I love a good scare. Terrorize me with your haunted houses and chase me with chainsaws through your corn mazes. Since early childhood, I’ve loved scary movies, gruesome monsters and anything that made my pulse race too fast. I loved reading (and writing), but when I was a young reader, R. L. Stein and his Goosebumps series wasn’t around yet. Very few frightening books existed for young readers. I devoured the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mystery series, but while interesting, those stories were too clean, too neatly wrapped. The characters used no curse words, never even considered drinking a beer or stealing a bit of dad’s scotch, and death was never bloody or messy. Like all good stories, they each had their dark moments, but the threshold to true terror was never crossed.
Then came Stephen King.
Reading Carrie changed my entire outlook on books, and cemented my intense, lifelong love affair of everything spine chilling and macabre. I loved being terrified of the vampires in Salem’s Lot and the Werewolf in Cycle of the Werewolf (the book that inspired the movie, Silver Bullet). I hated the clown in IT, yet I couldn’t stop reading the book, praying those poor kids survived its evil reign. Pet Sematary disturbed me so badly, I set the book down and didn’t finish it for eight years. Yet I still continued to read his books, despite falling asleep many nights with the light on. Oh, and the nightmares. I’ve always suffered from bad dreams, but reading King planted seeds in my brain, which sprouted in my sleep and ripened on the pages.
Needless to say, my books are dark and a little frightening. I love writing urban fantasy and horror, and anything gloomy and provocative.
Yet over the past few years, I have been more and more drawn to young adult books over adult novels. Of course, I had to wonder why? I also wondered, when had “YA” become a rigid designation? Carrie is a novel about teens, as are several of Stephen King’s books. (IT, The Body, Christine) Many of his books also have teen characters and adult characters who play equally important roles, such as Under the Dome, Needful Things and (again) Cycle of the Werewolf.
I was told a few years ago that teens would never read books with adults in them. Teen books should only have teen main characters, and this had become the solid thinking of the big NY publishers. NOT TRUE! Millions of readers, young and old, have enjoyed Stephen King’s stories. Yet Carrie hardly resembles the YA books of today. The Hunger Games, with their violence and oppression, come close. So do the later, darker Harry Potter books. And while these are the exceptions, their wild popularity should send a message to the world – teen readers love a good story as much as adult readers. And while I agree that teen books should have teen central main characters, they can also have Hagrids and Dumbldores, and Haymitchs and Effie Trinkets. And would Under the Dome have been nearly as interesting without the dynamics of Big Jim Remmie and his lunatic son, or the delinquent, out of control teen police force? And let’s not forget the brave, yet flawed kids, Angie and Joe McAlister, and the brainiac, Ben Drake, who figure out the mystery.
I love writing scary stories, and I love writing about teen characters. But the teen years are messy and filled with explorations and self-discovery. Drugs, sex, drinking, swearing and bullying are real issues that kids face every day. These are the years of raging hormones and out of control testosterone. Where breakups feel like the end of life itself, and emotions run hotter and more volatile than the lava bubbling in Mt. Etna’s steaming crater. I want to tell stories that reveal true teen life. I want to awaken people’s emotions, make them uncomfortable with stories that are scary and raw and relatable.