With the recent release of my debut horror novel PERHAPS SHE WILL DIE, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I got into reading (and eventually writing) horror.  It started back in elementary school. I’m in an age group that was a little too old for the Goosebumps books, so when I was in 4th grade, I picked up a John Bellairs book from the school library and was hooked. Bellairs wrote mysteries normally with occult or paranormal twist to them. Bellairs was from Massachusetts and growing up in the Boston area meant my elementary school library had most of his books. Each week, I’d check a new book out and read it until I’d gone through all of his books. My favorite Bellairs books involved a recurring character named Johnny Dixon a boy about my age who lived with his grandparents and his elderly neighbor Professor Childermass. Together the unlikely duo teamed up to solve mysteries. Also in 4th grade, our class was given the assignment to write a story that would be bound, with a cover we created. I was excited at the chance to write a “real” book. Drawing on my favorite books at the time, my story revolved around a kid and his older neighbor working together to catch a murderer. I don’t remember much about the story beyond that. Not long after that, on my own this time, I wrote a fantasy story for which I also made a cover. I think that was when I realized I wanted to write books. 

cover image for Perhaps She Will Die by Joe  Scipione

After reading most of Bellairs’ books, I was ready to move on to bigger and better things. I know you’re thinking—it was RL Stine or Christopher Pike—but it wasn’t. I was always fascinated by really big, thick books and one day at the town library with my mother I saw a paperback copy of Stephen King’s It. Books don’t get much bigger of thicker than It. I knew my mom wouldn’t let me check the book out, so I managed to hide it in the bag I had my children’s room books in. (If you didn’t know about this—sorry mom.) I took the book home and hid it under my bed, reading it when I could at night. I don’t think I read the whole thing but I read most of it and I knew that this was the kind of stuff that I could get into, even though I might hve been a little too young to understand some of it. And don’t worry, I snuck the book back into the library when I was done. 

After my first foray with King that may have been a few years too early, I branched out into other genres when reading. Some fantasy, but mostly science fiction. But I remember going to the local bookstore and looking through the horror section looking for books about different types of monsters and realizing that they didn’t exist—at least at that bookstore. Since I couldn’t find the books, I was looking for I started making up my own stories in my head. 

For a long time though, I didn’t write. I always read a lot but never wrote. In high school, I played sports and kept up on my classes (sort of) and never really felt the urge to write. When I went to college it was intramural sports, classes and the gym. Through all of it, I never made time to write. But also through that whole time, I was reading. Mostly Stephen King but there were always other books to read in between the King books.

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I majored in history and for the final exam in one of my history courses we had to write a historical fiction story using details from the information we’d covered during the semester. I instantly fell in love with the assignment. I wrote a story—it was probably a couple thousand words—and I tried to make sure that there was a thread running through it because the information we covered spanned almost 100 years. Also, without setting out to do it, I’d written a historical horror story involving a ghost that haunted to same area in Africa and saw the changes in the area over time. The professor loved it but more important than that, it reminded me how much I loved to write and create fictional words and characters. 

Following that, I never really stopped reading horror. Horror movies were good, but it was always more about the books for me.

I branched out from King to Poe, Barker, Shelley, Lovecraft and Matheson. The story that changed the way I looked at horror and at writing was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. When I first read it shortly after college it was unlike everything I’d read. It reminded me of Hell House, which I had read first, but there was a huge difference between the two once I got into the story. I loved the way Jackson created her characters and the subtlety of the horror in Hill House. When I sit down to write today there is always a little voice in the back of my head asking me if the story is as good as Hill House or if the protagonist is written as well as Eleanor. The answer is always no—it will

probably always be no—but I hope I keep getting closer to the answer being yes.

This is all part of my horror story. I will always be someone who loves the horror genre for various reasons.

Most of all, I think, it’s because of that feeling I got when I first read those John Bellairs books in bed when I was younger. I was sweating and tired but could not wait to turn the page and see what happened next in the story. There is the possibility in horror that anything can happen at any time. The story could have ghosts, or monsters, or vampires or some kind of creature the reader could never even imagine. When reading a horror book the possibilities are only limited by the authors imagination and there are so many different avenues a story could take. That is what has kept me reading horror all these years and it’s something I take with me to everything I write. 

Joe Scipione

Joe Scipione

Author

Joe Scipione lives in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two kids. He is a Senior Contributor and horror book reviewer at Horrorbound.net. His debut novel, PERHAPS SHE WILL DIE is available now from World Castle Publishing. He has had stories published in several anthologies including “Stories We Tell After Midnight: Volume 2,” “Satan is Your Friend,” and “Throw Down Your Dead: An Anthology of Western Horror.” His short story collection ZOO and novella DECAY are coming in 2022 from D & T Publishing. When he’s not reading or writing you can usually find him cheering on one of the Boston sports teams or walking around the lakes near his home.

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