In previous columns we’ve shared fun facts about authors or their books, or featured a mini-interview. This time we’re trying something a little different related to Mark Allan Gunnells’ collection of film- and theater-themed horror stories, Curtain Call and Other Dark Entertainments: we’re spotlighting the author’s recent TEDx talk on “How Horror Movies Taught Me Empathy.” Check out the video below (and the mini-interview that follows!), and then visit the CD website to learn more about the book.
CEMETERY DANCE: Tell us what motivated you to do the TEDx talk. How did you get asked to speak?
MARK ALLAN GUNNELLS: I was motivated by an article I mention in the talk, which suggested horror fans lack empathy. That was so opposite of my experience. Horror films were where I first felt empathy the strongest, and they helped nurture and develop that empathy. The way I ended up doing the talk was one year my husband and I attended the TEDx and loved it and the diverse topics, and at the end they encouraged anyone with “an idea worth sharing” to submit that idea. I did, and I made it through the rounds until I was chosen to be one of the speakers.
You published a short story collection with Cemetery Dance, Curtain Call and Other Dark Entertainments, that has a number of movie- and theater-related stories. Was that overall theme planned in advance?
No, I can’t say that type of theme was planned, but it also doesn’t surprise me. I love all forms of storytelling, not just the written word. Movies, live theater, TV shows…all have influenced me. When I write, I sometimes explore themes related to those visual forms of storytelling as well.
Your TEDx talk was about horror movies, and you argue that, in addition to scaring us, they can also teach us empathy. Do you have the same goals in your fiction?
I do. At an early age, when I first became a horror hound, I realized how much more thrilling, and exciting, and just scary horror can be when you care about the characters and are therefore invested in their fates. So it just feels natural when I write to want to give the reader that same experience.
What are some stories in your CD collection that would be good examples of this interesting balance between fright and empathy?
My collection I think has several stories that strike that balance. Stories like “The Grass on the Other Side,” “Curtain Call,” and “Picnic at Bonaventure” are ones that I hope are heightened and made more heart-wrenching because you care about the characters. Even with a story like “Fates,” which is more a traditional horror story, I wanted to take a situation that was already tense and frightening and make it even more so by presenting a character that the reader could identify with, put themselves in her place, root for.
If you enjoyed the interview and video, we hope you’ll consider reading Cemetery Dance’s eBook of Curtain Call.
Norman Prentiss is Editor, Electronic Books Division with Cemetery Dance Publications. He won a Bram Stoker Award for his first book, Invisible Fences. Recent books include Odd Adventures with your Other Father, Life in a Haunted House, and The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar.