B is for Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott


I was a teenager when I discovered this book in the library.  I was intrigued because it was written by Louisa May Alcott, so I figured it would be something like Little Women.  Right?  Wrong.

It was an anthology of short horror stories.  There were two of these anthologies, the other one being Plots and Counterplots.  I can’t tell you how many times I checked them out of the library.  I read them over and over, especially my favorite ones.

When Amazon came along, and I could finally buy these books, it was a wonderful day!  It was then that I discovered A Long Fatal Love Chase, her horror novel, which is another wonderful read.

Finding out that Louisa May Alcott wrote psychological horror thrilled me.  I felt like I had a secret.  For years, no one seemed to know about it except me.  I was already a Stephen King fan at the time, but Ms. Alcott wrote a different kind of horror.

I always wonder about the brave women who were so far ahead of their times.  Ms. Alcott wrote these stories in the 1860s.  What compelled her to write such dark and strange stories?  It just goes to show that some of us are just naturally inclined to wonder what really goes bump in the night.

I was already writing short stories and novels at this point.  (Bad ones, of course.  But in early days, practice is what’s important.)  After reading these stories, the tone in some of my own stories changed.  My stories got a little darker, and I tried to make them more layered, focusing on creepy and disturbing rather than overt horror.

“Nothing is impossible to a determined woman.”
― Louisa May Alcott


Weekly Writing Challenge: Stylish Imitation

I don’t remember ever thinking that I wanted to be a writer, when I was growing up.  I just wrote stories and poetry.  A lot of them.  I showed them to friends and family, but no one seemed all that interested.  It didn’t matter if they were or not.  I wasn’t writing for others, just like I didn’t read for others.  I just wrote because I had to.  I wrote because I had words and voices in my head, and if I didn’t put them on paper… well, I don’t know what would have happened.  Luckily, I never had to find out.

As a little girl, I remember my parents read stories to me, over and over and over, probably until their eyes bled.  I could never get enough stories.  My grandmother told me fairy tales, but not the ones that most people know.  She told me about Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, but also about Snow White and Rose Red.  I remember my grandmother wanting me to tell her stories back, and even then, I was no verbal storyteller.  Even now, I can’t talk about my day without boring others inside of 30 seconds.  Write about it?  Sure, of course.  Tell about it?  Um, well, uh, sure.  I mean, I guess I can tell you about it.  Let’s see, uh… I got up this morning and had coffee.  No, I didn’t have coffee this morning, just orange juice.  Or was it this morning?…  You get the picture.

The first author I ever fell in love with was Dean Koontz.  At the library or at the bookstore, I could browse shelves for hours, reading back of books and finding interesting titles.  All that changed after I read Watchers when I was 12.  Suddenly, I had a favorite author, and a focus for my obsession.  I’ve never lost that first love, though there have been others since then.  There’s been Stephen King, John Saul, Nora Roberts, Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwall, Kay Hooper, and Louisa May Alcott.

I would never attempt to imitate anyone’s style.  Not that I think there’s anything wrong with it, but my voice is influenced by all these writers and many more.  I’ve taken mental notes of the best (and the worst), and try to incorporate it into my writing.

It’s fortuitous that this week’s writing challenge is about this, and that there was an interesting interview with Dean Koontz published on Beliefnet.  Koontz gives good advice, but what I think it boils down to is: Assimilate everything, but be yourself.  Check it out.