Scream Horror Magazine

The Haunting Effect

Posted on: June 8th, 2023

The best horror stories stick with you. No matter the format—books, movies, oral retellings around a campfire—the tales that truly tear at your soul do more than just provide an in-the-moment startle.

Think about the last time something gave you a “jump-scare.” Maybe you were watching a recent slasher film (mine would’ve been Scream VI) and an unfortunate teen shuts the medicine cabinet mirror only to see the killer standing behind her! Accompanied by a shrieking sound effect/musical cue, this might cause you to spasm like you’ve just been tasered or grab the arm of the person beside you.

Once the moment passes, you’ll undoubtedly laugh for having allowed the scene to get the better of you, and, more importantly, because you’ve just experienced a scare, safely in your own home or local movie theatre. This effect is akin to riding a roller coaster and is the primary reason why hordes of horror fans embrace the genre in all its mediums. We’re adrenaline junkies who get off on the thrill of being spooked.

But beyond those surface-level scares, exist the far more insidious types of terror. These are the ones that cling to your psyche once you’ve closed that book or turned off the TV. They scatter sinister little seeds inside your skull and slowly begin to alter your perception of the world. Like a demonic form of inception, you are forever altered by what you’ve just encountered. I call this side of horror, the haunting effect.

Now I don’t want to sound like the smug, pipe-smoking horror connoisseur who uses the ultimate eye-roll term, “elevated horror.” I can read everything from Stephen King to indie splatter-punk to classic “literary” horror and get the same level of enjoyment, just like I can listen to different singers in the same musical genre. Sometimes there’s nothing more soothing than kicking back and watching Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan while smashing a bag of Doritos. I also love experiencing new directions of terror through the films of contemporary genre auteurs and critical darlings like Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Eggers, whose films are often divisive among genre fans.

I say all that to say this. My favourite kind of horror lies in that sweet spot that melds the two. Serve me up something that scares the shit out of me while also leaves me with something to think about, and I’ll eternally sing your praises. Some obvious films that fill this need include The Exorcist, The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, Hereditary, and the criminally underrated, Session 9.

On the literary end, aside from the books that inspired some of the aforementioned films, you have House of Leaves, American Psycho, Pet Sematary, Stolen Tongues, The Only Good Indians, The Amityville Horror, and A Head Full of Ghosts. If you haven’t experienced any of these movies or books, stop reading this right now and come back after your binge into madness.

As an author with, at the time of this writing, only three novels to my name and a collection of short stories, I am far from a master of the genre. But I will say that I have strived for both—for the sake of simplicity—popcorn horror and haunting horror. (Saying “elevated horror” just makes me gag).

With my first novel, Anathema, I chose to write about dark, mature themes like substance use disorder (SUD), childhood trauma, and recovery in a grounded, matter-of-fact way. Being a person in recovery from SUD myself, I noticed an absence of authentic depictions of people in recovery from SUD in media.

There are plenty of accurate portrayals of addiction where the main arc is whether or not the character will relapse. Struggling to stay sober is the opposite of recovery. I wanted to see a protagonist in recovery go up against the ultimate evil and show how she reacted to it to prove a point. Don’t get me wrong; I needed to creep my readers out and make them look over their shoulders while they read it, but it was also my goal to disturb them in a way that stuck and made them think.

After dealing with that heavy subject matter, I knew I needed to have some fun with the next book. In writing The Exorcist’s House, my primary focus was to scare readers while they were confined to those pages. I wanted them to feel like they were reading something straight out of The Conjuring universe or being told a spooky campfire tale. At no point did I ponder, “What can I do here that will shake their foundation for life?” There was no goal other than to create relatable, likeable characters and put them in horrific scenarios.

Because of this universal appeal, The Exorcist’s House became a viral sensation and is Crystal Lake Publishing’s best-selling novel to date. Not only that, but it has spawned a sequel/prequel hybrid that I’m currently writing: The Exorcist’s House: Genesis.

Neither approach is superior to the other. I have fans who swear Anathema is better than The Exorcist’s House and vice versa. These books have parallel structure but are tonally dissonant.

I’ve been publishing short stories since 2019. Most of them, especially the recent ones, have been straight horror. I have dabbled outside the genre a bit and published “literary” stories in “literary” magazines, but even those were dark in tone and subject matter, often dealing with heavy themes.

This brings me to my new short story collection, It Haunts the Mind & Other Stories. The title comes from a line of dialogue in The Exorcist’s House, so fans of that book will hopefully enjoy jumping back into that world with the titular story. Being set in that universe, it’s more of a scare-the-pants-off-you kind of tale. But that is what I enjoy about this collection and why I chose to release it. It blends the spooky, jump-scare horror with the horrors of real life. Characters confront supernatural evil as well as the dark side of human nature.

So come with me as we traverse fifteen dark tales, each with a different flavour of fear, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the ride. This is meant to be an album with different cuts, and if I succeed in my efforts, then by the end of this collection you will have been scared, entertained, emotionally drained, shocked, and ultimately, haunted.

Author bio: Nick Roberts is a native West Virginian and a graduate of Marshall University where he earned his doctorate in Leadership Studies. As an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association, his short works have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. His novel, Anathema, won Debut Novel of the Year at the 2020-2021 Horror Authors Guild Awards. His best-selling novel, The Exorcist’s House, was released in 2022 by Crystal Lake Publishing. He currently resides in South Carolina with his wife and three children and is an advocate for people struggling with substance use disorders.

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