To celebrate the publication of Be Scared of Everything: Horror Essays, editor Andrew Faulkner looks back on the personal and literary transformations that occurred within—and beyond—the book.
Confession: I edited a book called Be Scared of Everything: Horror Essays and I don’t like horror.
Or, at least, I didn’t like horror. Then I met Peter Counter.
I never quite understood what the big deal was about the horror genre. Why would anyone want to spend their time and money just to spook themselves out?
But Be Scared of Everything makes a fascinating case that everything is actually part of the horror genre: an episode of Frasier is horror. The movie The Santa Clause is horror. And that’s a good thing, because a good dose of the horrific—whether it’s a movie, video game, or a robot dressed up as Lizzy Borden—can innoculate us against the truly terrifying experience of living.
Horror isn’t just jump scares, Peter tells us, it’s the living, beating heart of existence. Suddenly, horror didn’t seem so scary. It’s almost warm and fuzzy.
But while horror may provide human connection, it runs on blood and guts, and Be Scared of Everything has plenty of both. Through 29 non-fiction essays, Peter documents the real and fictional twists and turns that horror takes, from pop culture (did you know that Tom DeLonge from Blink-182 runs an organization that researches UFOs?) and media (Hannibal! The Blair Witch Project! The X-Files! Pokémon!) to history and true crime (The Salem Witch Trials and a body found in a water tower).
There’s also a shockingly compelling personal narrative that still leaves me wide-eyed every time I read it. I’m still surprised at how fascinating horror actually is, but working on this book has made me a true convert.
Speaking of blood and guts: a good writer is supposed to kill their darlings, and Peter’s writing process was an absolute bloodbath. Almost a full book’s worth of essays were proposed, outlined, roughed in, drafted, edited or even finalized, only to be cut because they weren’t up to snuff.
The amount of preparation and research that went into each piece was staggering. Here, for example, is a high-level outline for a five-paragraph essay called “Fighting Ghosts”:
(The third? fourth? outline for the essay “Fighting Ghosts” from Be Scared of Everything)
Draft after draft of each essay was whittled down until each essay became a dark, hard and eminently readable gem. Peter’s writing process is truly grinding. But however (ahem) overkill it may seem, you can’t argue with the results.
Be Scared of Everything begins with an essay titled “Interviews with my Family Ouija Board”. It’s a perfect example of what makes this book so interesting, as it weaves together fascinating personal anecdote and smart cultural analysis while offering a peek behind the curtains at the machinery of horror in operation.
The essay opens with a small group of friends and family gathered around a Ouija board, preparing to commune with whatever entities lurk on the other side of the veil.
(Peter’s family Ouija board: mass-produced novelty item? Magical object through which he conversed with a malevolent spirit that pretended to be his dead grandmother? Why not both!)
How fitting to open a book about horror with a small coterie of people protecting one another from who knows what. Because as Be Scared of Everything shows us, if you’re going to gaze into a void, you may as well have company while you do it. By the end of working on Be Scared of Everything, I came to think of Peter as the Virgil of horror. Now, when I read Stephen King or play Resident Evil, I have a guide to light the way.
Andrew Faulkner is an editor for Invisible Publishing.