Why Do I Write Horror?
By C.C. Adams
That’s the first word that comes to mind. And this is largely fortuitous since more and more people ask me why do I write horror. Of course, my peers know I write horror, so they take it in their stride that this is the genre that moves me. For those that know me outside of the horror/dark fiction genre, it’s a different ballgame.
I’ve been on dates where we start to get to know each other, and then the woman will ask what else I do: apart from the lifting weights and such. I say I write. This part’s met with interest. Then they ask what I write. And I tell them. And then they’re a little taken aback. Or shocked. One of the questions that usually comes next is why horror?
Villainy is the answer.
Before I press on explaining this, let me point out that I don’t watch horror films any more. Why? Because they genuinely scare the shit outta me. Yes, I’m aware there may be a certain irony in a horror writer scared to watch horror films. I’ve grown up watching them though – I just don’t watch them now. I’m aware that some people find a thrill or some kind of pleasure in a scare from a film. Not me. That shit’s uncomfortable. So, no.
That’s for the film side of horror/dark media. Horror stories, though? I’ll still read those. Short stories, novellas, novels. As an author and a reader, my preference is for the longer tales: the ones I can immerse myself in and lose myself in. Think of the difference between a hot shower and a candlelit bubble bath.
Most (if not all) stories will have a degree of villainy to them. The U-certificate films that hit the cinemas in the UK will. The likes of feature-length animation such as The Lion King will have the villain of the piece. What horror does is take that villainy to a more insidious level. On top of that, horror doesn’t have the formula of a rom-com where there may be a happy-ever-after, or at least a happy-for-now. Horror in fiction – much like horror in real life – shows that sometimes the monsters win. This isn’t Scooby Doo where the monster is unmasked at the end to be some mean old grump. Horror shows us those monsters, which are more than skin-deep. Or those monsters that look human like us, but their inner workings reveal them to be something quite different.
As a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s – because that was about the point I stopped watching horror – the sheer degree of villainy, of something monstrous, had blown me away. See, now I’m writing this and I’m thinking back on when I first saw the Tobe Hooper version of Salem’s Lot with David Soul and James Mason. Even the music on the opening credits scared the shit outta me. But the visuals? Ralphie Glick floating outside the window, scratching at the glass. What you get in a film like that is a real sense of threat. Again, not like Scooby Doo where the gang run from the monster of the day in time to regroup and unmask it. There’s no catching or unmasking Ralphie Glick. Just look at what happened to his brother Danny.
One film I have to give the nod to is John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” There’s one specific reason for this. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good film. Good solid narrative and pace. Characterisation, acting, photography, etc. Easily more than the sum of its parts. But for me, what really moves me is the scene near the end after Loomis has shot Michael and then looks over the balcony. And sees no body. That I love – that when all is said and done, the monster gets away. The horror isn’t over. Think of seeing a spider on the wall and by the time you found a newspaper to swat it with, the thing has disappeared.
What I’ve seen over the course of the last ten or twenty years isn’t necessarily an evolution to villainy, but certainly an evolution to the norm. I remember watching the Buffy spin-off Angel, not quite sure what to expect, and then on seeing the title character cut off somebody’s hand, thought, “well, this isn’t going to pull any punches now, is it?” A number of friends had recommended that I watch Dexter – or at least read Dexter. Around this time, I was seeing a poster or two on London underground which had the tagline ‘The Hunter Becomes The Hunted.’ (I now know this to be Season Two). Even so, I thought it was a leap too far: how can y’all expect me to watch a show about a serial killer? Such shows, including the likes of White Collar, The Blacklist, et al, will show that everything isn’t black and white but shades of grey. As such, I try and bring that diversity not only to my villains, as it were, but the heroes. Antagonists and protagonists, if you prefer.
As someone born and raised in the capital, I thankfully get to experience a range of people and a range of cultures and such. From a creative point of view, it’s great, because I get to weave that rich diversity into my work: which is all part and parcel of bringing my city to life in my stories. So I’ll write stories about men and women, the young and the old, the straight and the gay, etc. Like I said: there’s a whole range of people in the city. And the city’s a character itself. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a rooftop terrace in Wimbledon, or close-packed sweaty club in Camden or an idyllic pub/wedding venue in Richmond. Or the Shard up at London Bridge. To take the everyday and nudge it somewhere insidious is just great.
My core team of beta readers – the ones who’ve been with me the longest on this author journey – know how I work. They know that I can work relatively quick and often. As a result, they get used to the 11th hour requests of ‘there’s this submission window, I need eyes on a 3k short story, top to bottom, blah, blah, blah.’ And they work quick and thorough. Honest and constructive. What’s become more of a thing in recent years is not to write for them, as such, but with a little more trepidation on ‘how can I take this leftfield, and push this to a darker place?’ I’m actually going to give the nod to Bryce Raffle here, because when he was doing the edits for the DeadSteam anthology, this was one of those cases of someone giving me direction that I fell in love with. Again, those instances of ‘how can I push this to a darker place, a more horrific or insidious place?’ Those for me are the stories that hook and engage the reader.
You go to those dark places, and you have those moments or those scenes that are classic moments in the genre. The subway chase from An American Werewolf In London. The two dots on the tracker screen from Alien. The blood test scene from John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Linda singing ‘we’re gonna get you’ from The Evil Dead. Brundle’s first teleportation in the Cronenberg remake of The Fly. Sidenote – you know, I was so terrified when I saw Brundlefly shed his outer human skin near the end, I near passed out from fear? Similarly, it’s that cool to create something that wows your reader. Imagine how good it is when you can wow your beta reader: those people who already have an idea of what you’re capable of? It’s humbling, and I take it as a genuine compliment when such people tell me that the work is ‘chilling’ or ‘creepy’ or, in one instance, ‘some of you motherfuckers need Jesus.’ But that’s what horror does: it’s open season on all characters – protagonists and antagonists alike. There’s no guarantee you’ll get out alive.
Villainy. Leaning toward something monstrous.
I always take it as a compliment that my work moves people. I’m of the mind that no matter how good you are at your game, whether it’s art, sport, music or whatever, there’ll always be those who simply don’t like what you do. Take heart though, because your audience will love you for it. All I can do is tell the best stories I can, the best way I know how. Hopefully, they’ll engage and entertain you. Maybe even scare the shit outta you.
C. C. Adams
“London native CC Adams is the horror/dark fiction author behind urban horror novella But Worse Will Come. His short fiction appears in publications such as Turn To Ash, Weirdbook Magazine and The Black Room Manuscripts.
A member of the Horror Writers Association, he still lives in the capital. This is where he lifts weights, cooks – and looks for the perfect quote to set off the next dark delicacy.”
You can find out more about C. C. by visiting his official website www.ccadams.com
Follow C.C. on Twitter @MrAdamsWrites
But Worse Will Come
Theodore Papakostas lives a normal life. Holds down a day job. Struggles with his weight. With women, he’s more ‘miss’ than ‘hit.’ He’s humble – a far cry from the bullying behaviour of his childhood. Days long forgotten. Almost. Something has caught wind of him. Something that warned Theo long ago that if their paths crossed again, Theo would not survive. And Theo’s world is turned into a waking nightmare: a struggle to stay ahead of the terror. Because all those years ago, sunset was just the beginning …but worse will come.