One of the questions I’m often asked when people find out what I do is one I’m sure everyone working in this genre has had posed to them at some time or another: why horror? Invariably, the question comes with one or two facial expressions as well, and there’s very little wiggle room between them. Either we get a look of genuine and excited curiosity, or one of abject disgust and judgment. I’m going to attempt to answer that question here, if for no other reason so that when I get asked again, I can just point them to this post and call it a day.
First, let me say what this post isn’t. This is not to be taken as me defending myself for anything, mainly because I don’t see anything I need to defend myself for. While I don’t discuss it much, I am a spiritual and religious person, and therefore the only person to my mind that I might need to defend myself to is God, and thanks to Ron Kelly, who went through the same thing and offered me some advice and guidance in that regard, I believe that He and I are good on this.
On that topic, this is also not going to be a religious-based argument on the merits or failings of writing horror. Maybe the time will come when I do make that post, maybe it won’t, but this ain’t it.
What it should be considered as is my personal answer to the question of why I write horror. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now that we have that out of the way….
For me, there are two reasons why I write in this genre, one fairly simple and straightforward, the other not so much. Let’s deal with the easier one first.
Stephen King once famously said that we make up horrors to help us deal with the real ones, and never more has this been evident than now. Take a moment and scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, or turn on your favorite cable news channel and spend a moment or two reading the headline ticker. You don’t need to take long, just five minutes should be enough. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
You back? Good. Now let me take a guess at what you saw.
Election coverage is generally first: Hillary supporters calling Trump a demagogue racist bigot, Trump supporters calling Hillary a crooked lying establishment crony, and if the receiving party doesn’t like what the originating party has to say, the receiving party is welcome to unfriend or block them. Racial tensions in the country at levels that rival pre-Civil Rights Movement days, and it’s all Trump / Obama’s fault. All guns should be banned. This gun is mine, you can’t take it away. That Confederate flag is racist, take it down. This Confederate flag is mine, you can’t take it away. You can’t use that particular bathroom. Your way of life and perceptions of it are wrong, and my thoughts are the only ones that are valid. You can’t say that, someone might get offended. Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, No Lives Matter (thank you, Nihilists).
Then there’s the harder stuff: terrorists wreaking havoc, blowing something up somewhere, or decapitating someone on live video posted to the internet. North Korea declares war on the US because we targeted their precious supreme leader for sanctions over human rights issues. This many dead here, that many dead there, one kid killed themselves because of bullying, while another decided psychopathy was cool and slit another kid’s throat for no reason at all.
The bottom line is that the world is now a scary place to live, and the internet’s filled with anger and hate directed not at the targets that deserve it, but the people who should be standing side by side against those things. Somewhere, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley must be shaking their heads.
If, like myself, you try to be a generally positive person, it can quickly become overwhelming.
Writing—to a writer, at least—is a form of escapism just like reading or television or movies or video games. Is it any wonder, with the things we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, that we also use it to try and make sense of the insanity and horror all around us?
I feel I should also point out that not everything’s bad all the time. I’ve read posts on Facebook, and seen news stories on television or in the paper that made me laugh, or generally just acted as a ray of light among the darkness. Ironically enough, many of those are from fellow horror writers (looking at you and your Twitter feed, Somer Canon, and your constant words of encouragement, Jaime Johnesee), so take from that what you will.
The second reason I write horror is a little harder to explain, but I’m going to try. The best way I can think to do it is to ask a question in return:
Why do you think I have a choice?
Fiction writers are a strange breed. We don’t see the world the same as you, because we can’t help but witness events through our own unique creative lenses. Here’s an example:
You see a man and woman, sitting close, smiling at one another atop a hill, trees swaying gently in the breeze behind them. This is all the spark a writer needs for a scene. The thriller writer knows they’re from opposing governments, and one or both of them are probably selling secrets. The suspense writer knows one of them is a criminal on the run. The romance writer knows this is only the beginning of a whirlwind relationship that will be fraught with tragedy before they live happily ever after. The fantasy writer sees the dragon swooping down at them. The sci-fi writer sees the UFO hovering above, about to abduct them for experimentation. And the horror writer sees the maniac creeping up through the woods, about to slaughter them.
I’m generalizing, of course, but that didn’t stop the fact that I saw the maniac first before I wrote the other possibilities.
I grew up watching reruns of the Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits, and Tales from the Dark Side. I also loved the old fifties Hammer horror stuff that occasionally ran on TV, if I was really lucky. I read King, and Koontz, and Barker. As I got older, my tastes shifted. I enjoyed the slasher movies not for the story, but for the magic of “how did they do that?” I was an only child, so books were my constant companions, the splatterpunks and Tolkien, and the aforementioned Orwell and Huxley, and countless more. I loved ghost stories around the campfire, and “real” hauntings and the like. When I got older and the bug hit me to start making up my own stories, what else was I going to write?
Could I write other stuff, different genres? Sure. Do I think it would be as good or as rewarding to me? No, because my heart wouldn’t be in it. I’d be doing it to please someone other than myself, and that’s all. One of the best rules I ever heard when it came to this craft is “write the books you want to read”. That’s all I’m doing, for good or for ill.
And as to that look we get when the question comes up? Look, I get it that horror’s not for everyone. I’m not pushing you to read it. All I’m saying is don’t judge us by what we write. This community is one of the most welcoming I’ve ever seen anywhere, and to a person the other authors and publishers and publicists and the like I’ve interacted with have been nothing but open, helpful, and encouraging. To me, that makes them good people, and I’m proud to be numbered among them.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and deal with some of today’s headlines in my own special way, then look at funny nerd memes until it’s time for bed.