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.
15 thoughts on “Guest Blog – Cesar Puch”
An absolutely fascinating post. Extremely well written ! (I wonder if you wrote in English, or first in Spanish and then translated) As a person who is interested in literature coming from Latin America, I wonder if there is a genre of writing horror fiction within Lat Am literature? Most of the Lat Am writers that I have read is borne out of social or political responsibility, indeed much of the literature from third world countries is so.Horror writing, on the other hand, is more of an escapist literature. (As you have mentioned: “It takes me away from a world where things are bound to happen into another where even more things are bound to happen”.)Normally this is not a genre that one would associate with a society that is in constant turmoil and where reality is much less predictable- if at all- than in the developed world, and needs no imaginative effort.In India, for example, the only horror writer I can think of is Ruskin Bond, but then he as an Anglo Indian who decided to stay back in India and not go to England after India’s independence, is practically an outsider, and hence his escapism is understandable. Another one who comes to mind is one of the Rays- I forget whether it was Sukumar or Satyajit – but that is not significant outside Bengali literature (even there it dwarfs under the work of many other writers, most of whom are socially or politically sensitive.)
Hello Cesar,I so enjoyed this post & getting to know you and also hopping over to read your own take on your lively friendship with Bhaswati.What you said here:”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… Cesar” You sound more than nice, Cesar. I think you demonstrate the art of congeniality very well even when talkng about horror. And I do agree about what you said above. It is my view that many of us do from time to time, regale in embracing a darker form of imagination. But that’s the beauty and freedom of thought. That one can glide easily through the boundaries of darkness and light.Thank you for this wonderful slice of a hearty Halloween spirit and also hey, thank you, Bhas.
Bhupinder,You are absolutely right. As a matter of fact one of the reason I chose to write in English, for English markets, was because genre fiction in Latin America is minimal and not really sought. Not only in literature, it applies to film and television as well (although I’ve had the opportunity to run into extraordinary pieces of horror/thriller in Latin American entertainment production; not that many in literature sadly). Latin American fiction is almost in its entirety literary, with a lot of social comment. One author who I have found wrote really imaginative stories was Borges. If you haven’t read anything by him try to get your hands on a book of stories called “Ficciones”. His was more on the bizarre side than on the horror, but always a great read.Susan,Thanks for your words (blush). And I totally agree with what you say about freedom of thought, it is a true gift, perhaps my most beloved ability. Sometimes you run into people with “little imagination”, I truly can’t imagine what that’s like. I’m glad it’s not my case, I’d feel lost otherwise. More than lost, defeated perhaps.Thanks to both for your wonderful comments 🙂
Thank you for the sensitive post about the separation of the creator from his creation.I always wonder if those who attribute evil sides to horror writers also think that writers of romance or erotica are all bordello inmates!
agree with above comments 100% a great post ,
Hello Cesar!I’m going to come right out and say I have never read a horror novel and that’s probably because I never saw the point of being scared out of my wits! 🙂 However, after reading your post, I will admit I am now more than curious to try one…will let you know how it goes.THanks for a terrific post!
Bernita and Heaven,Tahnks so much for your comments 🙂 I truly enjoyed writing this post. And Bernita, I wonder the same thing. Funny how people are quick to stereotype other, lol.Lotus,Thanks for the comments and good luck in your first explorations of the genre. Tread lightly though, choose some subtle authors at first (there are quite some gruesome pieces out there). I might suggest something by Dean Koontz or F. Paul Wilson.All the best.
Thank you very much! Glad to hear I’m not an axe-murderer. :)I hope you enjoyed THE RISING (and it’s sequel, CITY OF THE DEAD).
Wow, never thougth you would be commenting on my post. So unexpected. I’m honored :)As a matter of fact I just started The Rising but so far I’m really enjoying it. And yea, City of the Dead is in my to-read list.All the best with current and future titles.
Besides Borges, I can think of at least two works- The Kisss of the Spider Woman (horror) and MVL’s Who killed Palomino Malero Luckily, MVL had disastrous results with this novel.(Death in the Andes is more successful, but then the theme is secondary to the main one)>chose to write in English, for English marketsI thought one wrote for people (readers), but perhaps it is a matter of opinion.
Actually when I mentioned “English markets” I was referring to the audience, the readers. 😉
I like your post. It is so easy to “label” an author as a certain type of person, because of the Genre they write in. I guess like being type cast as an actor or actress. Thank you for showing other, that just because we live in side our heads from time to time we have as many deminsions as the next person.
You said it, Bk!Thanks for commenting! 🙂
Thanks for this terrific insider’s insight into the world of horror writers, Cesar. Honoured to have you as a guest. 🙂
My pleasure Sury. It was fun to share this with you and your readers. You’ve got a great blog. All the best!