In “Dark Wisdom,” we seek writing and/or publishing advice from the horror fiction masters making up Denver Horror Collective’s Advisory Council.
For this installment, we query Angie Hodapp, Director of Literary Development at Nelson Literary Agency: “What sort of horror novels are agents looking for?”
ANGIE HODAPP: While I certainly can’t answer that question on behalf of all agents, I can take a stab (ha, ha) at nailing down (I slay me) a few thoughts that I hope you’ll find useful. I’ll break it down into three things: writing style, premise, and plot.
Upmarket or Literary Writing Style
Nelson Literary Agency is always open to horror submissions, but one of the first three things we’re going to look at is the quality of the writing. We’re unlikely to request a more commercial-leaning, trope-heavy horror novel—cheap thrills, gratuitous violence, gore porn any premise or milieu* that feels recycled or derivative, a work likely to be released as a mass market paperback or ebook only. But send us a more cerebral, psychologically challenging work that demonstrates the tense, suspenseful, unsettling, atmospheric slow-burn of masterful horror writing, and we’ll jump all over it. Read 100 reviews or blurbs for bestselling horror novels and count how many times the words “tension” and “suspense” are used. So much of a writer’s ability to bring tension and suspense to the page lives in their writing style and voice.
We want (and, frankly, who doesn’t?) the next big crossover horror project—the one publishers are going to release in hardcover, the one booksellers are going to set out on their front-of-store displays because it has the potential to capture readers who “don’t read horror” as well as those who do.
*Some horror milieus, however, are evergreen. Haunted houses. Morgues. Cemeteries. Gothic churches. Basements. Abandoned shacks. Maybe that’s because such places are metaphors for the corners of our minds where fear and apprehension lurk. It’s often how a writer chooses to render a familiar setting that makes it feel unique rather than derivative.
– by Adrianne Montoya
One of Denver’s grand old buildings, Union Station, has been beautifully restored and updated to serve as a modern transportation hub. The city didn’t always have such a fine space, though. From 1872 until Union Station opened in 1881, passenger trains pulled in at a much more modest brick depot at 21st and Wazee; that’s just about under home plate at Coors Field today.
The Station Agent at the old depot was a man named Frank Pierce, and he took his job seriously. As a tough new western town, Denver presented all kinds of possibilities for disorder, but the thorn in Pierce’s side was all who spit on the floor. It was more common then to chew tobacco, and so there was considerably more public spitting going on. So Pierce put out spittoons, he hung signs reminding people to use them, he cleaned up, and he did it all again, but the nasty, spitty conditions persisted.
Frustrated, Pierce bypassed what remained of his politeness and went for indirect threat. He grabbed a shovel, made his way to Mount Prospect Cemetery—that’s Cheesman Park to you, your dog, and your volleyball league—and came away with a human skull. He mounted it next to the ticket window with a sign that read, “This is the last man who spat on the floor.”
The public was spooked into minding their manners at the depot and those green-black gobs made their way directly into the spittoons provided. Problem was, now they had another kind of spook on their hands.
Denver Horror Collective is a sponsor of this recurring event at Bookbar hosted by our very own Tom Mavroudis, pairing horror and thriller readings with flights of beer & wine.
On Sunday, July 28 @ 6 pm we feature Carter Wilson reading from his new book The Dead Girl in 2A. RSVP here!
Jake Buchannan knows the woman sitting next to him on his business flight to Denver—he just can’t figure out how he knows her. Clara Stowe isn’t in Jake’s line of work and didn’t go to college with him. They have nearly nothing in common apart from a deep and shared certainty that they’ve met before. Despite their best efforts over a probing conversation, both struggle to figure out what circumstances could possibly have brought them together. Then, in a revelation that sends Jake reeling, Clara admits she’s traveling to the Colorado mountains to kill herself, and disappears into the crowded airport immediately after landing.
The Dead Girl in 2A is the story of what happens to Jake and Clara after they get off that plane, and the manipulative figure who has brought them together decades after they first met.
Carter Wilson is the award-winning and USA Today bestselling author of Mister Tender’s Girl. He lives outside of Boulder, Colorado, with his two children.
-Interview by Linnea Linton
Collective member Adrianne Montoya is a Colorado native who’s spent most of her years in Denver. Though her podcast Southwest Gothic she shares spooky history and weird west stories and is currently working on two novels.
1. Name one horror author you admire. How did they help you become a better writer?
Paul Tremblay. His pacing is impeccable, the way he slams the reader with the right detail at the right moment. I’m inspired by his balance between the micro and the macro, and I’m striving to manipulate minimum details for maximum impact the way he does. He’s completely ruined Richard Scarry picture books for me, in the best way possible.
– by Thomas C. Mavroudis
The first thing work folks asked was why, of all the places to travel mid-May, was I going to Grand Rapids, Michigan?
Answering “StokerCon,” maybe two people immediately connected Stoker to Bram Stoker, author of a little book about a Romanian nobleman named Dracula.
“So, is that like ComicCon, but only vampire stuff?” they asked.
I replied it was more of a conference than a convention, culminating with the Bram Stoker Awards ceremony—like the Pulitzer Prize for horror. They were enthused.
“What were you nominated for?”
I repeated it was a conference, too, there were lectures and classes and workshops.
“Oh, congratulations! What are you teaching?”
“I’m not, I won a scholarship. It’s called the Scholarship from Hell.”
They stopped asking questions after that.
Saturday June 8 @ 6-8pm, Golden, Colorado (RSVP for directions)
The Denver Horror Collective Book Society–a book club for horror writers at any level–will be celebrating over thirty-five years of PET SEMATARY by Stephen King. Let your horror fiction flag fly, and be prepared to share your fave PS stories (when you first read/saw it, any PS folklore you’re fascinated by, and of course, what you love about it).
Have your writer’s cap on along with your party hat and spade. Directions will be PM’d to ya. Please RSVP to facilitate planning for this soiree, and thanks in advance.