1. Why do I read horror/ghost stories?
I suppose one of the obvious answers to this question is that I'm a masochist? I mean, people like my mother and sisters have asked me since I was a teenager, "How can you read that stuff?" Obviously, many people don't enjoy being scared out of their wits, and to tell you the truth, I wouldn't paint myself out to be someone who does, because I'm such a chicken when it comes to so many things, but I can't remember a time when I didn't enjoy stories, books, television shows, and movies that sent shivers up and down my spine.
One of my favorite books when I was a kid was an old Scholastic Paperback called Strange But True. Most of the stories in it were quite forgettable, but there were two that really stood out for me. One was about a ghost ship that was sailing around with a frozen crew. The other was about a frightful man lugging a coffin on his back who later showed up on an elevator that the narrator chose not to take because "Coffin Man" was on it. The elevator malfunctioned, killing everyone on it. (That's how I remember it, anyway. That may not be what really happened. I haven't read the book since I was twelve or so, although I'd like to reread it).
About the same time I discovered that book, I also discovered Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators mystery series (which hardly anyone else has ever heard of). That series was to me what Nancy Drew was to almost every other girl I knew. I think I preferred it, because, like Scooby Doo (speaking of cartoons. I loved cartoons when they took on spooky themes. Anyone remember The Flintstones episode when that Addams Family type family moved in next door? That was my favorite!), these books tended to focus on mysteries that at first seemed to be supernatural in nature. Something ghoul-y-and-ghost-y-ish always spawned the three boys' investigations.
When I got older, I remember scaring myself to death reading The Amityville Horror, and then, of course, moving on to Stephen King. I always found the books scarier than the movies, because, as I'd say after seeing the movie, "That wasn't as scary as I imagined it when I read the book." In other words, I guess my imagination ran wilder while reading than it did while being presented with someone else's interpretation of events. The only exceptions here were the movies The Exorcist and The Shining, both of which pay excellent homage to the books and still scare the crap out of me.
Back in those days, it was very easy to send a chill up my spine while reading. These days, it's much much harder to do so. I read these books and stories now for two reasons: 1. I'm always hoping to come across something that does terrify me, that makes me feel the way I did when I was a kid reading Strange But True and 2. I like to write ghost stories myself, so I read them to see what others have written and for inspiration.
2. Do I like being thrilled?
Yes, I love to be thrilled. I'm a new-adventure-and-roller-coaster kind of gal. Or, at least, I like to think I am. Reality is that I love to be thrilled, unless I'm home all alone, it's late, and I've made the mistake of reading something like a collection of essays about serial killers. I hear a "thump" somewhere in the house (or was it on the front porch?), and then, well, I'm not too keen on being thrilled.
3. Do I like being scared, safely in the comfort of my own home?
Yes, but not when I'm alone. This is a bit of a problem for the sort of thrill-seeker I am, because I rarely ever get scared if I'm not alone. I might have a brief moment of chills up my spine while reading something macabre or thrilling, but all I have to do is go find someone else in another room (someone who's supposed to be there, I mean, not an intruder with a wicked grin and an ax raised above his skeletal face), and I'm fine. If I'm alone? Well, let's just say I've been known to lock doors and dive under covers hoping no one finds me.
4. Do I like the eerie frisson of chill running over my skin when I read a particularly scary line or scene?
Yes, I do like that sort of chill, as long as it doesn't last too long, and as long as it's only being inspired by reading/watching something and not by strange noises echoing throughout my house.
There you have it: I love to be scared out of my wits... maybe... sort of. Are any of the rest of you who read horror/thrillers as ambivalent as I apparently am?