This time around I got to have a really cool conversation with the one and only Sadie Hartmann, better known to her many followers around the web as Mother Horror. We spoke about what horror is, why people are so obsessed with it, and how people drive the stories they consume.
Matt: Lovecraft once said, “searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.” What is it about horror that draws so many readers (and for that matter movie-goers and such) to seek out thrills and fear? What do we get out of the experience?
Sadie: What a great quote. I love that. This is such a personal question. I really can’t answer it without first addressing the fact that the horror genre is totally misunderstood by the majority of people and I think part of it is because of the way horror is represented by a small number of the loudest, most ‘in-your-face’ fans. When people think of “horror” as a category of movies or books, they think of violence, blood, gore and scares. They probably also think of horror fans as being perpetual goth kids who dress in black clothes and listen to death metal and probably watch horror to get off on the aforementioned violence, blood, gore and scares. When I tell people I read and review horror fiction—and that my 40 hour a week job is primarily focused on reading and promoting horror—they look at me like they’re trying to imagine me in their preconceived stereotype of a horror fan. But I don’t fit in that box people have made and most of my horror-loving friends don’t either.
There are at least thirty different sub-genres of horror—I’ve dabbled in all of them but the ones I love the most are the ones that are character-driven stories about the human condition. Mankind confronted with their greatest fears and put through the stressors of having their creature comforts stripped back. Enduring evil and hardships and trials.
Horror stories are not born out of a drive to tell about sick acts of depravity just for the sake of doing so. I think they are born out of the everyday horrors we see and read about in real life. These fictional stories are a way for authors and readers to navigate through the ugliness and process through our real emotions, safely and as a community.
M: This whole “bookstagram” thing is pretty exciting. So much thought and planning goes in to setting up elaborate photo shoots of beloved books. Why do you think it’s becoming so popular now? Is it timing, and the confluence of social media?
S: It’s funny you mention that because lately, some of my original bookstagram friends and I were discussing this very thing in a group chat. I jumped into the bookstagramming community about three years ago and I totally experienced that “hay day” of bookstagram. I would post a new photo and leave my notifications on just to watch them blow up my phone—like at least a couple hundred likes within the hour. But this was before the Facebook/Instagram takeover. Now, Facebook knows all about microcosms like bookstagram as a hashtag and they’ve made adjustments to the algorithm in order to accommodate ads and social media influencers. If you’re following like over 1,000 accounts on IG, you might only see about 20 new posts a day depending on how the algorithm sorts it on your feed. I don’t know. I still really enjoy photographing my book collection but it’s more for my reviews and less about interacting with the bookstagram community at large—I just have this really special, niche group of people who love horror that still love talking about books and that’s really what bookstagram is all about. Not trying to be this Instagram celebrity or influencer—I’ve seen people lose sight of what bookstagram was all about before it grew into these mega-accounts doing these fancy, photoshopped pictures of books but have absolutely nothing to do with actually reading or promoting books—they’re just promoting themselves as a social media influencer for personal gain.
M: As an established reviewer, one whose words carry with them a respectable weight, you know the power that solid word of mouth can have. How it can spread a story. What would you say to the casual reader, who is maybe apprehensive about leaving a review somewhere like Amazon, or Goodreads?
S: I love this question!! Reviews are really important to the industry. Readers will experience a variety of opinions on the ways reviews are important. Some will say they don’t really translate into sales or help with getting any extra promotion on book related websites. Other authors will tell you that every review helps—good or bad. I’m in close relationship with a lot of authors and publishers and almost all of them assure me that every review helps with the success of their books. For me, personally, I have seen my reviews immediately translate into a sale. People will straight up comment that they just bought the book based on my review and again, that’s on good or “not so good” reviews. I had one person say that the reason I disliked a book sounded appealing to them so they decided to buy to see what all the fuss was about. I love that too. As long as I’m generating buzz around a book, I’m happy.
M: What are two books, something old and something new, that you would recommend to someone looking to experience horror for their first time?
S: Ahhhh that’s so hard. And horror is on such a roll right now. There’s so much amazing quality horror rolling out every month, it’s an exciting time to be a fan. I think I would recommend an older book like SUMMER OF NIGHT by Dan Simmons to turn someone on to what horror has to offer. Then I would have them read THE BONE WEAVER’S ORCHARD by Sarah Read to see what a modern day horror author can do with a child protagonist, a scary school and the darkest of evil. So like similar plot tropes but told in totally different ways.
M: When it comes to horror we’ve all got the things that really get to us. The things that make us clench our fists and curl our toes in terror and anticipation. What are the stories that really get under your skin, that make you thrill but dread turning the page?
S: Stories of demonic possession really scare me, like THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty or A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay. Anything to do with demonic activity. Also human depravity is terrifying—the horrors that human beings can inflict on each other like, KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke or BROTHER by Ania Ahlborn. My favorite sub-genre is coming-of-age horror—CHILDREN OF THE DARK by Jonathan Janz or BOY’S LIFE by Robert McCammon or IT by Stephen King. I’m reading GHOUL by Brian Keene right now and it is wonderful!!
M: We live in an age of media production and consumption unlike any that’s come before, and right now adaptations are huge. Seems like everything is getting optioned or licensed. Let’s pretend you’re given hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a movie based off any horror story you want. What would it be? And why?
S: I would love to see any of Nick Cutter’s books turned into a movie. I’m thinking THE TROOP or LITTLE HEAVEN would be amazing!! Let’s go with LITTLE HEAVEN, that would be a great movie and horror stories about cults are pretty hot right now in movies. Everyone should read Nick Cutter horror. That’s his pen name. His real name is Craig Davidson and I love the books he writes under that name too, like SATURDAY NIGHT GHOST CLUB which would also make a great movie. Okay, I cheated a little with this question.
M: All right, let’s wind it down. I want to give you a platform to do two things: one, promote something of your own, and two, something of someone else’s? What’s something you’ve got going on that excites you, and something you think people should know about?
S: Thank you! I’m the co-owner of Night Worms. I own this business with my friend Ashley, who is also a bookstagrammer and that’s how we met. We put together these curated packages of horror books and goodies and we ship them to our subscribers every month. Our customers get 2-3 books, usually signed and some extra ‘fun stuff’ to enhance their reading experience delivered to their door around the first of every month. We have special themes. For instance, June’s theme is “Every Day is Halloween.” We have a brand new novella, an anthology of Halloween stories and a classic book as well as some Halloween inspired treats. We love doing it. “Horror is our happy place.”
I also think people should know about all the indie publishing companies out there publishing quality horror day in and day out. Specifically, I’m enjoying Valancourt Books. They have this Paperbacks From Hell series that they’re doing. I paid $80 for 5 previously out of print books that Valancourt brought back with new, fresh covers. They look amazing and I get one every month for 5 months.