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By Nora Lowe
Most afternoons found a young Ed Perratore and his best friend Jack Cotter watching “Dark Shadows: on television. That, coupled with old horror, sci-fi and psychological thrillers like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” left Perratore with persistent nightmares.
Despite those terrifying dreams, today, Perratore, a longtime Mount Kisco resident with several children and grandchildren, wouldn’t change a thing. His penchant for horror is as strong as ever, leading him to author and recently release two horror novels of his own: “Hindred Spirits” and “The Coven Tree.”
“All these nightmares that I had helped inspire the novels I later conceived,” he said.
To Perratore, horror is more than a genre. It’s a space you can enter.
“I can…know that I’m where I am and go into this other place, appreciate it, enjoy it and then get back out,” he explained.
It’s made horror writing less spooky than one might think – and maybe even a bit therapeutic.
One intriguing aspect of horror for Perratore is that there are certain rules, a type of morality to it where you can find the characters and get caught up in them.
“Hindred Spirits” imagines a reality in which children who face abuse can leave their bodies at nightfall and enter a spirit world, which is free of pain. However, when the protagonist is suddenly unable to re-enter her body, she finds herself trapped in this other realm.
In “The Coven Tree,” a couple purchases a gorgeous wooden highboy for what they think is a bargain, but the deal is too good to be true. The chest is hosting a dozen evil souls, who begin to relentlessly torment the family.
Both novels, Perratore explained, are not “COVID novels.” They were written over a six-year period in the 1990s, and he let them sit for about 25 years while raising his children and alternately freelancing and working for publications like Consumer Reports. When the pandemic hit, his wife Elena, who also served as his editor, suggested completing the works and marketing them.
With that, Perratore conducted a “sweeping revision and update,” seamlessly integrating contemporary ideas such as smart home products. You’ll find no mention of the pandemic in either book, though, the rationale being that horror should serve as an escape from current events.
He counts Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, F. Paul Wilson and Brian Lumley as inspirations. As an English major in college, George Eliot and William Wordsworth left a big impression about attention to detail.
Perratore said reading should be a sensory experience.
“I wanted touch there, I wanted scent, I wanted sounds of the area,” he said.
For “The Coven Tree,” he “wanted to capture all the flavor of the Adirondacks,” going so far as to research flora and fauna to ensure any references made to them align with the setting. He also did weeks of research to capture the souls’ 18th century dialogue.
From reading John Steinbeck, he learned about evoking dynamic emotion instead of just fear. Perratore seems to have nailed that on the head. One Amazon comment for “Hindred Spirits” reads, “It brought tears to my eyes at the end.”
Another thing that sets Perratore’s writing apart is brief moments of humor.
“I think that there can be some interplay (between horror and humor) because…it helps now and then to have a lighter moment just to let the reader take a breath and even chuckle,” said Perratore, who also writes a humor blog called The Fog Bell.
Perratore did his best to avoid clichés, joking, “Anytime someone says to another character, ‘I love you,’ you know that person is about to die. It’s like every time I hear that, ‘Okay, nice knowing you.’”
Those who have read Perratore’s contemplative nonfiction book, “One Man’s Journey: A Walk on The Croton Aqueduct Trail,” might be taken aback by his pivot to horror writing.
“Why would someone who we’ve only known as this kind of person write something to scare the pants off people?” he imagines readers asking. He quipped that he’s simply reframing the term “to die for.”
“Hindred Spirits” and “The Coven Tree” are available for purchase on Amazon as paperback or Kindle. They can also be ordered from nearly any independent bookstore.
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