A Stroll Down the Dark Path of Horror Writing
A short while ago my good friend Bhaswati mentioned she wanted to invite a few of her acquaintances to write some guest posts in her blog and that she wanted me to do one of those. I told her I was definitely interested and I asked her if there were any “guidelines” before I went ahead with my post. “Actually, there is something,” she said then, and mentioned her interest in a theme that’s very close to me, a theme that brought some questions to her mind.
I write horror. As many of you might know, our Sury’s (Bhaswati’s) writing goes in a totally different direction, yet she always wonders… We’re the best of friends, even when she is in India and I’m in Peru, we share a lot together and one thing she commented once was how someone she considers to be “so nice” (her judgement, lol) could come up with stuff that can be pretty dark.
I don’t know if I’m nice or not, and I do believe everyone has a shade of darkness within, huge or tiny that varies. It is what makes us humans after all. I do like to think of myself as “a good person”, I stick to myself, I try to be respectful to others, and I try to play devil’s advocate whenever there’s a discussion just to try to grab all the dimensions in a problem… But yes, darkness is familiar to me. So why choose that? Why write horror? How can an apparently happy, nice, good person by society’s standards come up with stuff that makes us cringe? Does it take a toll? Let’s try to answer these questions.
Many years ago horror novelist Stephen King wrote a book called “The Dark Half”. In it, Thad Beaumont, a literary writer makes money and fans on the side by writing gore with the byline of George Stark. Stark is not only a name on a page, but has been even given a “past” as a violent ex-con now living in a self-imposed exile. When Thad makes the decision of “killing off Stark,” the fictitious Stark materializes and comes “back from the death” to claim vengeance on the editor, the publisher, and ultimately on Thad—the people responsible for his death. In doing so, Stark appears as murderous as the characters in his gory novels.
Are all horror writers like George Stark? OK, forget the murders (or not … :-s) but are all horror writers dark people who dwell on violence and blood, who have a twisted view of the world, who surround themselves with the goriest props and who have a shrine at home for Friday the 13ths Jason Voorhies? The answer is… ok, maybe some, in greater or lesser degree. But for the most part, we are talking about family people, very respectful, very friendly. I’ve had the chance to meet a few horror authors who turn out to be really nice people to deal with. I recently started reading a novel called The Rising, a very gory, very acclaimed book about zombies by author Brian Keene. The first thing I read was the dedication: “For David, Daddy loves you more than infinity”. Not quite the axe-wielding lunatic, huh?
Personally I’m not a big fan of gore (for those who don’t know gore implies stuff like running blood, spilling bowels, decapitations, and other gruesome stuff, the more gruesome the better, at least for fans). I am a true fan of The Twilight Zone and stories that, as I said in the introduction to my anthology Shadow Regions, scare you in the mind, not in the gut. I like the psychological aspect of horror, the supernatural part of it. However, during my experience as a writer, I inevitably dealt with pretty hard stuff: rape, violence, child abuse, pedophilia, death of loved ones, teenage sex and drug use, murder, etc. You see, before writing about sadistic killings, I prefer writing about (sadly) very real stuff. Is that hard to do? Yes, sometimes it is. But when you write horror you just do it.
I’m sure writing tough subjects are a part of every genre in fiction. Does it keep us away from going back to the keyboard? Not really. Why? Hard to tell. One thing is clear though. Our writing, at least mine, is in no way a celebration of these terrible things, but they are inevitable for the plot moving forward.
And what about the not so real but oh so terrible other stuff? The supernatural bit? Why that? I can’t answer for other authors and their choice of the amount of gore and supernatural elements they put in their work. For me, the supernatural has a charm of its own. It pokes at my sense of wonder. It takes me away from a world where things are bound to happen into another where even more things are bound to happen, in ways I never thought possible.
I used to be a scaredy-cat when I was little. I don’t know when that changed, when I took a step inside that darkness. But I believe I didn’t go in without a few lifelines. I do like to think I keep a solid line traced between what’s fiction and what’s real, even if one mirrors the other. I do like to think that the horror I write is not a direct reflection of me, but a sort of catharsis. Once I talked to a friend of mine—who happens to be a psychologist—about eros and thanatos (good and evil), how we all have some of both within ourselves. She said, in my case I was sort of recycling thanatos and turning it into eros, creation.
So why do I write these hard things? Here’s a simple-minded answer: I’d rather see them on page than in the real world.
I write creepy stuff, I generate scares for people who want to be scared, excited, chilled for a bit before returning to their everyday lives. Readers come in all shades and colors. Some want that jolt, be it just a little shock or a massive discharge. And for those readers there will always be the authors who provide those jolts. Those people are not the potential serial killers some would think. They just approach fiction in a different way.