Guest Post: The Challenge of Writing Horror for YA Readers

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Hi y’all! It’s almost that time again… time for another #historicalfix Twitter chat hosted by author Erin Lindsay McCabe, Leah and myself. I’m so happy that we’ve had such a positive response to these chats, and I’m honored that Erin has asked me to participate again. I enjoy discussing one of my favorite genres with a group of readers and authors who are passionate about it as well. This time, we decided to include the topics of horror or paranormal in historical fiction since it’s so close to Halloween. Ghost stories! Eep! We have some special guests who will be appearing in the chat, including Katherine Howe, Cat Winters, Jennifer McMahon and today’s guest on the blog, Lynn Carthage. Be sure to join us TONIGHT (Tuesday, October 20) at 8:30 ET/7:30 CT. Now, I will turn the floor over to Lynn Carthage!

Guest Post: The Challenge of Writing Horror for YA ReadersTitle: Haunted (The Arnaud Legacy #1)
Author: Lynn Carthage
Publisher: K-Teen
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Genre/Age Group: Young Adult, Horror
Add it: Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old Phoebe Irving has traded life in San Francisco for her stepfather’s ancestral mansion in rural England. It’s supposed to be the new start her family needs. But from the moment she crosses the threshold into the ancient estate, Phoebe senses something ominous. Then again, she’s a little sensitive lately—not surprising when her parents are oblivious to her, her old life is six thousand miles away, and the only guy around is completely gorgeous but giving her mixed messages.

But at least Miles doesn’t laugh at Phoebe’s growing fears. And she can trust him…maybe. The locals whisper about the manor’s infamous original owner, Madame Arnaud, and tell grim stories of missing children and vengeful spirits. Phoebe is determined to protect her loved ones—especially her little sister, Tabby. But even amidst the manor’s dark shadows, the deepest mysteries may involve Phoebe herself….

The Challenge of Writing Horror for YA Readers

My novel Haunted: The Arnaud Legacy falls under the category of horror, and a reviewer coined it as a neo-Gothic thriller. It’s not easy to write material that’s meant to scare people. Unsettle, sure, that’s easily done–but when you’re trying to actually frighten people as they read, it’s tough to accomplish.

I think in part that’s because we’re all exposed to everyday horrors all the time. In fact, we must go out of our way to avoid seeing things in our news feed like Isis executions. When I first saw the freezeframe screengrab of one of the beheading videos on Facebook, I paused for a moment, reflected that I had the ability to watch a man’s atrocious and immoral murder, and clicked on the “Hide Post” arrow. Later, screengrabs weren’t frozen but instead ran on autoplay. I saw a heart-shaking two seconds of a man in a cage that was set on fire before I managed to scroll down, down, down as fast as I could. I didn’t want to go close enough to that post to even click on Hide Post…so I stayed away from social media for a few days specifically to avoid seeing such brutality.

I know it’s important for us to know what’s going on around the world and what people are facing, but I do worry about teens becoming inured to atrocity because it’s in our news feed with the same level of import attached to it as a post about a pig nursing kittens.

I’m dating myself, but when I was a teen, Y.A. fiction was scary in a pretty innocent way. Ghosts were old-fashioned Victorian wraiths and I don’t remember reading anything with extended or graphic torture scenes. Writers today have their work cut out for them to try to scare an already-blasé crowd.

My villain is based on a Hungarian countess known for her bloodthirsty behavior: essentially a serial killer with a penchant for bathing in the blood of peasant girls to keep her skin fresh and pretty. (Rather than Oil of Olay, she was into Oil of Olivia, perhaps). Many have heard of Elisabet Bathory; it’s said she inspired Bram Stoker in his creation of Dracula every bit as much as the legend of Vlad Tepes did.

I’ve had feedback from some readers that they were genuinely frightened while reading the book. One publishing professional told me she had to put it down for a while because she was so scared during a particular passage. I can only write what scares me and hope that the effect trickles down.

Circling back to the idea of the horrors of the real world, I think YA offers a true escape and a valid, important one. As readers, we push our imaginations to enter the characters’ reality, and it affords us a temporary respite from the real-life problems of a troubled world. Even better, that exercise in imagination flexes our empathy muscle, so we may be better equipped to someday understand (even help!) someone whose story is profoundly different from our own.

I’m eternally grateful my parents loved to read, and engendered this love in their daughters. My mom was a reference librarian and I’m so happy that blood runs in my veins (and not down a Hungarian countess’s drain….)

I’m looking forward to our twitter chat at #HistoricalFix this Tuesday. Thank you for hosting me today, Ellice!

Thanks, Lynn! I look forward to discussing more horror and historical fiction with you tonight at the #historicalfix Twitter chat. Again, y’all join us tonight at 8:30/7:30 CT. Everybody is welcome. Just follow the hashtag and hang on, because the conversation moves FAST! Hope to see you there!

Ellice has been blogging at Paper Riot since 2013. She is a librarian, book lover and Southern belle who loves sweet tea, animals, football and books with kissy scenes in them. You will mostly find her fangirling over contemporary books.

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