaze at them from a safe distance. But, as for horror novels? I run away screaming for my dragon or my mommy to blaze me the heck out of Barnes & Noble. So, what possessed me to read books such as the above?

Simple, really. I kept my ear to the ground and got it damaged bloody by all the buzz.

One book, I loved. But, the other, which is the whole inspiration for this post, I didn’t, especially because it was misleading. If I’m going to read a horror novel, I want to be Shit Your Pants On The Bus Bench scared. If I’m not feeling SYPOTBB scared, then what the frak is the point?

That said, take my advice. I command you.

When you say you’re going to bloody someone, do it

This may come as a shocker after proclaiming to be such a wuss, but one of the very first things that drew me into, and ultimately made me love, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is that the creeptastic Anna will rip you a new a face. And the details are just that—detailed, complete with gory dismemberment and bloody cleanup. She doesn’t fantasize about ripping someone clean in half, no. She takes action. She’s a do-er of the gruesome kind.
She sets him on his feet. He’s bleeding from cuts on his face and hands. He takes one step backward. Anna bares her teeth. I hear my voice coming from somewhere else, telling her to stop or just screaming, and Mike doesn’t have any time to scream before she thrusts her hands into his chest, tearing through skin and muscle. She pushes her arms out to the sides, like she’s forcing her way through a closing door, and Mike Andover is torn in half. Both halves fall to their knees, jerking and skittering like insect parts. (77-78)
Billy Loomis, Billy Loomis, what the FU**?
*winces* Yeah. Get the picture? Unlike Velvet, Anna doesn’t hesitate and kills ruthlessly, mercilessly. And she doesn’t even really have a motive. Velvet is all about the revenge game, but all we get in Velveteen by Daniel Marks are these pitiful flashbacks that are too quick to really be frightened by mentions of gouges and slashes. You’d think, being the victim of a serial killer, Velvet’s death would be more terrifying, but all the time it’s kept hushed until she abruptly gives us a few glimpses on the week it all went down. I can be chilled by the sinister whisperings of a serial killer and a few dark flashbacks, but I can’t get scared when it’s brief.

Getting revenge should’ve also been way more delicious, it should’ve been disturbing, menacing, and well-plotted. Instead, Velvet throws a few otherworldly tantrums inside her killer’s house and checks up on him now and again. She takes a step toward possessing him and making him commit suicide, but never does. In other words, we get nada.

If you’re going to be a good ghost, be a scary one

Velvet is obviously designed to be the posh ghost. And I was all *rolls eyes*. She’s made up of attitude, borderline apathy, and gothic-inspired fashion sense. Normally, that might be cool. But, this doesn’t shrill on earth-shattering levels VENGEFUL GHOST. You want to be in a horror novel and you want to plan the ghastly demise of your murderer, but you don’t even look the part. Insert a whopping *face-palm*.

Whole. Shit.
You want a scary ghost? I’ll show you a scary ghost. Or rather Kendare Blake will.
Anna is descending upon me, coming down the stairs without taking any strides. Her feet drag horribly along like she can’t use them at all. Dark, purplish veins cut through her pale white skin. Her hair is shadow-less black, and it moves through the air as though suspended in water, snaking out behind and drifting like reeds. It’s the only thing about her that looks alive. She doesn’t wear her death wounds like other ghosts do. They say her throat was cut, and this girl’s throat is long and white. But there is the dress. It’s wet, and red, and constantly moving. It drips on the ground. (76)
Yeah, just try gulping down the contents of your Fanta bottle when that is walking eerily onto the page. I couldn’t even blink. Anna is rage, presence, eeriness and terror wrapped into one delightfully unliving package. If Anna wanted revenge, heavens help her prey.

If you’re going to kill somebody, don’t go off to make-out with the new guy

Probably the most rip-your-hair-from-the-scalp irritating moments of Velveteen by Daniel Marks is the moment this Nick person waltzes into the story. Velvet is all doing her best not to swoon while this guy tramples her revenge-plotting time. Her goal is to get rid of Bonesaw once and for all. And whilst she’s working up the nerve to do that, she crosses paths with Nick and basically the rest gets dropped to the foot of her To Kill List. I couldn’t even enjoy the unexpected, and unwanted, diversion because their relationship is so superficial, grounded upon layers of lust and sexual chemistry. A good romance begins when the goals don’t get tossed to the backburners of the brain and happens while all the crazy exciting plot stuff is sparking. An even better romance isn’t all lusty either. I mean, come on, it’s a twinge harder to get the hots for someone with writhing-snakeslike hair and bottomless eyes.

Cas and Anna’s romance is kind of beautiful in a weird way, which makes it boss. And still Cas doesn’t go off trying to smooch the killer ghost whilst uncovering a mystery and maybe having to kill the dead Anna. The book is the biggest mind-eff for that reason.

What I don’t want is a flaky main character, who is supposed to be raging with the need for vengeance coursing through her veins instead of balking at killing her killer after making that her mission, and forgets the whole thing at first sight of something attractive with mad kissing skillz. There’s no faster way to lose me while you had me.

When you get stabbed or something, you want me to care, right? So be interesting, cool.

But not too cool. OBVS. You want your characters to be relatable, even if the connection is fine and vague, with real problems, real flaws. That is what is ultimately going to cement the bond between the character and the reader. Without that invaluable connection, then the whole story suffers and, frankly, no one gives a damn if something happens to the character.

