The Horror! : On Encouraging Young Writers to Dig into Fear by Jacquelyn Stolos, Program Coordinator

Jacquelyn Stolos is a new staff member at Writopia Lab in Los Angeles

As a new staff member at Writopia, I was thrilled to spend two weeks at WriCampia teaching, thinking, and exploring alongside the world’s most literary campers last August–what a dream! And more, I had the opportunity to fully embrace the eerie atmosphere of our home-away-from-home in the misty Poconos and lead a new horror elective, creating a space where WriCampians could feel safe and supported as they explored their darker, more sinister story ideas.

Now, as Halloween approaches, I’m excited to dig back into horror with my young writers for Frightopia, Writopia’s Halloween inspired writing program!  

WriCampia is Writopia Lab’s annual writing retreat and sleepaway camp. Find out more information here.

So why create a space for darkness? Each day at WriCampia, as we drew the blinds in our workshop space and cued up our eerie music, we asked ourselves just this. What exactly is horror? What makes fear an important emotion for writers to explore? We began each horror writing session sitting in a tight circle on the floor discussing personal fears such as spiders or dark water. As a community of curious, respectful horror writers, we posed questions, found common ground, and drew conclusions about what our fears told us about our ourselves, our lives, and our world. 

Get your copy of the WriCampia Horror and Mystery Anthologies this October on Amazon.

In an interview with The Paris Review, the feminist horror writer Carmen Maria Machado explains: “when you enter into horror, you’re entering into your own mind, your own anxiety, your own fear, your own darkest spaces.” At WriCampia, our horror writers challenged themselves to do just that. They wrote towards what they feared, shining light on the unsettling, cobwebby corners of their imaginations. Their stories filled with murders, sinister doubles, unexplained disappearances, and strangers creeping in. They allowed their writing to become a window into their subconsciousness, using blood, gore, and nightmare logic to ask big questions and dig into big anxieties.  

And what fantastic, horrific writing they produced! In the horror stories composed at camp, knives grow into swords, lakes continue down into icy eternity, and camp counselors aren’t quite who they seem. The work challenges readers by questioning what comes after death–Is it a cafe? A shopping mall?–and chill readers through tales of friends and relatives swapped out for something more malicious. In these unsettling tales, these brave WriCampians asked: What is the world made of? Who are we? What and who can we trust? 

In WriCampia’s horror elective, we discovered that writing about fear was just another way to write about ourselves. We shone the light on the things that scared us and found community and support in the dark. During this month’s Frightopia programming, I hope to bring these discoveries and more to young writers all the way across the country in Los Angeles. Who knows what we’ll unearth this time around; when playing with horror, you can never predict what might be lurking around the next corner. 

Jacquelyn Stolos can barely contain her excitement about joining the Writopia team in Los Angeles this spring! Jacquelyn began her writing career as an elementary schooler filling up spiral-bound notebooks while perched on a mossy rock in the woods behind her childhood home. Her habits have barely changed since. She studied English and French literature at Georgetown University, where she completed an honors thesis of short stories and won the Annabelle Bonner Medal for short fiction. For her masters, Jacquelyn was awarded the Writers in the Public Schools fellowship to study fiction in New York University’s MFA program. She has also workshopped at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, and the New York Summer Writers Institute. Her short fiction has appeared in The Atticus Review, Conte Online, and The Oddville Press. Jacquelyn is an ardent believer in the power of story and is always looking for ways to spread the love through education. She previously worked as a teaching artist at Teachers and Writers Collaborative, leading creative writing workshops in elementary and middle school classrooms, as well as an adjunct professor at New York University. Jacquelyn’s first novel, Edendale, will be released by Creature Publishing, a feminist horror press, in the spring of 2020.

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