March 30, 2009

Why Write Horror?

For whatever reason, the horror genre is looked down upon by quite a few of the literati. It can feel pretty diminishing when an established figure in literature, or even some schmo on the sidewalk, snubs horror as a lesser art. It can be a little infuriating to boot. Is there something so very egregious about the genre? Or, are elitist readers merely placing their tastes higher than those who will read a Stephen King novel?

When someone asks me why
I write horror, I still tend to stumble in search of a quick, concise answer. I suppose if I had to boil it all down, it's a genre I consider to be limitless in potential, and a genre that forces humanity to glimpse at it's own darker side and taboos.

I'm a guy of many tastes, whether it be with movies, music, or books. As the old saying goes, I may not know art, but I know what I like. With horror and suspense, there's something there that challenges me in a way that other genres don't.

Growing up, I was shy and timid little. Whenever my friends wanted to watch a scary movie, I got a little bit nervous. I have an aversion to blood--slime and ooze weren't my favorites either. So, a
Nightmare on Elm Street flick had a tendency to freak me out as a twelve-year-old boy. Heck, I passed out in fourth grade when we learned about the circulatory system. The teacher started describing how the blood traveled through vessels and arteries, and the blood drained out of my own face before I slid out of my desk to the floor like a puppet cut from it's strings. Sitting with my buddies in a dark room illuminated only by the light of the tube, I watched with a stern determination to hide the fact I was scared shitless.

From that experience and others like it, I've grown up to appreciate a piece of entertainment that is out to scare me on some level. I'm still not a fan of gorefests and "torture porn", but if the story is solid enough with characters I can root for, I'll sit down and read or watch.

The Shining with Jack Nicholson is still one of my all-time favorite horror movies--I have yet to read the novel it was based on, but I'm looking forward to it. I love it less for the elevator full of blood, or Jack wielding an axe, than I love it for the stark portrayal of bleakness and descent into madness the family is put through. The Omen with Gregory Peck is another classic I enjoy, not for the blood and guts, but for the sheer terror that lies with Damien's fate.

The movies of the last ten years, which got me to appreciate horror all over again, have been those stark and infinitely creepy films from Japan and other Asian markets.
The Ring, The Grudge, and Shutter all thrilled me with the style and tone of each movie. An American film, Saw, resonated with me for the simple fact of it revolving around a relatively simple plot--a countdown or sorts--and gritty atmosphere. The subsequent Saw films haven't impressed me nearly as much as the first, and I haven't even bothered watching the fourth and fifth incarnations.

So, when I decided to start writing again, I turned to a ghost story. From there, it ballooned into a full, supernatural horror novel. Perhaps it was all the time spent trying to carve out a good story from all of that mess in the first draft that made me appreciate the skill needed to craft a quality tale or terror. I think the only thing harder to write would be comedy. There's something really scary.

When I got back into reading, it started with Stephen King's
The Dark Half, which is a story I still consider one of my favorites. I got a few more of his books and read those too. Then, I read somewhere--a Writer's Digest probably--that if all you read is Stephen King, you'll probably end up writing like a bad Stephen King impersonator. So, I branched out. Dean Koontz, John Saul, Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum, and others from assorted genres.

And from reading these different authors and sampling various genres in literature, I've noticed something about horror: It's just as good as anything else out there, so long as it's written by a competent storyteller. And there's the rub. I'm striving to be a good storyteller, but when some people find out I'm writing horror, I can see in their eyes that they've already made up their minds about me and my writing.

I shouldn't throw stones though, as I have a tendency to look down on chick lit from time to time--I cringe at the idea of reading
Confessions of a Shopaholic. There's something else really scary.

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