Readers of my work probably know by now my love for lore — I spent many of my grad school days studying legends, folk tales, fairy tales and myths. If there really are only a handful of stories, then they were all told before people were writing things down. Some of the greatest stories ever told were passed down from generation to generation. The fact that they still survive today is a testament to their power to connect to the reader/listener.
I’m not the first author to mine these ancient tales, and I certainly won’t be the last. Authors as wide ranging as Shakespeare, Stephen King and Charlaine Harris have used ancient stories to populate their works with depth and history. There’s a reason Harris only needs to mention “vampire” in the opening chapter of her Sookie Stackhouse series to give the reader a general idea of what the atmosphere of the story is going to be. Those stories have existed in our cultures for hundreds of years. When King does the same in Salem’s Lot, the reader understands the basic horror of the story without it having to be elucidated. In Shakespeare, when fairies appear in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the viewers have the understanding that shenanigans are about to ensue, because all the stories they’ve read or been told inform them that that’s what fairies do — cause mischief. Taking these old tales out for a new spin is a way to create a history without having to write it. It’s also a way to upend expectations.
In Harris’ books, the vampires aren’t just blood sucking monsters — they have political aspirations and a deep social hierarchy that causes strife in ways unrelated to the horror of preying upon humans. King loves to twist around the tales he uses, subverting reader’s expectations and going in directions you weren’t expecting to keep you guessing. Is Jack going crazy in The Shining? Or is it the ghosts of the hotel? We, as readers, are familiar with malevolent ghosts from all the scary stories we’ve ever heard about them. But which of Jack’s actions in The Shining are more influenced by his alcoholism than by the fact that he’s gone stir crazy, or by the spirits of the Overlook? By blending the standard ghost story with psychological horror, King keeps us guessing at what is truly destroying Jack, all while providing a new twist on an old haunted house story. Most readers will have an idea of what happens in a haunted house, but with the added element of an unstable, recovering alcoholic, it makes the story fresh while familiar.
In Voro, I’ve incorporated a similar ancient story — though perhaps one less common than a ghost story. I won’t say which story — that’s part of the mystery after all — but similar to King, I’ve added other elements to the story to make it fresh. The familiarity of the monster I’ve chosen will be a shortcut to the horror – once you’ve discovered what it is, you’ll understand the motivations and how the creature operates. But the full extent of the horror isn’t revealed until closer to the end, where you’re left questioning what exactly it is this creature wants and how it chooses its victims.
In addition to the core of the story being based on an old legend, I’ve used a number of tropes and homages from various horror media I’ve consumed over the years. Scary stories are my second favorite, just behind trickster stories. If trickster tales illuminate and celebrate the resourceful side of human nature, scary stories shine a light on and critique the darker impulses of people – a reflection of the parts of society we generally deem to be bad or even evil. Voro is no exception in that it explores the idea of monsters, both inhuman and human – as to which is worse, that’s up to the reader to decide.
I open the book with a scene that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen even a smattering of horror movies – two teens necking in the woods. As you can guess, things don’t go well for these teens. This is a way for me to both introduce the monster of the book, as well as signal the book is firmly rooted in the horror traditions of cinema.
There are many other such scenes in the book throughout: the woods as a place of terror (nature vs man), premonitions (supernatural elements), dark settings (fear of the unknown), bullies (man vs man) and even more vaguely, the constant reminder that it’s the end of summer and fall looms on the horizon — the cycle of life and death.
More specifically, there are hints to some of the classic works of horror I’ve read or seen. Some will be easy to spot as they’ve become meme-worthy over the years. Others are more subtle, but I suspect my fellow horror aficionados will have no trouble spotting them when they occur; they could be anything from a scene to a line of dialog. This book is as much a new story for you as it is a kind of love letter to the horror I enjoyed growing up.
If you’re reading Voro, I hope you’ve been enjoying it. In my next post I’ll talk about why I chose the main character I did. Thanks for reading!
P.S. Surprise cat.