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When I Decided to Write Horror

November 12, 2010

Tags: horror fiction, short stories, freelance writing

I've always loved horror movies and horror fiction, going back even before I learned how to read. I remember my Uncle Donald and his box of EC comics, which he shared with me despite my mother's admonition, "Don't show him that trash! You'll ruin his brain!" Too late, too late. I was probably 4 or 5 at the time, and I came to love those comics filled with the walking dead, vampires, and gruesome death.

I also remember going to the Everett Theater in Middletown, DE every Friday night. The theater often showed Hammer Film double-features and many other horror movies in the late '60s (yes, I'm dating myself!) that scared the crap out of me. I loved every minute of it. I read every ghost and eerie story I could get my grubby hands on.

But, I was experiencing horror only as entertainment.

I can pinpoint one story that changed my life and inspired me not only to read horror, but to write it. This happened in 1969, when I was 13. I can thank Anthony Vercoe, the author of "Flies," for starting my freelance career.

The story appeared in the fine little anthology, 11 Great Horror Stories, published by Scholastic Book Services. That's right, I now write nasty stories thanks to Scholastic! The book contains mini-classics like "The Dunwich Horror" by H.P. Lovecraft, "The Oblong Box" by Edgar Allan Poe, "The Judge's House" by Bram Stoker, and "Thus I Refute Beelzy" by John Collier. What 13-year-old wouldn't be impressed?

But Vercoe's story was unlike anything I'd ever read before, it was so in-your-face, so no-holds-barred when it came to the gross out. I've certainly read stronger stories since then, and there were many other pulp stories of similar caliber, but "Flies" made a difference for me.

The story is about a starving tramp who breaks into a seemingly empty Elizabethan house in Holborn to find shelter from the rain. He finds instead a house that was "splendidly furnished in a style three centuries old!" He hears a low-pitched buzzing, but ignores it as a symptom of his severe hunger and failing health. He then enters a room where he finds "spread on a small oak table ... the most delicious repast I could have hoped for." He ravenously devours his fill and drinks a beaker of sweet wine.

His hunger abated, the man goes to investigate the buzzing noise. He enters a room containing an open coffin supported across two chairs. "At first, by my candlelight, I thought that the occupant of the coffin was a Negro. Then, as I peered, horror-stricken by my gruesome discovery, the ghastly buzzing recommenced. It seemed as though a veil was plucked simultaneously from the corpse's face, leaving what had been mercifully hidden bare in all its festering corruption to my revolted gaze. I stifled a cry and stepped backward to the door, shutting my eyes to the white baldness of that putrefying thing in the coffin, while I held my breath to withstand the stench that arose from it. ... I was battling frenziedly with the monstrous droning, buzzing cloud of blowflies which had been feasting on the corpse!"

As the tramp tries to escape the attacking blowflies, he finds that he is trapped in the house, the doors are locked. He looks out the kitchen window to see a mournful figure ringing a bell and pulling a cart filled with corpses, "and as a shaft of moonlight fell for an instant across them ... some were not dead--yet!" The man in the street points up at him and cries, "Bring out your dead!" The tramp then realizes that somehow he has been transported back to the time of the Great Plague, and he is in a house of contagion.

The man ends up back in the room where he'd eaten the food. "Had I really eaten that writhing mass of great white worms? Or had the food putrefied during the few minutes I had been out of the room?" Then, as he stares at a bedroom door, from "under a crack in the bottom of the door came an endless wriggling stream of fat, black bodies as big as nutmegs." As the massive cloud of blowflies attack, the man dives screaming through the kitchen window, falling to the street below. (There is a neat twist at the end of the story.)

This is the first story that I recall having a visceral reaction to, actually feeling nauseous while reading it. I first had a "Wow!" reaction when I finished the story, and then thought, "You can really get away with writing this kind of stuff?" Something clicked in my head. I knew immediately that I wanted to be able to write stories like this. I clearly remember that decision, even today.

At the age of 13, I wanted to write horror stories.

I've been writing them ever since, of course. I've written in several genres, not just horror, and have written plenty of nonfiction in the intervening years. But it was my reading of "Flies" that made me want to put pen to paper and to start freelancing.

Thank you, Anthony Vercoe, for kick-starting my writing career.


  1. January 18, 2011 11:49 PM EST
    That collection from Scholastic was one of my all-time favorites, too, and Anthony Vercoe was one fantastic writer. That story has always stayed with me.
    - Anonymous
  2. January 25, 2011 9:29 PM EST
    Video games made me want to be a writer. The first story I ever wrote was a horrible fanfiction about Sonic the Hedgehog, and that fanfiction is still in my closet, where I cringe whenever I think about it. lol.

    Actually, it was my dad who got me stuck on horror and fantasy. He's a big Stephen King fan and loves fantasy. I find it hilarious when he asks me why I dedicate so much of my energy to such dark material, but it's his fault. lol.


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