Thursday, October 4, 2012

Scare me! Why?

Welcome Janis Susan May to NN. We are so glad to have you. Please come in and make yourself at home. 


What is it that makes us want to be scared? People voluntarily go to movies featuring zombies and monsters and serial killers, then spend half their time there with their eyes covered. People buy books which have covers dripping in gore, supernatural or otherwise, then either skip page after page or sleep with the lights on all night. Why do we deliberately scare ourselves to death?

Ever since man started to think we have been aware that there are bad things out there, things that we can’t control, things that will harm us. Evil spirits, evil serial killers, evil diseases… whatever shape this fear takes, it is real. There truly are things in this world that can harm us. Just as an ordinary passenger in an airplane is helpless against a crash, an ordinary human is helpless against a brain-sucking zombie or a super-mutated epidemic virus.

This sense of helplessness against catastrophic evil was true during the stone age, and it’s true now. Yes, we have conquered a lot of the things that did in stone age man, but there are still plenty left out there to scare us spitless.

We might not believe that blood-hungry vampires actually exist in our world of technological marvels, but there’s a lot left to fear. Your husband is away on business. Your kids are at a sleepover. Was that the house settling which woke you from a sound sleep, or was it the sound of the patio door being forced open? Does it worry your pretty red head that three redheaded women have been killed in your city in the last three months? Is that the winter-nuded tree scratching against the window or skeletal fingers?

And there’s plenty of fear to be found everywhere, even in ordinary objects. Cars are ubiquitous in our society, but who ever looked at them quite the same after reading Stephen King’s CHRISTINE?

Primitive man fought his fears with ritual, and we do the same thing. Prayers. Candles. The circus of Halloween, where our fear of death, dying and a form of life returning from beyond the grave is trivialized by reducing it to crepe paper and cardboard and giggling children in grisly costumes who can be  propitiated with candy and treats.

Earlier this year I had to help set up the estate sale of a beloved elderly friend. I knew she was a collector, but I didn’t know of how much. Christmas ornaments. Porcelain boxes. Owls. All kinds of stuff. As a collector myself I was ready to give her a pass until we found her little figurines. You know the kind – chubby little children with oddly shaped eyes and the expression of a sick spaniel, adored by grandmothers and pre-pubescent girls all over the country.

One is okay, if a little saccharine. (Even I have one, a treasured gift from my late grandmother which will never see the light of day in my house.) Two of these little things are quite twee and three are almost sick-making.

She had over 300 of them. Stuck together as close as they could go, they entirely covered her good-sized dining table. And they were scary! Nothing had changed. They still had pudgy bodies and sick spaniel expressions. But en masse they were downright spooky, which gave me a idea. From that one image my horror novella TIMELESS INNOCENTS ( was born. It’s not a blood-dripping, monsters attacking kind of horror, but a more subtle ‘what-if-that-happened-to-me?’ kind of scare. I still had to sleep with the lights on while writing it!

You don’t have to have the supernatural to be scared, though. Just read the paper. There are enough murders, hit-and-runs, kidnappings, stalkings, arsons… just about any crime you could name to keep us all awake and afraid.

So why in a world filled with awfulness and uncertainty do we choose to read/view fictional horrors, whether supernatural or not, voluntarily scaring ourselves with what we know is fictional?

Because we can control these horrors, and that gives us a feeling of power, of control, of ultimate safety, however illusory it might be. We can cover our eyes with our hands in the movies and automatically we are safe. We can change channels on the TV, banishing the fear with a click of our remote control. We can close the book for now, or forever. Even if we watch/read the story to its conclusion we know it is fictional, for beyond the boundaries of the story is our nice, normal safe world.

Unless that isn’t just the tree scratching at the window.

Pity life doesn’t come with a remote control.

Janis Susan May is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.

It has been a joy to have you on NN Janis. Oh I'm a Texas girl as well. Yeehaw! Man those dolls really give me the creeps. Hope you will come and joins us again on NN. 

Don't forget to leave Janis a comment. What scares you that isn't a ghost and such?

Happy Haunting,
Tabitha Blake


hotcha12 said...




site angel said...

Great post, Janis.
A unique inspiration--I'll never think of
those dolls the same way again!
I hate modern scary movies for the most part.
Give me a good old-fashioned black and white Dracula film!
Cheers, Kelly

Melissa Limoges said...

Awesome post. I do love horror movies and scary books. :) Can't help it. I even love all the shows on television about the "unknown", "paranormal" or related. I'm not entirely sure why people like to scare themselves. Perhaps because it's not an everyday emotion that you experience. Either way, congrats on your release. :)

Bobbi Romans said...

I love to be scared. My biggest scare? Spiders. Not the little teeny ones--the big honking stare you down ones.

Course I have been bitten twice by Brown Recluses and once by a Black Widow. Hands down she kicks butt.


Kathleen Rowland said...

Janis, loved your post. The fact that a doll's expression is frozen makes it all the more creepy. Three hundred of them must have surprised you!