Ciera Burch on writing her debut middle grade horror novel, Finch House
"Life can be scary, which is why we need controllable scares in the form of scary movies and horror novels."
This post was written by Ciera Burch, author of Finch House.
On Writing a Horror Novel as a Scaredy-Cat by Ciera Burch.
Let me start off by saying that I’ve always loved scary books. As a kid, feeling my heart beat too quickly in my chest while I hid underneath my covers with a flashlight and a book was one of my favorite experiences. I loved the way words had the power to create goosebumps on my skin and how creaking footsteps on the staircase in a scary scene echoed in my own ears, despite the fact that I lived in an apartment and we had no staircase. For a kid with anxiety, someone who was constantly jumping at shadows, controllable fear was the best. It allowed me to indulge my curiosity in the best way, where I couldn’t be hurt and had absolutely nothing to lose. And if I got overwhelmed by too many monsters cornering the hero? Well, I could always just shut the book.
In Finch House, my middle grade horror novel, it’s even better because I’m the one who gets to control the scares. That didn’t exactly mean I was immune from creeping myself out while writing, however! When I’m writing I like to get into a certain mood depending on the scene. Sometimes that means lighting a candle or picking out the perfect snack to eat while I work. Other times it means turning off every light in my apartment and writing in total darkness. I’m a big believer in the philosophy of author emotion contributing to reader emotion and in this case, I wanted my readers to be a little spooked, which meant that I had to be too. And for most of Finch House, I was. I crept along every inch of the haunted house, doing my best to make it feel inhabited and pulling back when I wrote something down that scared me a little too much. It felt like time travel, scaring myself in the way that so many other authors’ works had scared in the past, and to put my main character, Micah, through her own paces. And it reminded me of how magical stories can be, too. When I was writing, I was no longer in my one-bedroom apartment in a major city. Instead, I was in a sprawling Victorian house in the suburbs with noises coming from the shadows and a staircase leading down into the unrelenting dark just begging me to come take a peek at what was at the bottom.
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Of course, when that got too scary, I could still do the same things I did as a kid: shut my laptop and turn on all the lights (and I mean all of them, closet and bathroom lights included!)
I’m still very easily scared. If I watch a scary movie, it’s either in the daytime or with friends who are much braver than I am. I scream at jump scares and peek between my fingers at scenes that have me on the edge of my couch. But I’m also a little more attuned these days to everything that lingers in and around the fear—excitement and curiosity and, sometimes, love. Life can be scary, which is why we need controllable scares in the form of scary movies and horror novels. I might not be able to control what happens in my day-to-day, no, but I can definitely flip a few pages ahead in a book if I get too spooked.
And at the end of the day, we usually know what’s going to happen. The monsters go away. The hero makes it home. Our heart beats all return to normal….
Unless there’s a surprise jump scare.
Thankfully for you and me both, Finch House has none of those.
Get your copy of Finch House by Ciera Burch here.