What Other People Think (About Me & Horror)

Those of us who love horror often talk about the problem of social acceptability—about how other people look at us strangely when we say we're into this stuff.

I'll tell ya the problem that I most frequently encounter: it's in simply getting the word "horror" across to people in conversation. I have a mild Texas accent that affects vowels more than anything else. In Texan talk, the word "horror" sounds very much the way most non-Texans pronounce "whore," whereas the word "whore" is quite distinct, since Texans pronounce it with two syllables, as in "hoe-er." I have tried and tried to learn how to do "horror" so it sounds more like "har-er," but it's like one of those things where Chinese people can't get r's and l's straight, it's a problem in the speech center of my brain (I'm convinced it is, really) that I can only improve so far. I mean, look at all that money Arnold Schwarzenegger has spent on voice lessons to remove his Austrian accent, and how much good has it done him?

This may well happen to some of you, too, I don't know. But it's such a pain to have the conversation go like this:

"You say you're doing some writing. What are you writing about?"

"Horror literature."


"HOR-UR literature. You know, like Stephen King?"


I understand what's happening: the word "whore" in polite company, or just plain out of context, evokes an emotional reaction. When they finally do get the point and conjure up their mental image of what "horror" is (bleeding body parts, revolting putrescence, children in silly Hallowe'en costumes), that image is all blurred in their mind with the emotional reaction they just had to "whore." All they know is that they're vaguely shocked but can't quite grasp the problem, so I have to change the subject pronto or we all end up looking like zombies.

I know. You don't need to tell me. I should say "dark literature" or something. But there's something obviously identifiable, in people's minds, about a "horror story" or a "horror novel," that just can't be replaced by another expression.

And I've got a weirder story than that, on the topic of other people's reactions to me and horror. On multiple occasions I have had people walk up to me in bookstores and say, "You look like someone who'd know about this stuff. Which horror anthology should I buy? What would be a good Stephen King to give to my teenage sister? How do I tell the dreck from the good stuff?" These encounters always take place in large, high-inventory bookstores where the horror is mixed all in with the general fiction. Invariably when I'm approached with this question, I'm perusing something like the new Thomas Pynchon or an old Don DeLillo or even a copy of Austen's Northanger Abbey that has an introduction I haven't seen before. And these people are so sure they are right! They're always friendly, and apologetic for intruding on my space, but they're absolutedly convinced that I will know about horror.

What gives? I assure you, I don't look in the least like Elvira. I dress like a doctor, or like a boho yuppie, depending on whether I just got off work —but mostly I dress in no special category at all. I've even asked these people, "What about me tipped you off that I would know about horror books?" They have no idea. It's weird.

I do have a lot of fun, though, because their faces just light up with enthusiasm when they hear all the advice I have to give them—including frequently sending them off to the nearest used bookstore, where they can get the same paperback in decent condition for a half to a third of the price.

Life sure would be dull if people weren't so funny, eh?

Copyright © Fiona Webster 1996

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