Hello Friends and Fiends--
Last month, I reread Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix and dove back into the wild, untamed realm of the 80s for some research. Since then, I've been itching to pick up the whole lot of books that Valancourt has in this series, especially after reading Elizabeth Engstrom's When Darkness Loves Us a few years ago. I bring this up because my guest today is smitten by 80s cover art, too: the gore, the bodies, the magnificent mystery and intensity of it all. Just try to keep us away!
Today I welcome EV Knight to The Madhouse to talk about her horror origins. EV Knight is the author of the Stoker nominated debut novel The Fourth Whore. She has also written a novella titled Dead Eyes for Unnerving Press’s Rewind or Die series. Her short stories and poetry can be found in a number of anthologies, magazines, and the HWA’s 2019 Poetry Showcase. She received her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2019. EV can be found wandering the haunted streets of Savannah, Georgia with her husband Matt, and their four naughty sphynx cats—Feenix, Luna, Bizzabout Fitchett, and Ozymandias Fuzzfoot the First.EV's works is feminist, intense, and doesn't pull any punches, which is just how I like my horror. I know you folks will enjoy her work as much as I do, too, so read on and enjoy, and please be sure to follow her on Twitter to stay up to date with all her publishing adventures: @EVKnightAuthor.
Stephanie M. Wytovich
A Creepy Cover’s Worth 50,000 Words
by EV Knight
I was a child of the eighties which means that my formative years crossed paths with the heyday of pulp fiction horror. This is not to say that prior to finding horror, I wasn’t already a voracious reader—I certainly was. Raised on Grimm’s fairy tales and Beverly Cleary, I found my active imagination hooked. But when adrenaline-fueled trips to the Scholastic Book Fairs could no longer satiate my hunger, I stole my mom’s Harlequin Romance novels. Lusty covers of glistening pecs and half-torn frocks coupled with the taboo of printed sex entertained me for a time until I got caught with one in school. God bless my teacher though. Rather than discipline me for reading above my maturity level, she introduced me to a set of historical teen romances. I enjoyed them until I cracked a code. You see, the cover art always showed the main female protagonist standing in front of a landscape fitting the setting of the novel. Slightly behind her and a little smaller stood the boy who was her initial love interest and in the bottom right corner of the illustration was another boy—the competition for her love! Guess what I figured out about five books or so in? The girl ALWAYS ended up with the small guy in the corner. I tested the theory with a few more books and that was it. Boring.
By fifth grade, I’d switched to mysteries. Agatha Christie was my favorite, then Robin Cook’s medical thrillers. The covers of mysteries—at least at that time—usually consisted of flashy fonts and one or two “Chekov’s guns” floating in a void beneath the fierce title. While I preferred mysteries and thrillers to romance, I discovered a pattern to them as well. Someone I’d already met was the killer and the smart detective would eventually figure it out after falling for a few red herrings. With the killer in custody, the protagonists would crack a joke, and everyone would live happily ever after. (I know I’m grossly simplifying other genres and I beg forgiveness. The opinions expressed in this guest blog are my own and do not necessarily represent Ms. Wytovich or any other blogger).
But then, one magical day in the local pharmacy, something happened that would change my life. While waiting for whatever terrible tasting medicine the doctor had prescribed for me for a fever that kept me home from school, I spun a rack of paperbacks standing in front of the counter. There was a cover with a porcelain doll’s head, cracked, chipped, with a piece missing over her eye. Now, I may be a little cloudy on the details, but I think there was blood running down her forehead. In the background was a decrepit dollhouse with spiderwebs in the windows. Oh, it was beautiful, and I had to read it. I had to know what this cover illustration meant. My mom, bless her heart for never censoring the books I read, bought it. I read it all, cover to cover that day. It was creepy and scary and I had no idea what would happen. No character felt safe. Anyone could be the next victim and I was doubtful this book would have a happy ending.
The draw of good cover art is still strong enough to get me to buy a book even if I’m not so sure about the back cover blurb. Horror has some great authors but also, some really talented artists. Daniele Serra designed the cover for my Stoker nominated debut novel The Fourth Whore and I’m dying to write a book to match one of Lynn Hanson’s amazing artful covers. It’s no longer the eighties, but attention spans have never been shorter. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then I think horror book covers coupled with “anything could happen” plots will ensure readers for years to come.