Bouchercon 2014: Experiencing Fear

By (Alexandra Sokoloff)

One of my favorite mystery conferences is coming up: Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, this year taking place in Long Beach, California. I’m doing three panels, as well as playing a target in the surveillance training workshop (info here)!

But I’m especially excited to be moderating a panel on one of my favorite subjects:
Experiencing Fear: Dealing with Psychos, Stalkers, and Serial Killers

I suspect that pretty much every single darker writer of us has at some point gotten the question: “What’s a nice girl/boy like you doing writing stuff like THAT?” So I thought I’d ask my panelists, to give you a taste of the terror in store.

Maegan Beaumont: From a very young age, I’ve found myself intrigued by the darkness that can be found in others. While other little girls wanted to be ballerinas and take care of babies, I wanted to understand what it was that made people do the horrible things that they do. I’ve always had a love of psychology and I know where my own dark places are. Tapping into them has never been difficult for me and neither has finding my way back. I’m not sure what that says about me as a person and quite frankly, I’m not sure I want to.
Alison Gaylin: Ever since I was a kid, telling “screen scratcher” stories at slumber parties, I’ve loved the feeling of looking under that rock – of experiencing my own worst fears by saying them out loud, within the controlled, safe environment of fiction. I find that as I get older, though, my worst fears are markedly different. When I first started writing suspense, I was writing mainly about murderous psychopaths. But now, I find that the things that keep me up at night are more mundane and, well, possible… The idea that we never really know anyone, even those we love, even our own children. The idea that the kindest, most loving person can hold in her heart the darkest secrets. The idea that making one wrong turn in life can have the power to ruin everything .. While I still enjoy a good murderous psychopath story as much as the next person, that’s the type of thing I find most frightening these days.

Alex Marwood: Well, I think I’ve always got gut-wrenching pleasure from the dark stuff, right from

when I was a wee thing. I suspect it might be as basic as learning how to access endorphin rushes at an early age, but In a way my reasons for writing it are as simple as ‘I enjoy it so I want to make some more’. I’ve always taken huge pleasure in nightmares, and they’ve often come in handy for plot solutions/ images that ultimately become disturbing on the page. But I don’t think I’m working through anything personal so much as exploring the strangeness of human nature – the illogicalities and bad decision-making and self-justifications and response to events of chance that can occasionally add up to very bad things indeed.

On the subject of dreams, though, my father died in the summer, and my dreams – which are usually rich and wild with a mad narrative thread – stopped dead for several months, as did my writing. I assume it was just a symptom that I wasn’t getting down to proper REM sleep, but it’s been a weird time, waking up as tired as when I went to bed and with a deeply uncomfortable blankness where my imaginative brain used to be. The relief of finally waking up realising I’d had a nightmare was huge.

Alexandra Sokoloff: As a woman I’ve always been compelled to write about these subjects. Let’s face it – women have a lot to say about fear, and violence, and horror. We live with all of those things on a much more intimate and everyday level than most men (men in non-warring countries) do. A walk out to the parking lot from the grocery store can on any given night turn into a nightmare from which some women will never fully recover. I think security expert and author Gavin DeBecker got it exactly right when he said “A man’s greatest fear about a woman is that she’ll laugh at him. A woman’s greatest fear about a man is that he’ll kill her.”

Women know what it’s like to be prisoners in their own homes, what it’s like to be enslaved, to be stalked, to be prostituted, what it’s like to be ultimately powerless. And they know everything there is to know about rage, even when it’s so deeply buried they don’t know that’s what it is they’re feeling. But the great, cathartic thing for me about good mysteries, thrillers, horror, suspense – is that you can work through those issues of good and evil. You can walk vicariously into those perilous situations and face your fears, and sometimes triumph.

Kate White: I read true crime stories from the time I was very young

and have always been intrigued.

It never seemed strange to me to be reading about serial killers or women who killed their own children. It was just part of trying to understand what it means to be human. Humans do the most inhuman things.

William P. Wood: I’m not sure I had a choice after being a prosecutor for about five years. I ended up encountering things that people would do to others or themselves that were otherwise unimaginable. It turns out I don’t have much of an imagination and for every novel, TV show, or nonfiction book I’ve written, the dark and darker incidents of those years pop up almost on their own, like George III in “David Copperfield”. Sometimes the greatest terror or fear came out of crimes a lot less horrifying on the surface than murder or serial killing. People were devastated to the point of utter hopelessness by random acts of evil they got caught up in. When I came to write, these darker sides of human experience as reflected through the sometimes inadequate forms of trial and punishment that I knew very well, just naturally manifested themselves, like Marley’s ghost.

I think you can see why I’m excited about getting deep into this subject with this group! For those of you who are attending Bouchercon (many of you, I hope…) the panel will be Saturday October 15, 4:30 PM-5:30 PM, in Regency B.

More information here: Experiencing Fear.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff


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