Are you afraid of the dark?

Four bestselling horror novelists dissect the North American Horror story at the International Festival of Authors

A cover shot of author Andrew Pyper's psychological thriller The Guardians. The author is also known for a number of suspenseful reads, including Lost Girls, originally published in 1999, and 2008's The Killing Circle.
A cover shot of author Andrew Pyper’s psychological thriller The Guardians. The author is known for a number of suspenseful reads, including Lost Girls and The Killing Circle.

Of all the scenarios that humans fear, the thought of losing one’s child is among the most terrifying.

This is something horror novelists Samuel Archibald, Nick Cutter, Andrew Pyper and Benjamin Percy intimately understand. At the International Festival of Authors  (IFOA) last weekend, the authors talked about how having children has intensified their own fears — and how tapping into that theme works to terrify readers.

“When I think about my first novel … the threat was mostly posed to the protagonist, because I didn’t have kids then,” says Pyper.

“The greatest fear I could conceive of would be harm coming to myself. The figure in that book is very alone. The most recent books are about family, for one degree to another, because I have kids now and I don’t really care about my wellbeing almost at all.”

The IFOA is holding its 36th year of round tables, workshops, readings and signings at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. The event runs from Oct. 22 to Nov. 1, featuring 85,000 of the world’s best novelists, poets, short story writers, biographers, and playwrights from over 100 countries.

Thrilling works by the author panel at the International Festival of Authors

Samuel Archibald: Archibald teaches at the University of Quebec in Montreal focusing on horror and genre fiction. He presented his collection of short fiction, Arvida, which includes stories of murder, beasts, rituals and haunted houses. The collection won Quebec’s Prix Des Libraries 2012 and Prix Coup de Coeur Renaud-Bray 2012.

Nick Cutter: National bestselling author of The Troop, Nick Cutter, who uses the pen name Craig Davidson, is an acclaimed novelist from Toronto. Cutter discussed The Deep, a new novel about a plague that is wiping out humanity.

Benjamin Percy: From Minnesota, Percy is the author of the novels Red Moon, The Wilding, and two short story collections, Refresh, Refresh, and The Language of Elk. Percy talked about The Dead Lands, a new post-apocalyptic thriller inspired by the Lewis and Clark saga.

Andrew Pyper: Pyper won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Hardcover Novel, and was selected for The Globe and Mail’s Best 100 Books of 2013 for his book Demonologist. He presented The Damned, a supernatural thriller that follows a survivor of a near death experience.

On Sunday, Archibald, Cutter, Pyper and Percy joined at Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto to discuss how they scare their audience and why people want to be scared.

“Should I Read It?” columnist for Day 6 on CBC Radio One, Becky Toyne, moderated the event. Toyne opened with some of the things that she is afraid of that appear in the authors’ novels.

“Haunted houses, evil spirits from the afterlife, attack by wolves, attack by bear, attack by giant spiders, attack by giant albino bats, enclosed spaces, a pandemic wiping out civilization, violent death of a family member, and reading any of the above before I go to sleep,” said Toyne.

The panel also included a discussion about genre, readership, childhood and more. The authors reflected on the pros and cons of writing horror, stating that it’s not easy to keep an audience happy.

“You almost always have to show the monster in the closet, and once you show that monster in the closet you can’t help but fail the audience expectation at some level,” said Cutter.

Pyper and Cutter can be seen at IFOA’s Round Table: A Pox on Your Head on Oct. 29 to discuss writing contagion and mass infection into fiction.

Watch IFOA’s North American Horror Story here: