Horror author discusses therapeutic benefits of writing

“This discovery gave me life,” said author Peter Straub while describing the day he began writing horror fiction.

Straub spoke in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom Thursday night to an audience of USF students, fans and both accomplished and aspiring horror fiction writers. The event was co-sponsored by the University Lecture Series and the Humanities Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Straub is the author of Ghost Story, Mystery, Mr. X, Lost Boy Lost Girl, Shadowland and Floating Dragon. Straub has also co-authored two books with Stephen King, The Talisman and Black House. Additionally, he has written various novellas, poetry and nonfiction works.

The tall and broad-shouldered Straub began his lecture – titled “Why Should Anyone Read This Stuff?” – by reading a passage from the American Poetry Review. His lecture centered on the theme of writing as an escape from the boring, mundane and sometimes painful present.

“For survivors of traumatic childhoods, the present hurts,” he said.

Straub alluded to his troubled childhood throughout the evening, but never fully divulged the details. He said, instead, that every life has terror, disappointment, horror and despair.

Straub said that to be a good horror writer, one need not have been “ravished,” but “it does give you a certain edge – going though it gives you a command over the things that scare other people.”

Writing horror fiction was Straub’s way of fleeing the present. He described the escape that comes from writing fiction as “suspended moments of non-being” as well as “the ultimate act of transcendence.”

When Straub discovered in 1967 that he wanted to write for a living, he said his goal was to “purchase a slightly less impoverished life than the one I had.”

The genre of horror spoke to him, but in the 1970s, horror fiction was not respected. He called it a “massive exercise in snobbery,” in which critics looked down upon horror and other genres.

It worked to his advantage, however. Straub said he felt like he could “do anything (he) wanted in horror, because the genre was so despised that no one would notice anyway.”

Clearly, people did notice, as Straub is now an acclaimed author. Speaking on working with King and literary collaborations in general, Straub stressed the importance of stepping out of one’s normal writing voice to seek a middle ground.

Jason and Wendy Grimes, a business major and a USF alumna, respectively, came expecting to hear Straub speak only of horror, but were struck by his emphasis on poetry and other forms of classical literature, as well as his sense of humor.

During the question and answer period, one aspiring horror writer asked Straub for some advice on getting published, to which he answered, “If you do strong work, the path will be there.”

His latest work, an anthology titled Poe’s Children, is due to be released in 2008.