It’s difficult to point to any one influence that was the seed of my horror interest. There were movies, T.V., music, books, stories, even games like Dungeons and Dragons. Whatever the case, I gravitated to short horror and weird stories as a staple in my reading. The earliest story that sticks in my mind is a story called All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury. I read this story in 6th grade as part of a reading program in our school. While I probably read dozens of short stories that year as part of this program, this is the only story that I remember. It is a story about a class of school children who have grown up on Venus where it has rained continuously their entire lives. But one day the scientists predict that the sun will come out. The kids are excited to the extreme because they have never experienced the sun before. But there is one little girl who is unpopular and the children play a prank on the girl by locking her in the closet. The teacher comes in and tells the children that it’s time to hurry up and go outside so they can enjoy the brief time the sun will be out. The children, in their excitement, forget about the girl in the closet and go out to enjoy an hour’s worth of sunshine. When they return to the classroom they remember the girl in the closet. This story, while not really a true horror story, possesses an element of cruelty and sadness that had a lasting effect on me.
My dad had the Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe and it was this book that was the real cause for me to start writing short horror stories. It wasn’t just Poe’s stories, either. I also became fascinated with his life as well. From Poe I gravitated to Lovecraft and then on to all the staples of the short horror genre. I must mention that I am a voracious bibliophile and my reading interests include: eastern and western philosophy, history, science, martial arts, music, eastern and western religion, poetry, classic literature, fantasy, as well as horror. Well, I used to read short horror rather haphazardly until it got to the point where I couldn’t keep track of whether or not I had read a story. So, about two or three years ago I started re-reading all the short horror in my collection and logging the titles along with a rating of the story. So far I have logged over 1200 stories from every name you can think of (although, I have to say that the majority comprise established authors). From this list my obvious favorites are: Bierce, Blackwood, Poe, Lovecraft, M.R. James, E.F. Benson, F. Marion Crawford, H.G. Wells, Bradbury, Robert Bloch, King, and William Hope Hodgson.
My own writing is directly influenced by the writing of these authors although I do bring my own style and ideas to the genre. For example, just like the majority of King and Lovecraft stories take place in the New England environs they were accustomed to, many of my stories take place in Alabama. One of the things I have “invented” comes from a standard classical music theme – the sonata. The typical sonata has evolved into a three-part composition that has a pattern of: moderately fast – slow – fast. This works great in music and the slow part serves to balance the fast parts on both sides. But a horror story has a different dynamic altogether. A short horror story should steadily build in tension until it ends with a Bang! So I developed the three-part short horror story. Its parts go: mild tension – moderate tension – maximum tension. Here is an example of this device from my story The Sacred Burial Ground. In part one, the mild tension part, the two main characters attend a Native American festival where an old storyteller relates the story of an old burial ground and this triggers one of the characters into remembering their grandfather telling the same story except he told of the burial ground being disturbed and releasing a curse. He thinks he knows where the place is and so the two decide to go and see if they can find it. The second part finds the two guys venturing into the sacred burial ground by the light of day and something happens that frightens them to the point of fleeing the place. After returning to safety they muse what the place must be like at night and agree that it is something they swear will never happen. The third part builds to maximum tension by placing the two back in the burial ground, not just at night, but also in the middle of a thunderstorm (I only outlined the sketchiest of details of this story so as not to spoil the plot). I have used this device in several stories and it seems to be a good formula for both plot development and length of story.