Why Do I Write Horror?
By James Sabata
Let’s start with: Why Did I Start Writing Horror?
Maybe it’s that I’m always scared. I’ve experienced a lot of death in my lifetime, from family, friends, co-workers, clients… I feel like someone near me is always dying. Sometimes I hit this wall where I can’t stop wondering who is going to be next.
But I’m not just afraid of death. There’s a large black widow currently living next to my pool. I need to get rid of her, but I’m scared. Birds frighten me, with their soulless eyes, loud screams, and seemingly random head turns. When I walk in any public space, my brain ticks off the locations around me where some dumb kid with a gun could get the highest kill score. Traffic frightens me sometimes. I don’t like crowds, but I hate being alone even more.
Fear is all around me, surrounding me, but it doesn’t control me. If anything, it just helps me live in the moment, never knowing if I’ll get tomorrow.
Control? Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s about a sense of control. People watch horror to feel scared in a safe environment; to watch something horrible happen to others while we ourselves are distanced from it. We get part of the visceral reaction without any of the consequences. I can’t count the number of times people have told me some variation of, “There are enough bad things in the world. They don’t need your ideas.” And I get it. I’d rather watch John Kramer put unsuspecting people into traps in SAW all day long than turn on the news. But I think people fail to understand that sometimes horror is a way for us to make sense of the tragedy in the world. I may never understand why a man in a hotel room opens fire on concertgoers or why other horrible tragedies occur… but I can make sense of why the killer in my story is doing what he’s doing. There’s a rhyme and a reason to it. Even if I never fully tell the reader, I know the motivation. I know the consequences. I have control over that question of WHY. I have the control to deliver a message to the audience or to induce a bit of fear in their lives or to send them a little message about how they too can control the world around them a little more… if they just try.
I think that sense of control was a theme of my youth even when I didn’t realize it (as it is for most people). Let’s just say I’ve never been great at dealing with authority figures, but even less so when they make asinine claims. So, maybe it’s because of Fr. Witt. He was the priest at the Catholic grade school where I spent my youth. Fr. Witt was the one who screamed at me that Guns-N-Roses were trying to take me to Hell because you had to go “DOWN” to Paradise City. He made me stand against a wall for playing Freddy V Jason with my best friend before that movie was a real concept. Then he screamed at us that we were “trying to raise demons” because we liked movies that we shouldn’t be watching…. Which made me wonder how one raises demons. So, thanks, Fr. Witt! The more he told me I couldn’t do things, the harder I leaned into those movies. That taboo factor. The nudity. The kills. It was everything I’d been told I’d be punished for liking, but I didn’t get it… If anything, I thought, Fr. Witt should love Jason! He keeps killing kids for breaking the rules!
I think they each played a part in why I started writing horror. But you know why I stayed? Because horror has always drawn me in, welcomed me. I feel at home there.
There was a time I didn’t. There was about a year where the horrors of the universe really got to me and I couldn’t handle thinking about horror anymore. I was burnt out on everything happening in the real world, particularly following Sandy Hook. I just didn’t want to live in that world anymore and I tried to run from it. I found that no matter what else I wrote, I found horror there as well. I even tried my hand at a romantic comedy only to realize that without the fear of being alone and the terror of losing the one you love, a romantic comedy falls apart. I thought about science fiction, but that brought me back to Aliens and other cosmic entities. Even a nonfiction book idea I toyed with kept pulling me back to horror. My first novel (a superhero fiction story called ZER0: Lancaster’s Greatest Supervillain) didn’t seem like horror at the time, but now I realize it was about a billionaire who exploited the media to convince the townspeople he was a good guy while spinning news stories to turn them against anyone who dared question him… and that seems like it started to come true in real life and I find that terrifying.
I came back to horror with a vengeance and I’ve never left again.
One reason is that I’ve learned a lesson that permeated my entire life. I’ve learned that horror is the definitive genre for social commentary. Horror does this great thing where it brings ideas, plants them in your brain and leaves before they fully take root. But as you continue to think about it, the ideas expand. Horror reflects so much of what is happening in the world around us from socio-economic unrest and injustice (The Purge) to consumerism (They Live) to race relations (Get Out) to just the feeling of “There’s something out there trying to get us.” And it takes these things we fear in real life and either expands upon them and embraces our fear or – in some cases – shows us it’s possible to overcome even the biggest threats.
The value of horror in regards to social commentary is so deep we’re launching a podcast examining the topic on August 5th (Cheap plug for www.thenecronomi.com)
The biggest reason I continue to write horror is stronger than any of the other reasons I’ve given you. I do feel at home here. The horror community is full of people who write about the worst in humanity, act in movies where they harm/kill others, inflict lasting trauma on people through words and ideas… and yet, the horror community is the most giving, compassionate group of individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of surrounding myself with. I’ve met wonderful readers. I’ve become friends with fantastic professionals in my field and learned more from them than I could’ve guessed.
From charity events to meet and greets, to raising money to help one another when needed to the simple fact that we’re always trying to help one another get better, this community is family to me. I’ve been consistently embraced, given opportunities to learn and collaborate, and treated like I matter. On my worst days, this community has reminded me there are brighter days ahead and give me reason after reason to smile.
We might embrace horror, but we always ensure that everyone around us has hope. We might be scared, but we always make sure no one else is alone.
James Sabata is an Author, (Fat Camp, ZER0: Lancaster’s Greatest Supervillain), and Filmmaker / Screenwriter (Two Urinals From Death, This Stays with the House), with a strong focus in the horror genre. He is the Co-host of TheNecronmi.Com podcast, analyzing horror as social commentary. His short films have won multiple awards. He currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona.
Official Website: www.JamesSabata.com
Since 1985, over 500 overweight teenagers have come to Camp Wašíču, looking to lose weight, gain self-confidence, and turn their lives around.
Phillip McCracken arrives, weighing in at almost 400 pounds; but the baggage he carries from the past affects him much more deeply than the numbers of the scale. When a homicidal maniac hell-bent on revenge attacks, Phillip will be forced to either find the courage to save the people around him or fall victim to his own self-doubt…
… and possibly a machete.
Filled with allusions to the Slasher films of yesteryear, Fat Camp delivers horror, humor, and a little slice of nostalgia for anyone who grew up even slightly afraid of the dark.
You can read the Fat Camp Kendall Review here
Plagued by supervillains for over a decade, the city of Lancaster has watched in awe as their superhero, Zero, stood victorious against each threat. They’ve grown to respect him, to love him, to idolize him; oblivious to the fact that their beloved hero is also the city’s most hated millionaire media mogul.
But Zero has a secret much bigger than his identity. The city’s great protector is also the mastermind behind the villains terrorizing the city. Exploiting his total control of the local media, the man under the mask lives out his superhero fantasies; scripting and directing events as he gains more control over Lancaster each day.
Looking for a new story to tell, Zero promises to make Chris Thompson his new sidekick and eventual successor. As Chris proves his worth, Zero grows paranoid and flips the script on his protégé; spinning the media to make Chris into the most hated villain Lancaster has ever seen. With the line between good and evil blurred, Chris finds himself on the wrong side of the law; battling his former mentor to save not only himself, but the city that has been taught to hate him.