Another Writing First: Horror?

Short Story Publication

I am pleased to share that my short story “New England Gothic” has been published in the September 10, 2021 edition of The Chamber Magazine. 

How the Story Came to Be

Several years ago, I became interested in flash fiction, thinking I could salvage a failed novel that had an episodic structure–too episodic to be considered an actual plot, it would seem. (You can read more about that failed novel here.)

Flash fiction wasn’t a “thing” when I went to college and grad school, so I bought The Rose Metal Field Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction to see if I could get a better handle on the genre. I’ve since read enough flash fiction to know that my short-short fiction isn’t flash, and it never will be.

The Field Guide includes a number of practice exercises, one of which called to mind William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily,” as well as a 2004 murder that happened in a neighboring town in my local area. That murder was made all the more horrific by the fact that the perpetrator, an elderly woman, had been the neighbor of a work colleague of mine and had even babysat my colleague when she was little.

I’d never before written a story that was directly “ripped from the headlines.” What pushed me into writing it was wanting to use the same point of view as “A Rose for Emily,” first person plural. I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of the town. It would be a first for me.

The Path to Publication

So I wrote the story, which I titled “No Rose for Marjorie,” and sent it out to literary magazines. Seven rejections in return. I changed the title to “New England Gothic” and again sent it out to literary magazines. Three more rejections. Then I saw a call for submissions to a horror magazine. I thought, what the heck, and submitted the story. It didn’t take long for the editor to respond as though it were a horror story. He asked for some revision to make Marjorie’s motive clear. I made the changes, and he accepted the story.

Does this mean I’ve written a horror story?

159 thoughts on “Another Writing First: Horror?

    1. Thank you, Darlene! The ironic thing is that the formal education I had in writing fiction was for just one type of fiction, farily narrowly defined. I didn’t start really branching out until I joined the blogging community, which had sparked so many ideas and new directions!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you very much, Shayne! I certainly hope no other murders like that happen in my area to inspire me. (Although the Sheila Labarre murders were in the town bordering the one where I live, I’m not touching that one!!)

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  1. Congratulations, Liz! And good for you for your persistence.
    I also was expecting ghosts or demons–this is horror in the way that true crime is horrible, or a story like The Lottery. I think the first person plural gives it that feeling that the everyone in the town was complicit, that this went on and no one questioned anything (the follow up being what other horrors are behind the doors of this “quaint” town?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Merril. The follow-up came two years later with the Sheila Labarre murders in Epping, which is right down the road from where I live. She tortured her victims before they died, and people knew it, but no one did anything. I’m not touching that one.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Goff. When I get a rejection notice, I just send the piece story or the poem some place else. In some instances, I will need to revise the story. In others, the story just wasn’t a good fit for that magazine at that time.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Jim. I got a better handle on flash fiction when I reviewed a new flash fiction chapbook for someone. It’s really not the kind of thing I write–which is good to know! I haven’t tried ekphrastic prose, just ekphrastic poetry.

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  2. Congratulations! I think it is wonderful that you are so very creative with your writing projects and that you are willing to try new things. A writing instructor once told me that nothing you write is ever really wasted…I believe that is true…writing takes us down many roads…country roads, back roads, highways of life…If we did not venture down those paths in the first place, where would we be? (In the same place and we would never get anywhere.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Liz, horror is a very wide genre. All sorts of different plots and themes fall under this general heading ranging from paranormal and ghost stories to brutal murders. Stories with a dark psychological twist definitely fall under the wider horror genre. Congratulations on getting this story published. Great and exciting news.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, John. What the autopsy findings revealed when they were made public was truly shocking. In the end, the person Marjorie is based on was found incompetant to stand trial and committed to the state psychiatric hospital, where she died in 2011.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. To my mind, this story is definitely horror. It hooked me from the start with the first paragraph saying this would be about a murder, which is not often done. So, I had to ask myself what makes this murder so distinctive from other murders? The reader knows the story is about a murder from the outset, so what twist can there be that puts a new spin on murder?
    The story then skillfully built the tension, but with that scene where the woman pushes her sister from a moving car, a new set of questions entered my mind because I was seeing something unexpectedly horrific especially when it came from Marjorie, a stereotypically sweet old lady that you might find living in Mayberry. This is when you see a Jekyll/Hyde personality taking shape. You have to ask yourself “Is this a case of sociopathic/psychopathic behavior? Was there a justifiable reason behind this? Then the suspense builds with the question of what is motivating Marjorie? My curiosity compelled me to read on.
    Had the story ended with what is the next to last paragraph, I would have written this off as a suspense/thriller or crime fiction. However, for me that last paragraph showing the gruesomeness of the crime scene and the revelation of how cruelly Marjorie treated someone who was not only flesh and blood but a sister, someone who was an intimate part of Marjorie’s everyday for years, that showed the true horror of the crime and changed my view of Marjorie from that of being a garden-variety murderess to a true monster. The horror for me increased when I asked myself how many of the people around me daily might be capable of something this horrendous? This is like finding out that Granny Clampett is suddenly channeling Hannibal Lecter.
    No, this is true Hitchcockian/Robert Bloch-style horror in the spirit of Psycho.
    —-Phil Slattery, Founder and Publisher of The Chamber Magazine

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough commentary on my story, Phil. I’ve come to realize over the past couple of years that my college education in fiction-writing and literature was very traditional and relatively narrow.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. An excellent discussion!! Liz’s story also had me thinking back to a “good Christian” couple I knew of in my youth who tortured and killed their 3 children – all under age 12 – because their children weren’t following the religion properly. The couple were very well thought of as upstanding members of the community. So, yes… how many so-called ordinary people cultivate a public persona that is the opposite of who they are in private life? Creepy indeed.
      Congruence and consistency between one’s public and private life is a worthy goal I think.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Congratulations, Liz. I hope the readers of the mag “enjoy” the story as much as I did. It was indeed very creepy. I like how you wrote it from a curious bystander/town’s perspective and that you didn’t attempt to get into the minds of the real life characters because I could not have read the story otherwise. I did wonder how bad this woman, Majorie, could be ….
    Very engaging writing, Liz.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Their description as “dark fiction” seems quite fitting. That’s a creepy tale and the first person plural adds to the effect – leaves the reader wondering if there isn’t another dead body in the narrator’s house!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Congrats, Liz! A really horrific story, especially for being written so ‘matter-of-factly’. Having read those last few paragraphs I feel quite sickened, which is a testament to the power of your words. Proper horror, done very properly 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. It was definitely a brilliant horror story, Liz, in more ways than a gothic tale. You brought to our attention the issues of mental illness, the lack of support and housing for the elderly, the inability of a community to reach out to someone who does not want anyone’s attention. Most of all, you brought out humanity’s desire for facing fear and evil – not because we like what has happened, but rather that we are building a resilience for how to deal with feeling anxious or afraid. Congratulations Liz for your story being published. I am indeed grateful for your writing for it allows me to explore areas that are frightening, alongside and excellent guide and writer (that would be you).

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I didn’t think it was a horror story, Liz, until I read this: “We all lose our looks as we get older.” That horrified me. But as to the objective genre classification, I thought it was more of a (fascinating and incredibly engaging) true-crime story until I got to the last paragraph. When I hit your description of the blood—the details were masterful—my heart started racing, and I began breathing faster.

    At that point, I knew: horror, definitely. Congrats on both your skill and your persistence!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I think you did, and a fab story at that. I love writing Flash Fiction, I find it a great way to make every word count – and you did. It is not easy to have a complete story in so few words. it is fun! Fab, Liz.

    Liked by 2 people

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