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How can you love horror, a genre that turns fear and violence into entertainment? And when you do harbor such affection for the macabre, how do you draw the line between that recreational fantasy horror and reality?

As horror lovers, these questions are not foreign to us. They have likely pestered and nagged us from skeptical, outside voices for the duration of our dance with the darkness.

I have been under gothic persuasion for the majority of my life and have heard the whispering (and yelling) of these questions in my ears (and to my face) for years. Ultimately, the pervasive repetition of these questions and their inherent judgement wormed deep enough into my subconscious to take root and sprout inspiration. These questions became the idea behind my novel Followers.

You never know who is on the other side of the screen.

Sidney, a single mother with a dull day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a little risky….

When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.

Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This stalker isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.

So Sidney loves horror, as so many of us do. She indulges deeply in splatter movies, and she contributes her own gruesome art in the form of bloody photography and writes reviews in homage to her beloved genre. And, like many of us, she is met with judgement and scorn for her participation in what others might deem unsavoury. Her mother goes so far as to consider her dabbling in horror as dangerous for Sidney’s young son.

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No genre is universally loved. However, I would argue that horror exists on the fringe of acceptance.

Perhaps it has bled over (pun intended) toward the mainstream in recent years (thank you, The Walking Dead), yet it remains far from being embraced or understood by the masses. As I wager many of us long-time horror lovers prefer it.

Yet what about horror causes such violent reactions and extreme judgements? Is it the violent and extreme content that is so often the focus of the stories? That seems unlikely when other genres can boast equal trauma and bloodshed (with the added bonus of sometimes being based on real events). Is it the trivialization of death, the way horror turns violence into a game or punchline (looking at you, Final Destination and Saw death scene porn)? Is it a base aversion to the fear itself, which the genre is largely designed to cultivate?

The social media algorithms know I write and love horror and have offered me countless articles rationalizing the sociological purpose of horror, analyzing the motivation for safe fear exploration. Smarter people than me have researched this topic (and further fueled the premise for Followers).

So how can you love horror? For some of us, it is therapeutic, a safe way to explore and process fear.

 

Like a jump scare in a haunted house where you know the actors won’t actually touch you. For some of us, it is a haven to explore the darker parts of ourselves without exposing them to the real people in our lives or creating real victims. Outlets that tell us we are not the only weirdos. Any news broadcast will surmise that humanity has plenty of real-life horror with which to grapple. Some people need to look away into something shiny to cope; others turn to the comfort of something dark.

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In Followers, Sidney uses horror as distraction. As she has ruined her marriage, is struggling in motherhood, and hates her job, her real life is disappointing. Horror transports her far away to an entirely alternative vocabulary of problems—none of which are hers. For Sidney, horror is escapism.

Until the horror becomes real.

Which brings us to our next question. With horror, where do you draw the line between fantasy and reality? It seems easy…don’t kill people in real life, but on-screen, off with their heads! But horror happens in real life. Do we only label it as “horror” when it’s for fun? When it happens in reality, does it have another name? Like “tragedy” or “trauma”?

When that real life horror happens, whatever we call it, can we still love horror for fun or horror for entertainment? When we have been genuinely terrified, can we still seek out fear for cheap thrills?

I don’t come to you in this article with answers. This is a post of questions. I have so many questions I wrote a book about them! This is where I put Sidney in Followers. She loves the horror genre, for better or worse. More than that, she needs it as her community and therapy. Yet that very love brings real life horror into her life. Fear ascends into terror. Horror evolves into trauma. Then Sidney has to answer all of our questions. Cans he still love the horror genre after it has crossed into her reality (if she survives exposure at all)? Should she have engaged in such a love affair with the macabre to begin with? What is safe when it comes to fear?

I may not have answers, but I do have opinions. Some of which I have woven into the narrative of Followers. To remain spoiler prohibitive, you will need to read to find out what happens to Sidney and her own horrors.

A large part of Followers is my own love letter to the horror genre.

Yes, I grapple with real questions about the pitfalls of recreational fear and violence. However, I also capture some of the experiences I love in the genre, particularly around movies. I inserted many references to different horror movies and included scenes of watching films together, attending film festivals, and playing with fake blood.

But what do YOU think, horror lovers? How can you love our dark genre? What does it bring to you and your life? Do you think you could (or do you already) still love it after experiencing horror in real life?

Christina Bergling
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Christina Bergling

Author

Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade.

The horror genre has always been a part of Bergling’s life. She has loved horror books ever since early readings of Goosebumps then Stephen King. She fell in love with horror movies young with Scream.

Limitless Publishing released her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books Publishing published her two novellas Savages and The Waning. She is also featured in over ten horror anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts, Graveyard Girls, Carnival of Nightmares, and Demonic Wildlife.

Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado Springs. She spends her non-writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

The Book Dad
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The Book Dad
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