What does a horror writer look like?It hap­pened again the other day. A woman I’d recently met asked me what kind of writ­ing I do. When I said I write hor­ror, she seemed taken aback and said that was the last thing she’d have expected. This is not uncom­mon in my expe­ri­ence, yet I’m fairly cer­tain that romance writ­ers, for exam­ple (unless they hap­pen to be male), don’t get this sort of reaction.

So what does a hor­ror writer look like? Full-​out Goth, a trench coat, and Mor­bid Angel blast­ing out of an Ipod? Horns and a Ouija Board? She couldn’t really say, just that I wasn’t it. Maybe it’s one of those “I’ll know one when I see one” situations.

A smil­iar con­fu­sion seems to exist about ser­ial killers. I wish just once, the next door neigh­bor who’s inter­viewed on the news, would say, “I wasn’t sur­prised in the least! He didn’t fool me!” But they never do. They’re always shocked and amazed that some­one so ‘nice’ and ‘polite’ could do heinous things.

I’m polite. Maybe that’s the prob­lem. Trust me, it doesn’t mean any­thing. It comes from grow­ing up in the south and has lit­tle import on one’s propen­sity for car­ry­ing out car­nage, on paper or otherwise.

I recall a young man years ago who approached me at a sign­ing after I’d read a short story called “Close to the Bone” from the book of the same name. It’s about a cou­ple of groupies who do unspeak­able things to the pro wrestler that one of them lusts for. “I’ve never heard any­thing like that,” he said, before adding, in a tone that sug­gested he’d been griev­ously mis­led, “But you look so normal!”

Yeah, I’m sneaky that way.

But then, so are all the other hor­ror writ­ers I know, whom I sus­pect also fail to live up to that inde­fin­able je ne sais quoi that would imme­di­ately dis­tin­guish them as writ­ers of the dark and disturbing.

Of course, get­ting older and giv­ing up the stiletto heels and black eye­liner hasn’t helped. It’s hard to give off a real hor­ror writerly vibe when most of the time you wear comfy jeans and sweat pants and keep your car full of big bags of Meow Mix so you can feed feral cats.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just as well to stay low key. I recall a man walk­ing me to my car after a first date where, lying in full view on the pas­sen­ger seat where I’d for­got­ten to remove it, was a copy of a nifty lit­tle guide book by Pal­ladin Press called “How to Kill With Your Bare Hands.”

Now that was embar­rass­ing. I explained it was research for a story, not my plans for later that night, but I’m still wait­ing to hear from him. (He prob­a­bly didn’t think I looked like a hor­ror writer, either.

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