Nancy Holder talks about her “How to Write Scary” workshop

nancyholderTell us something about your StokerCon workshop that is not in the original description:

Actually, the description is pretty short, isn’t it! We’re going to talk about how to truly scare people with your writing—a two-pronged approach. The first rule of Scare Club is “you have to care to be scared.” So first we’ll explore about how to get readers to invest in your world, your characters, and your story. Then we’ll work with writing techniques and methods to really get to your reader—to make them squirm, look over their shoulders, check the locks, make sure the TV is really off, and lose sleep.

What skills or achievements make you ideally suited to lead this workshop?

I received a Bram Stoker Award for Dead in the Water, my first horror novel (although it wasn’t my first novel) and four more Stokers in the young adult novel and short story categories. I’ve sold over 200 horror short stories and appeared in many “Best of” anthologies. I’ve also worked on properties such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Crimson Peak, and both Joss Whedon and Guillermo del Toro have insightful things indeed to say about creating fear. I’ve also edited anthologies such as Outsiders with Nancy Kilpatrick, which means I’ve read tons of submissions, as well as reams of work by aspiring horror authors (see below.)

Why do you feel that your workshop subject is especially important?

I do a lot of editorial work and I’ve taught in an MFA program (Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing, offered through the University of Southern Maine) for eight years, and one of the most common problems with newer writers’ work is that it’s simply not scary. I want to show writers how to create a foundation of horror and build on it, how to show, not tell, which is vital. It’s clear to me that a significant number of writers don’t know what “show don’t tell” actually means.

If you could participate in one other StokerCon workshop, which one would you choose and why?

I’d go to the master class being offered by Steve Jones, Jo Fletcher, and Ian Drury. You can never learn too much about publishing and they know all of it, and I love those wacky Brits.

Do you approach the craft of writing horror differently from other genres?

Horror is my first love. I’m most comfortable writing horror, and it’s much easier for me to fall into the flow. I’m more intense and careful because I have to weave a spell. I have to write scary or it doesn’t work. The suspension of disbelief is a fragile agreement in horror, and I have to be mindful of that.

Apart from teaching your workshop, what are you most looking forward to at StokerCon?

Seeing my friends! There will be at least one Stonecoast alum there—hi, Asher!—and I can’t wait to catch up with folks and find out what they’re doing.

What do you most hope that those attending your workshop will take away from it?

That they will be able to take their work to the next level, and scare the bejesus out of me when I read them! Also, that they will re-discover and/or retain the joy they have had reading in the genre. We all started out as horror fans. Sometimes when you learn how to pull back the curtain, you lose your ability to fall into a book and really live the story dream. I want my excitement about the current state of the horror genre to permeate my workshop.


Please click here to read more about Nancy and her workshop, or to register for any of the StokerCon workshops.