Mentor Text: Hairy Legs and All by Stephen Graham Jones
- Writing Horror
- Defying Conventions
Background – My pandemic “thing” was finally becoming a podcast listener.
One of my favorites, as you’ll know if we’re Twitter mutuals is The Kingcast, a Stephen King podcast hosted by wonderful pop culture writers Scott Wampler and Eric Vespe. They, alongside their guests, look at King’s work, focusing on adaptations of it. If you’re looking for a mentor text for analysis, it’s a great source. ( I can guide you to some specific episodes that are among some of the best examples of analysis I’ve ever seen.)
They’ve had a wonderful cross section of guests, but for a couple of weeks in September, they had a couple of horror authors on as guests. As a reader, I do what we all do, and started checking out their work. Wampler spoke about the impact of one of Stephen Graham Jones’ stories in particular, and to my delight, it was one I easily found online.
Since it’s spooky season, I thought it was the perfect time to drop a spooky little gem in your lap. You’re welcome – for the mentor text potential of this story, but also for the creepy feeling you’ll have after reading it.
How we might use this text:
Writing Horror – As a genre, horror is actually quite multifaceted. There are so many sub-genres. And some of them are pretty gruesome. It’s probably why we don’t explore it that much in the classroom.
The Kingcast has pulled me deeply back into the world of King, and horror. One of the things that King does best is tap into fears that are almost universal. In this story, Stephen Graham Jones does that same thing, and digs into the all too common fear of spiders.
Additionally, he does it in a way that isn’t over the top. Hairy Legs and All is disturbing, yes, but it actually amplifies the horror of an actual situation. It’s a great mentor text for an early foray into horror writing for our writers, having them, like Jones, take something that might actually happen to its most horrific potential.
Jones uses craft to communicate the very personal horror of this encounter. I’ll talk about some of that in a second, but the personal nature of the horror is our entry point for our writers. They can consider their own fears, and draft a “What if…” story that explores a plausible example of them facing that fear.
Defying Conventions – So, you might be reading this before reading the story. Go read it.
I know, right? Three sentences.
Jones gives his spider tale a sense of urgency, makes it frantic by writing a run-on sentence over two pages in length. The panicked voice of the narrator comes through clearly as result of this choice.
I’m not sure, outside of Cormac McCarthy’s eschewing of quotation marks, that I’ve seen a choice related to conventions that has had such an impact on me as a reader. That choice nt only establishes a voice in the piece, but, as I mentioned, established the frantic, urgent, panicked tone of the piece.
I think this would be a great thing for our writers to explore in their own pieces.
Editing – As we discussed the choice that Jones made to write using a run-on, we’re also talking about what conventions would dictate. We can discuss that this is hard to read in many ways. There are no breaks, no place for us to pause. As a reader, being presented with a page that is simply a block of text, with no breaks or indentation is overwhelming.
It might be an interesting experiment to have our writers act purely as editors. If they work within the parameters that, frankly, they are used to, a multi-page run-on sentence isn’t acceptable. How would they “fix” it? There could be a wonderful discussion about the choices they’d make, and what the end result of their editing would be on the story. That kind of writerly talk can be beneficial.
Also, if I’m being honest here, there might perhaps be some subtle revenge to be had as a teacher, handing them an imposing block of text, much like something that some of them may have handed to us.
I love having what feels like a rich reading life, where my interests overlap, and I discover new authors. Yes, The Kingcast has me reading, and re-reading King, who is a master of his craft. But it’s also opened me up to some new writers as well, and, in this case, given me a new voice to use in the classroom.
What are some of your “spooky season” writing activities? How do you approach horror writing in your classes? Do you have any go to horror mentor texts?
Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!