By Tim McCarthy
Reader beware — you're in for a scare.
And it's courtesy of people living right in your back yard.
Five Haverhill authors have joined more than 20 other New England horror writers to create "Epitaphs'' — a new anthology of dark fiction.
The book is receiving worldwide acclaim and being considered for a "Bram Stoker Award," an honor given by the international Horror Writer's Association and one of the highest honors bestowed upon authors of horror fiction.
"It's the Academy Awards for horror writers," said Tracy Carbone, the anthology's editor and a Bradford resident.
Winners of the award will be announced in late February.
Contributing Haverhill writers include: Chris Golden, John McIlveen, Roxanne Dent, Scott Goudsward and his brother Dave Goudsward under the pen name David Bernard.
Carbone said the idea came after she and other members of the New England Horror Writers Association decided to create a work to showcase their diverse collection of talent. No theme or idea connects the stories, other than Carbone's two key rules.
"Make it something with horror and have good writing," she said.
With so many writers contributing to the project, the collected stories cover a broad spectrum of terror, from Scott Goudsward's silly "Build-A-Zombie" featuring a young boy building a pet zombie, to McIlveen's chilling "Make a Choice" in which a family is tortured by a stranger while on vacation.
"There's something in there for everyone," McIlveen said. "It's a diamond in the rough."
Golden said readers should keep an eye on the names appearing in the anthology because any of them could soon become the next "big thing" in horror fiction.
"It's a great sampling of horror across the board," he said.
Scott said the inspiration for his story in the collection came when he saw an advertisement for the Build-A-Bear stores and carried their concept to a gory extreme.
"It's probably the most lighthearted thing I've done," he said.
McIlveen, meanwhile, said he tapped into his fatherly fears about his five daughters to create a gut-wrenching decision for his protagonists. He said his writing stretches the boundaries of readers' comfort zones.
"You can go crazy because it's like a big playground,'' he said of horror writing. "You have that extra freedom."
Golden, an author of books and graphic novels for more than two decades, said for the collection he developed a short piece he wrote at the age of 19 into a fully fleshed-out story on a mother trying to connect with her dead son.
"I didn't even look at the original story," he said. "I reinvented it with a mature eye."
Dave Goudsward, normally a non-fiction writer, developed a piece called "The Sequel," which sprinkles in some offbeat humor while imagining Haverhill with its original community name — "Pentucket."
"Black humor is just as much a part of horror," he said.
All the authors said Haverhill and New England have proven a fertile place for dark imaginations to flourish, with changing seasons, classical architecture and a history of the supernatural.