Friday, May 29, 2020

SHRIEKS IN THE NIGHT: Guest Post by Camille Minichino

Camille Minichino:
Shrieks in the Night

Do you know the difference between terror and horror, and who gave us that distinction?

I was one of the last to know, oblivious until last month when I completed a class in Gothic Literature. I’m halfway through an MFA program in Creative Writing, and this intense course got wedged into my schedule as a “required elective,” no one noticing the oxymoron.

It turns out it was Ann Radcliffe, in an 1826 article published posthumously, “On the Supernatural in Poetry,” who gave us the distinction. Briefly, in my less than eloquent paraphrasing, she advised us: terror is a sense of fear and anxiety that something horrible might happen, but you turn around and there’s nothing there; horror is the shock that comes when face to face with the dreaded monster.

If Radcliffe epitomizes terror in her novel, The Italian, Matthew Lewis is the master of horror, author of the shocking and gory novel, The Monk (1796). In it, you’ll have your fill of real horror, in the form of depravity, torture, and mob violence.

Radcliffe wraps up any loose supernatural ends with a real-world explanation, whereas Lewis leaves us with specters, mystic rites, and demonic forces.

Critical reviewer Samuel Taylor Coleridge ripped apart The Monk. The review reads in part:

“We trust, however, that satiety will banish what good sense should have prevented; and that, wearied with fiends, incomprehensible characters, with shrieks, murders, and subterraneous dungeons, the public will learn, by the multitude of the manufacturers, with how little expense of thought or imagination this species of composition is manufactured.”

In spite of this condemnation, or maybe because of it, The Monk was a huge success, a best seller.

Lucky for us, we get to hear what Stephen King, the modern day Goth-er, has to say. In Danse Macabre, he adds a third element to terror and horror: revulsion. King explains the hierarchy thus:

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

The readings and assignments in the Gothic Literature class nearly did me in with their volume and intensity, but in the end, I’m glad I experienced it. There’s hardly a better way to gain a sense of the foremothers and forefathers of the darker writings of some of my favorite authors: Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Martin Cruz Smith, who occasionally goes off his beaten path of police procedural.

You may be familiar with my attachment to the writers Margaret Grace, Ada Madison, Jean Flowers, and most recently Elizabeth Logan. They all write cozies. Not a lot of fear, very little dread, some suspense, and definitely no horror or revulsion. So what’s the story?

Under all these pen names, I may write cozies, but that doesn’t mean I read them.

From time to time, I try to write characters like Dexter or Rosemary’s baby Adrian/Andrew, or Mrs. Danvers, or even Mr. Ripley, with his sometimes charming side.

So far, it hasn’t worked out for me. It’s one thing to immerse myself in these characters for a few hundred pages; it’s another to live with one, to stay inside his or her twisted head for the months it takes to write a novel.

After this class, however, immersed in the highly emotional world of crypts, omens, curses, nightmares, hauntings, and evil in the asylum, I’m ready to take on the project again.

Watch, and listen for the scream!

Camille Minichino received her Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University, New York City. She is currently on the faculty of Golden Gate University, San Francisco and teaches writing throughout the Bay Area. Camille is Past President and a member of NorCal Mystery Writers of America, NorCal Sisters in Crime, and the California Writers Club. She has written more than 25 mystery novels.    The Periodic Table Mysteries, featuring retired physicist Gloria Lamerino,set in Revere, Massachusetts; 
The Miniature Mysteries (as Margaret Grace), featuring miniaturist Gerry Porter and her preteen granddaughter in a northern California town; 
The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, featuring a math professor at a small New England college; 
The Postmistress Mysteries (as Jean Flowers), featuring Cassie Miller, postmistress in a western Massachusetts town; 
The Alaskan Diner Mysteries (as Elizabeth Logan), featuring Charlotte "Charlie" Cooke, and her sleuthing crew in a fictitious Alaska town  The first Alaskan Diner Mystery MOUSSE AND MURDER was released in May.


Camille Minichino said...

Thanks for hosting me, Janet! It's an honor to be on Mystery Fanfare -- I love the images you added!

Ann Damaschino said...

Enjoyed this post. Looking forward to reading Camille's version of terror, horror, and gore!

Priscilla said...

You are brave to have taken that elective course, required though it was! I read the Castle of Otranto and stopped there... Horror gives me nightmares. Far too real. But, if you write one, I promise to read it! Loved Mousse and Murder.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis said...

Fascinating article. It sounds like you write cozies for the same reason I do. I can’t take being frightened or on edge long enough to write something scary.

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks, Priscilla. The Monk was enough for me, but I'm going to give "horror" a try with a short story!

Martha Knox said...

I;ve read all your books. As a math geek I love the science aspect. Hope to read a new one soon. Can't wait!!

Martha Knox said...

You never stop learning. I got a kick out of you taking classes. I've got a Master's + God knows how many classes and credits over the years. 12 credits of grad classes every 5 years to keep teaching credentials. Now I take classes that I want to not have to. Never stop learning except now I listen to podcasts on craft. Took Gotham writers class, and James Paterson master class, both very good.

Camille Minichino said...

Martha -- I thought of taking the Masters classes but instead enrolled for an MFA -- might have learned more with the classes but I'm enamored of degrees Ha! Maybe Masters classes after I finish; I'm half way through!

Camille Minichino said...

Nancy -- we'll see if I persevere even through a dark short story!