Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guest Post fromTarah Dunn


For weeks, I’ve been surrounded by death. Now, granted, it’s fictional: no one close to me has passed. But when a character in the novel I’m reading meets a grisly end, there’s a little part of me that experiences that death as though it were real. Like any devoted reader, I live in the universe that a book creates. When that universe is full of bad, scary and evil events, your view of the world temporarily darkens.

In certain procedurals, there comes a moment when the police enter the killer’s lair, only to discover that he reads as much about violence as he commits it. These days my lair (aka my office) is becoming more serial killer-esque by the day. I swear I’m not a demented maniac—I’m just writing a book about one.

As I look around, it’s clear that the books have taken control. They’re not staying on the bookshelves where they belong. Instead, I’ve got stacks left, right and center. On one side sits a stack of classic psychological thrillers. Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil, Sliver and The Stepford Wives mingle with Shirley Jackson’s The House on Haunted Hill and We Have Always Lived in The Castle.

On another side are the YA thrillers and horror novels. Lois Duncan, Margaret Peterson Haddix and Kendare Blake are all represented. Next to the YA are their adult equivalents, by authors such as Laura Lippman, Lionel Shriver, and Carol O’Connell.

Finally, there’s the non-fiction that explores the presence of evil in the stories of real life monsters like Rose West, Darlie Routier, and the Green River Killer.

And those are just the physical editions. On Kindle, I’ve got a whole roster of similar ebooks. I’m not giving numbers, because the instant gratification of Kindle has led me to splurge on more books than I’d care to admit to. Whole new subgenres have opened up to me. I’ve discovered Nordic noir, and read dozens of amazing mysteries by authors whose names I can’t even pronounce, like Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurdardóttir.

I’d like say I regret my ebook binges, but in truth, I love being able to follow a trail of book crumbs, downloading an author’s entire body of work, novel after novel, or following the Amazon recommendations for related books down the rabbit hole for hours.

But why am I immersing myself in so many works of mystery, terror and death? There are two answers: the reader’s, and the writer’s. I’m trying to enter the world of horror, because I’m writing a YA paranormal thriller with a truly evil villain. As a writer, I try to imagine myself inside a character, and reading is the best way to do it. I’m also writing in a genre that’s new for me, so I’m educating myself about thrillers and the paranormal through reading great examples.

Reading about killers, both real and fictional, hasn’t answered the question of why people are evil. But it has given me insight into the mind of someone who wantonly hurts others. Of course, there are also the hours of creepy thrills that I’ve gained through my recent genre obsession.

As a reader, I’m just plain having fun. There’s nothing better than settling into my bed at night, tucked under a down comforter, and experiencing the second-hand thrills of psychological terror.  It’s a little like reading about winter while lying on a towel at the beach: you can enjoy imagining the cold in a way that doesn’t quite have the same pleasure after you dig your car out from under two feet of snow in the middle of January. If I were a police detective, or constantly exposed in some other way to the evil that humans are capable of in real life, I’m sure my reading list would be very different.

Soon, the books that surround me will be placed back on the shelves, to make room for newer obsessions. I owe these books for the information and pleasure they’ve given me, but also for the way they mark a moment. While reading for information and pleasure, I’ve also created dozens of time machines, able to transport me back to the winter when I read every variation on horror, thrills, the paranormal and evil I could get my hands on. Whenever I glance at the spine of The Stepford Wives or The House on Haunted Hill, I’ll briefly return to this time when I wallowed in (fictional) evil. 

All across the world, passionate readers have their own portals stowed on their bookshelves. Every book represents a memory of a time and place that we can access at will. Readers live in a thousand worlds, and we get to choose a new one every day.

Thanks so much Tarah Dunn for stopping by and letting the reads know what is on your bookshelf!!!  Make sure you check out Tarah's blog!!

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