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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oh the Horror!

Why is horror easier to write than science fiction or fantasy? Some may disagree with my premise, but as a writer of all three genres, I find horror is easier because we write what we fear in order to exorcise those demons within us. Everyone has fears or phobias. I ran across this list of phobias.

I’m sure there are more, including a fear of lists of phobias. From this list, how many do you have? I’m afraid to tell you how many I identified with. (Is this another phobia?) Some people are afraid of the dark or of thunderstorms or of writing. (Oh the horror!)
Science fiction requires some scientific basis for the facts proposed. The more esoteric the subject, the more difficult it is to explain to the reader without it becoming a textbook. Science fiction that has no rules is fantasy, not science fiction. There are some truly great science fiction writers out there – David Brin, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov – whose works are intelligent and entertaining. Fantasy needs rules as well, though they can be completely arbitrary as long as they are consistent throughout the book, such as rules of magic a la Harry Potter. It requires a lot of research and planning to pen a successful fantasy or sci-fi novel.  

Horror, on the other hand, allows the writer to dig deep into his/her psyche and dredge up fears and emotions that frighten both the writer and the reader, utilizing emotions and moods m ore than facts and figures. Often horror writing is cathartic. As Stephen King said, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” He should know. He has single-handedly made Maine a place to avoid. (Him and Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote). God knows we see enough real-life horrors every day on the news or in the headlines. Why should we seek more morbid succor in horror novels?
Novels such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein have frightened and intrigued readers for centuries, as well as spawned complete subgenres of writing. Their longevity and universal appeal are their themes of life after death. People fear death and the unknown that follows. They also fear the manner of their deaths. Most would rather die of old age in their own comfortable beds. A few talk about going out in a blaze of glory, but given the opportunity, few choose this method. Reading about gruesome deaths both repels and attracts us. We ask ourselves what we would do in similar circumstances. Would we cope with death or the threat of death as well as our hero or heroine? Would we look into Death’s eye and spit in it or close our eyes and cower?

[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”― Clive Barker
Reading or watching horror fulfills a fundamental need, the desire to witness death from afar. Our history screams at us with the grisly reminders of our mortality – the Black Plague, volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, the Spanish Flu, any war. We need only pick up a history book. Why then the horror novel?

Horror novels fill a void in our soul, a gap in our racial memory that forces us to seek out such literature, as one desires candy for a sweet tooth. We yearn to be frightened, to be reminded of our own mortality. Whether deadly creatures, supernatural forces, serial killers or alien hordes, it seems the more frightening the better. Right now, vampires and zombies are hot topics. Next year, who knows? Maybe deadly accountants rampaging toddlers.
I see the horror novel sustaining this trend into the future, certainly as long as new writers, such as Jonathan Maberry, Tim Lebbon, Weston Ochse and John Passarelli are around. I aspire to be among their ranks. I want to scare the crap out of you and fulfill your darkest wishes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Surviving the Holidays as a Writer

  Writing is not a spectator sport, at least not for me. I can’t write while my wife reads over my shoulder. It makes me nervous. The holidays are a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate the season. Often this entails reacquainting yourself with people you haven’t seen in months or years. In the case of family or relatives, you’re often quickly reminded why it’s been months or years. A crowded house makes writing difficult but for some reason suggesting they stay in the local Motel 8 seems offensive to them. How can you continue to rack up the word count or finish the final edit to your novel while the house overflows with Christmas joy, the aroma of cinnamon cookies fresh out of the oven and the screams of playing children?

  I’m lucky in a way. My wife visits her family in Michigan for twelve days each Christmas, leaving me alone except for two cats and the television. Both are distractions but I can handle them most of the time. When a cat wakes me up at four in the morning, it’s a good time to write. Don’t get me wrong. I miss my wife, but Michigan in the winter – Give me a break. I lived in Pennsylvania for four years and Chicago for two. I like seeing my snow up on the peaks of the Catalina Mountains while it’s 65 down in Tucson. Shoveling snow and mukluks are no longer in my vocabulary. I’m basically a hermit by nature. Crowds make me nervous. There might be zombie lurking somewhere among them. In Arizona, you can carry your gun but they still frown on chainsaws and Samurai swords.

  If you can’t lock yourself away from friends and family for a few hours, you can always mentally mull over what you want to write while politely smiling and nodding abstractly, letting the others carry on the conversation. Or you can complain of chronic bowel problems and sneak your laptop into the bathroom as often as possible. Both have their limitations.

  You can explain that you’re self-employed and don’t get the holidays off. Unlike them, you have to make a living, however meager, and just have to finish the next chapter. You can explain that deadlines are like the five o’clock whistle and you don’t want to miss it, or like the Midnight Madness sale at Macy’s. If you’re late, all kinds of bad things happen.

  The next best thing is having your cat bounce on your chest at four a.m., howling like a banshee wanting breakfast. Get up, feed the cat, sneak out your laptop and type away. When your guests arise and ask, “What’s for breakfast?” tell them you haven’t seen I Hop’s menu yet but you’re sure it’s tasty.

  Remember, writing is a trade not a hobby. If you want a hobby, take up knitting. You can knit and talk at the same time.

  Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!