I’m not gonna lie. I was wholly fascinated with Velvet at the very beginning. It’s easy to get sucked into the mystery of her and what’s happening around her. But fascination can be fickle, and will only get you so far if not executed properly. Eventually, Velvet’s personality got tiring and I stopped caring enough to be curious about her past. Otherwise, I’d have finished the book.

Every time she or another of the characters got emotional, was frightened, or was injured, I couldn’t dredge up an ounce of worry for them. When Cas gets himself tossed across the room or bashed over the head with a wooden plank, when Anna gets slashed in the back with a knife, my eyes bugged and I started shouting. I’m not an easy person to be around when I’m shouting, fyi.

Emotional tirades are my forte, but they only surge when I’m in hearts with the characters. Anna’s tale of woe ripped me, and Cas’s made me want to cuddle the poor kid. And yet, they’re both kickbutt and fantastic outside of their vulnerabilities as well. That’s what makes them lovable. I won’t get worked up for characters in a horror novel without that crucial bit.

Heck, I might even egg the villain-killer-person on to finish the job.

Goodness, please don’t make your home in Purgatory

Lastly, if you’re after creating a presence that’s horrifying and deadly, don’t hole up in Purgatory. A place that’s not only confusing, but gloomy and filled with people’s ashes. It’s just not cool, and it’s certainly not scary.

I’m of two minds when it comes to the overall setting of Velveteen by Daniel Marks. It’s intriguing and curious enough to invite fascination. It’s otherworldly, different, and nothing I could’ve conjured with my imagination alone. I give Marks points for his creativity and vision, even if it was confusing at points. But when you put this place into a horror novel as a kind of home base, you miss the train on that one. Purgatory just isn’t a menacing place.
I’m staring up at Anna’s house again. The logical part of my brain tells me that it’s just a house. That it’s what’s inside the house that makes it horrifying, that makes it dangerous, that it can’t possibly be tilting toward me like it’s hunting me through the overgrowth of weeds. It can’t possibly be trying to jerk free of it’s foundation and swallow me whole. But that’s what it looks like it’s doing. (95)
The house is waiting. Everyone standing around me in the driveway is scared to death of what’s inside, but I’m more creeped out by the house itself. I know it’s dumb, but I can’t help but feel like it’s watching, and maybe smiling, grinning at out childish attempts to stop it, laughing off its foundation as we shake chicken feet in its direction. (192)
There isn’t a copious amount of description here and yet Anna’s house is quite simply one of the utmost ominous presences in the book. And it’s a house. A house. Behold a master in the making. I could actually feel myself getting goosebumps imagining my being in such a place. That’s the desirable reaction. None of this dismal ghostly hang-out business.

One does not simply write a horror novel without The Horror. As I said, if I’m going to sit down to a horror novel of any variety knowing what I know about myself, I want it to be worth it. If you’re going to incorporate certain elements, authors should make sure that they fit well with what’s being spread in the synopsis and the genre. Otherwise, expectations are hatched that aren’t met in the book.

Bottom line, if you’re going to write something scary make sure it has the desired effect.

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story... Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.

Velveteen Monroe is dead. At 16, she was kidnapped and murdered by a madman named Bonesaw. But that’s not the problem.

The problem is she landed in purgatory. And while it’s not a fiery inferno, it’s certainly no heaven. It’s gray, ashen, and crumbling more and more by the day, and everyone has a job to do. Which doesn’t leave Velveteen much time to do anything about what’s really on her mind.


Velveteen aches to deliver the bloody punishment her killer deserves. And she’s figured out just how to do it. She’ll haunt him for the rest of his days.

It’ll be brutal... and awesome.

But crossing the divide between the living and the dead has devastating consequences. Velveteen’s obsessive haunting cracks the foundations of purgatory and jeopardizes her very soul. A risk she’s willing to take—except fate has just given her reason to stick around: an unreasonably hot and completely off-limits coworker.

Velveteen can’t help herself when it comes to breaking rules... or getting revenge. And she just might be angry enough to take everyone down with her.
Got something specific in mind? Dare I believe I might NOT have covered something you wish to know? If so, let me know down in the comments section. Also, I'd like to know if you have a favorite among these two reads? Why? What other reads do you like to kick back with for the fall/Halloween time? Oh, and Happy Halloween!


Sam @ Realm of Fiction said...

This is AWESOME. I haven't read Velveteen (and I don't think I ever will) but I LOVED Anna Dressed in Blood. Kendare Blake actually knows how to do creepy.

I bet you make an awesome pirate, by the way. The is always next year for The Mad Hatter. ;)

Princess Ash said...

Ha, I'm glad you think so my lovely Sam. I would love to say DON'T READ VELVETEEN EVER, but that would be rude, so I'll say, I strongly suggest you don't waste your time but I guess it might be worth a try. There, do I sound nice? Yes, yes, yes, she is made of creepy. Which makes me wonder about her. ANNA is so boss.

This post was actually written about a week or two ago, and I ended up being the Mad Hatter anyway and it was so much more glorious ;)

Lizzy Lessard said...

I skimmed through the article, but I bookmarked it so I can read it in full later. I LOVED Anna Dressed in Blood because she was horrifying. So much so that I was really disappointed when the killing and scares paused for a few chapters.

Princess Ash said...

Oh, you rock. And yes, ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD IS BOSS. I was surprised by how much I was fascinating and darkly thrilling at the murdering, because the scenes were just so vividly horrific. :)

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