Reading with Horror Movies

Adam Cesare, author of Mercy House, Video Night, and the upcoming Clown in a Cornfield, discusses his lifelong love of horror across an array of formats and how readers' advisors can help connect scary film fans to great books—and vice versa.

“Ick, why would you want to read that?” It’s Scholastic Book Fair day and a classmate’s photo of author Adam Cesare holding up a stack of bookspeeking over my shoulder.

“I’ll bring you, but I hate this stuff,” my dad says. (A parent or guardian is required when a 10-year-old wants to see Bride of Chucky in a theater.)

Sick and morbid are some of the descriptors my high school English teacher uses. I think she’d hand this short story assignment over to the principal, if she didn’t like me so much, if I weren’t somewhere between a class clown and a complete kiss-ass.

Horror fans learn early that sometimes we’re prompted to defend our taste in the macabre. And it’s not like we don’t get it. Part of the genre’s appeal is that it’s not for everyone, and if the squares can’t handle it, that’s fine. But in my early 20s I grew tired of always being on the defensive. I’d written my first novel, was writing another, and swore: If I was building a career out of horror, then I was going to proselytize for the entire genre. I wanted to talk about the stories I loved in a supportive, inclusive, and (halfway) articulate manner. Which meant years of blogging, tweeting, and stumbling into “classy” venues like the LA Review of Books, where I was able to extol the virtues of slasher films and Stephen Graham Jones. My reach was pretty limited, but I tried to be loud in my support of material I enjoyed.

There was still an element missing. A specific focus I didn’t realize I wanted to take and an undiscovered mechanism to reach a wider audience.

I’m an omnivoracious horror fan. I enjoy all things spooky and spooky-adjacent: ghosts, possessions, vampires, cannibalistic humanoids…they’re all cool with me. Likewise, I try not to draw much of a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow. If a work is presented with care and craft, then I’m able to delight in either the quietest of literary horror or the most puerile of B-movie splatter.

I also don’t erect a fence between media. Horror movies, novels, comics, video games, iPhone apps: I try to be a conscientious consumer of it all.

It wasn’t until my first horror convention—selling paperbacks at a show where the main draw for attendees was film and television actors—that I figured out the missing ingredient in my messaging.

Broadly speaking, there are horror fiction fans and horror movie fans and not as much overlap between those “scenes” as you’d assume. What you find, talking with hundreds of like-minded people at cons, is that your average movie fanatic knows Stephen King and Clive Barker, then maybe some Shirley Jackson or Lovecraft, but that’s where their reading usually stops. But it doesn’t have to, because the attendee rocking a Hellraiser shirt wouldn’t only like Barker; they’d probably love the stories of Livia Llewellyn or Gabino Iglesias. And someone who just picked up a Guillermo del Toro flick on Blu-ray would probably adore the monsters of authors like Nathan Ballingrud or Orrin Grey.

And I don’t think I’m saying the “problem” is horror movie fans. If you flip the fandoms the other way, start talking to horror readers, you tend to encounter a lot of horror fiction aficionados who take a reductive “books are always better” attitude toward horror cinema. But maybe they should be watching a better class of film.

To connect horror readers with horror movies and movie fans with books, I did what any millennial who loves the sound of their own voice would do: started a YouTube channel.

book cover of Clown in a CornfieldThere are plenty of quality Booktubers who discuss horror, even more movie review channels, but only a few hybrids that do both. It’s taken a few years, but my little niche “if you like this movie then you’ll like this book” videos have surpassed half-a-million views. More than the modest numbers, I’m heartened when someone comments that they never would have given such and such a chance if I hadn’t mentioned it.

But YouTube’s my hobby, not my career.

My latest novel, to an extent, represents another refocusing of my nerdy life’s mission. In August, HarperTeen will release Clown in a Cornfield. It’s my YA debut, and I don’t know why it took me so long to discover the audience who can most benefit from horror: teens.


Read also: LJ's starred review of Clown in a Cornfield

Becky Spratford's 2020 Horror Genre Preview


A book that can reach out to a horror fan-in-training? A young person whose parents and teachers aren’t hip to the empathic heart that beats in the chest of most horror stories? A teen who’s maybe into scary movies or TV but wasn’t aware that some books have machetes clutched behind their backs?

Well, actually, that’s a weird amount of pressure. Also makes me sound kind of lofty and precious. More simply: I wrote the book the kid raised on Scream and Halloween movies wanted to read. Killer clowns and killer parties.

But how is any of this actionable, if you’re trying to reach a reluctant reader or talking with a young person who’s been getting some pushback about the type of stories they like? Talk movies with them! Even at a time when we can’t go to the movies, streaming has picked up the slack. Movies, genre movies especially, are an approachable and unpretentious shared cultural shorthand. Watched Us and now you’re convinced you’ve got an evil doppelgänger? Then you’ve got to read Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne. You and your siblings scaring yourself silly with the hauntings in the Grave Encounters or Hell House LLC movies? Then check out Madeleine Roux’s “Asylum” series. You watched this weird “old” movie called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? You’re probably still hungry enough for Ania Ahlborn’s psycho-horror Brother.

Whether you’re a YA or adult reader, the genre has so much to offer those of us who get funny looks because of our Netflix history.


Adam Cesare is the author of Clown in a Cornfield, Video Night, and other horror novels. He can be found at adamcesare.wordpress.com and youtube.com/adamcesare.

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Teralee ElBasri

Thank you! I'm a librarian, and horror is MY genre! I was reading King when I was 11 and haven't looked back since! But when people ask me for recommendations and I tell them what I know the most about they often look aghast. But when I DO connect with that one patron who "gets it" we can talk forever! :)

Posted : Jul 15, 2020 02:25


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