If tales of headless horsemen, Salem witches and the mysterious disappearance of Roanoke Colony in 1590 bring you goosebumps, you’ll want to add “Colonial Horrors: Sleepy Hollow and Beyond,” (Oct. 3, Pegasus Books, $25.95) an anthology edited by Graeme Davis to your Halloween-season reading lists. The curated collection of classic Colonial suspense fiction includes works from authors including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Cotton Mather, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James and others.
Davis will be signing copies of “Colonial Horrors” at the Tattered Cover in Lodo during a special Halloween reading on Oct. 31. We recently chatted with the Lafayette-based author. And edited version of the interview follows.
What inspired you to write this anthology?
“The idea for ‘Colonial Horrors’ developed over a number of years. I started writing for tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons as a college student, and in 2009 I became the line editor for a game called Colonial Gothic. Published by Rogue Games in Illinois, this game is set in early America rather than a fictional fantasy world, and involves Masonic magic, Salem witchcraft and Native American myths alongside the political and military events of the times. I started to plan a fiction line to go alongside the game’s core rulebooks and supplements, and as I began to research the period, I discovered a whole wealth of early American horror fiction. Frankly, I became side-tracked, and before I knew it, I had found enough material to make a respectable anthology, and hopefully to communicate some of my own fascination with the subject to a wider readership.”
What did you hope to achieve in writing the book?
“I wanted this anthology to achieve a number of things. Most of all, I wanted to show how important the Colonial era has been—and still is—as an inspiration for American horror fiction. … I also wanted to show that early American horror fiction is every bit as valid—and every bit as good—as the European variety. Poe and Lovecraft both have strong followings, of course, but there are many other writers who do not receive their due. Everyone has heard of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ but it is best known today for its various screen adaptations: Not too many people have actually read it. Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper and John Greenleaf Whittier are known for writing in other genres, as is Howard Pyle; and others, like Richard Chamberlayne, John Neal and Charles Brockden Brown, are largely forgotten.”
What makes this book unique for the contemporary reader?
“Most of all, I think, it is the more obscure writers whose work I have uncovered. Charles Brockden Brown, for example, is widely credited with creating the first American Gothic novel, and was a contemporary of Mary Shelley and Matthew Lewis—but today he is known only to a comparative handful of scholars. I also think that modern readers will be interested to know that some more famous writers dabbled in horror fiction, even though they are best known for their work in other genres. Finally, I was able to trace the original inspiration behind the hit movie ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and a possible origin for the legend of the ‘Jersey Devil.’ These early works are not just good reads—they are a visible part of America’s literary and pop-culture history whose legacy can still be seen today.”
How does it feel to see the book published?
“The process that led to ‘Colonial Horrors’ began in 2009, but I started working on this book about two years ago. It has been a lot of fun to work on, and I can hardly wait to hold a copy of the finished book in my hands. Judging by the page proofs I have received from the publisher and the cover art in their catalog, it will be a gorgeous-looking book—and like many writers, I love books as objects in their own right as well as for their contents.”