Andrew Pyper on creating fear

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First aired on Fear Itself (23/7/12)

In Danse Macabre, Stephen King writes, "The good horror tale will dance its way to the centre of your life and find the door to the secret room you believed no one but you knew of..." But how do horror writers, like King, unlock that room? Christy Conlin, host of the CBC Radio summer show Fear Itself, sat down with horror writer Andrew Pyper to find out. andrewpyper.jpg

Pyper, who is the author of six scary novels (his latest, The Demonologist will be out later this year), believes that the horror genre is the perfect medium to explore the fear in our lives and the fear that permeates society at large.

"What I was trying, unconsciously or otherwise, to tap into or draw from in my writing were public fears. That is, things that were going on in larger society that gave of all of us pause," he told Conlin. This fascination fueled much of his earlier work, including his first novel, Lost Girls, which was inspired by the crimes of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. "I'm sure all Canadians were grappling with this horror among us. This educated, seemingly pleasant, attractive-looking people next door doing horrible things," he said. "I couldn't handle it. I couldn't understand it."

Since the publication of Lost Girls, Pyper has become a father and now has two children under six. He finds that his fears for his children's safety are now influencing his work. "I worry about them both in the everyday crossing- the-street way as well as the middle-of-the-night nightmarish imagined fears," he said. And he finds that these fears are "much more pointed and more personal" than the public fears he explored in his earlier work. Pyper feels obligated to write about these anxieties because it's something every parent grapples with, but " that's where most of us, as parents, don't want to go." His job as a writer, he says, is to bring forth the unconscious and the undiscussable.

Pyper doesn't believe in the paranormal, but thinks this is irrelevant when it comes to writing horror. Monsters, ghosts and curses "persist in their 'not thereness,'" Pyper explained. "Even though I don't, quote, believe in any of those things, they nevertheless frighten me."

Pyper also believes that it doesn't matter whether or not they actually exist, because what matters is the possibility that lies within the human imagination. "The greatest horrors that humans have committed against other humans are, at root, acts of the human imagination," he said. "I like to think of my work as reminding us of the tremendous capacity of the human imagination as well as the tremendous dangers."

While Pyper's work is about making the unbelievable believable, he's discovered that successful horror stories don't depend on the monster creating the fear. They depend on the character experiencing it. "It's really about the person experiencing that scene, the character you have in the scene that's seeing the ghost," he said. "We believe that character's point of view being honest and being one that the reader can feel 'That could be me.'"

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