Visiting Chicago Author Talks Horror's Heyday

Jac Jemc discusses her novel “The Grip of It” during a Q&A with Scripps professor Adam Novy. (Stella Li, The Student Life)

“Maybe we move in and don’t hear the intonation for a few days. Or maybe we hear it when we unlock the door … we try to describe [the sound] and fail … [it is] ancient, resonant, husky and rasping,” began novelist Jac Jemc, reading from her new book, "The Grip of It," a story about a young couple haunted by their home.

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, at noon in Scripps College’s Hampton Court Room, Chicago-based author Jac Jemc – winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award and a writer quoted in Amazon’s 2014 Best Story Collections – spoke as part of the Scripps Presents Fall 2017 series. Jemc read several excerpts from the novel and discussed her writing style, fascination for horror, and her collection of 374 rejection letters with Scripps Visiting Lecturer in Writing Adam Novy.

Jemc ended her reading of the prologue with, “Maybe we should share something genuine for once … deep stories … ready to trip into the world without even our permission.” She narrated excerpts from both James and Julie’s perspectives, the wife and husband in her book.

“I loved that we heard two different perspectives,” Ananya Sagar SC ‘21 said. “And [Jemc's] reading was great because she was able to flip her tone when she alternated between the two people.”

The character Julie first describes enters a house with “closets hidden within closets” and the sounds of moaning incantations. The couple left the city in an attempt to rebuild their lives after James' experience with a gambling addiction, and moved into a deserted house built by a stretch of woods that seem to move closer to the house throughout the course of the book.

“It’s a narrow-clenched horror story about a haunting and a mediation on the perils of marriage and owning a home,” Novy said during the talk. “In it, the bad guy is the rat race. It’s terrific.”

Novy and Jemc discussed the balance of issues in the book.

“In the first draft, I only knew that I was writing about a haunted house, but I didn’t know what I wanted to say," Jemc said. "I had the character of a neighbor, fully aware of the house’s history, narrating portions of the story. I took him out and left in just Julie and James, and their story gained more complexity. This couple is trying to fix something in their marriage, but as the haunted house closes in and breaks down around them, their agreeableness does too.”

In another section Jemc read, Julie banters with her co-worker, who notices the first signs of a mysterious bruise slowly blooming over Julie’s skin.

“I was fascinated by the fact that this story wasn’t just [about a] description of the haunted house,” said Sagar. “It's [haunting] features were moving into the bodies of the people as well.”

Jemc said that she thinks horror “is having a moment today” – becoming better and more popular.

“Horror scares me so much,” Sagar said. “But I want to read it because it sounds thrilling.”

Novy finished by mentioning that Jemc is “the keeper of a public online list of every rejection she ever received." 

"As an author who has won an award for every book she has written, [Jemc] is also demonstration of the fact that success is gained from loss," Novy said.

“It was just always easier to talk about rejections than about good things,” Jemc said light-heartedly in response to Novy's comment. “I wanted to build something with which people could empathize [with]. It’s a good way to stay humble.”