Why “horror?”

My post from yesterday talked about what scared me, and I promised that I’d write something about why I write what I write, which is mostly horror.  The short answer is that it’s what comes out when I start writing.  So there.

There’s gotta be a longer answer, right?

Well, let’s see.  I write horror because I think it’s fun to imagine scary scenarios.  There’s usually a morality play at work in such stories; even if they glorify gore and torture, there’s a good-vs.-evil thing going on.  You the reader root for the good guy (usually).

I cut my fiction teeth on mysteries when I was small.  All mysteries seem to me to be “small horror” stories in a way.  Something bad has happened.  The mystery is who did it, or why.  Sometimes it’s a puzzle story about the act of figuring things out.  Think of thrillers.  Murders, terrorists, evil government agencies, disappearances, bombs, plane crashes — all these things can be elements of a horror novel.  But the focus is on the good guy solving the problem, not so much on the victim.

I remember a mystery I read when I was younger titled THE BLACK SPANIEL MYSTERY (or something close to that).  I remember that these puppies were disappearing.  Or rather, they were being replaced.  But one of the kids noticed that the markings of the puppy were not the same as the markings on the original puppy.  Why?  I can remember feeling for those puppies, as well as for the kids who were hurt by the puppies’ disappearance.  That the kids took it upon themselves to solve the puzzle made it a mystery.  But what if the puppies were being stolen just to hurt the kids?  Or they were going to do a “Cruella DeVil” on them and skin them for their lovely fur pelts?  That’s horror, no?

Further, I moved on to science fiction.  Asimov and Heinlein were my two main sources of entertainment for a long time (considering how many books both of them wrote, you can well imagine that getting through their catalogs took a few years…).  Again, we had mysteries, even in something like FOUNDATION, where the whole book is basically a search for the Second Foundation.  Along the way there is The Mule, a mutant who can rule the universe with his advanced mental powers.  That’s sort of scary, isn’t it?  He’s almost an alien in those books, and here he is taking over the human race.  Admittedly, Asimov’s emphasis doesn’t focus on any horrific elements, so it remains firmly in the SF realm.

Then finally, I found Stephen King.  Now here was horror.  We had a psychic girl going destructo on her high school prom, we had vampires taking over a town, we had the ghosts of evil in a big hotel recruiting the caretaker and convincing him to murder his snowbound family, we had a psychic who sees the end of the world in a politician’s handshake and acts to stop it, we had a virus which kills off 99.4% (or something like that) of the population of the U.S., setting up an epic battle between good and evil.  We had ghosts, we had aliens, we had monsters, we had zombies from a pet cemetery…all manners of horror.  All done with style.

I didn’t really read horror to be reading horror for a long time.  I just read authors.  Dan Simmons wrote some horror (Summer of Night, Carrion Comfort).  Robert McCammon did, too.  So did Orson Scott Card (Lost Boys) and Dean Koontz.  Finally I found authors who wrote nothing except for horror.  Richard Laymon, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Phil Rickman, Melanie Tem, Nancy Holder, Poppy Z. Brite…  So many names, so many scary stories.  The tales varied.  Some were gross and bloody, some were moody and ephemeral.

I wanted to write science fiction, but nothing I wrote seemed to really work all that well.  Although I have a science background (chemistry major, lots of health sciences in dental school, and interest in the space program dating to my childhood, so I always took in information about the goings-on in science), my stories never seemed really plausible to me.  Maybe that was the problem.  Maybe I knew enough to know that what I was thinking wasn’t really going to work, but not enough to figure out a way to make it believable.  Anyway, as big of a fan of SF as I am, I’ve only written three short stories that are more or less in the realm of SF.

Everything I write seems to always come back to either the supernatural, or to something evil.  I’ve liked that in short stories I can sometimes have the bad guys win (see my short story GARAGE SALE which is found in THE STRIKER FILES 3-In-1 COLLECTION, or my story THE FUN HOUSE in DIE 6).  I like going in that direction with my stories.  It seems natural to me.

I like stories about characters.  I believe that most horror, at least most entertaining (to me) horror, is character-centric.  If you don’t care about the victims, then you won’t care much about their story.  And there is always a very important struggle between good and evil, between right and wrong.  To me, that’s the cool part of a story in the horror genre — it’s the “good will rise over evil” aspect, the fact that while not everyone might live through this evil, in the end, somehow, the good characters will triumph.  Perhaps it will be at a steep cost, perhaps their lives, or the lives of their loved ones.  Sacrifices have to be made.  That’s a good story right there, in my opinion.  It’s a universal story; one that can be adapted across genres.  Maybe all, or most, good stories have it at their core, somehow.

Recently I read a book called SEASICK by Iain Rob Wright.  In the book a troubled cop on holiday finds that he’s reliving a day over and over and over and over and…  well, you get the picture.  It turns out (SPOILER ALERT, though I think that even if you know the end, you can probably read the book and enjoy it because it’s a pretty fun read) that there is a killer virus on the ship, released by terrorists, and when the ship reaches the dock, it’s going to infect the port, and the world, and everyone’s gonna die.  How is the cop going to get out of this?

Is this a thriller or a horror novel?  Well, the virus turns people into some sort of zombies, so that makes it horror.  But…terrorists…a plot to release a virus…a hero cop…thriller, right?  But, a sorcerer who is causing the day to repeat for this cop until he gets it right…back to horror…  But…

You see what I mean.  A good horror novel can be a good thriller.  It just has supernatural aspects, and doesn’t shy away from depicting the bad stuff that happens, even if it happens more or less “off camera.”

I like writing character-driven stories.  I think that most of my stories start with the characters and move on from there.  I don’t know if I succeed.  Read something I’ve written (all short stories, until THE CAVE goes live sometime this weekend, then I’ll have a novella in the mix as well) and come back and tell me what you think.  It happens that most of my stories end up being horror in some way, but they’re mostly just stories.

One of the best horror series I’ve read in recent years is F. Paul Wilson’s “Repairman Jack” series.  Why is it so good?  Because Jack is facing off as the champion of a supernatural entity, and opposing another, more involved supernatural entity, but the horrors are a mix of real-life horror and horror caused in an unbelievable way by something supernatural.  Because Jack is fighting for himself as a sort of every-man, and his family, and even for people he doesn’t know but shares humanity with.  Because in the end you just have to know what’s happening, how it’s going to resolve, and what will become of Jack and Gia and Vicky and Abe and others.

It is a character-driven series, in my view, and they are the type of books I love to read, and aspire to write.

Anyway, that’s a long answer as to why I write horror.  Mostly it’s because those are the kind of stories that I make up.  Lot of words to get back to that short answer.  Sorry!

*****

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *