The Things That Haunt Us
I don’t know why others write horror. I can only speculate, unless of course they have publicly declared why it is they write about horrific things. Some of those who write horror may be chasing a memory, or an old book read to them, about an old story of a haunted house, or of a crumbling castle, a vampire or a ghost long ago that touched them. I do see this, even though others may not admit it or even realize they are doing it. The psychologist part of me likes to analyze people, including writers.
If you read some interviews of horror writers discussing their influences with the genre and you read their work you can often see a line of what they are trying to chase, or say. Some will adapt older works or tales over and over, in a frenzy hoping to capture a memory that they identified with long ago, while others may dance with varying influences throughout their life.
Some horror writers are affected by relationships, crumbling, failing or dead, and so you may see a thread of anger in their writing that may reflect those experiences. Some horror writers were influenced by terrifying space creatures or the gruesome decay of the human body seen in film, and so you may see that reflected in their work. Social and political issues come to the forefront for many horror writers who may incorporate these elements into their writing, a commentary of right and wrong, good and evil, and how civilization should rise up to defeat the wicked.
Horror writers write what they enjoy, for the most part. I’m not going to say a blanket statement that no one is chasing a trend or writing for the market, perhaps some are. Writing is a means of income for many, so there may be those that have to dedicate some of their time to lucrative commercial tales. Yet, for many, they write exclusively what they enjoy and often times those pleasures are in things that scared us and moved us at one point. Yes, it can evolve over time.
I used to focus my writing on Latin American folklore and myth, maybe because that is what I thought I should be writing, once upon a time. After reflecting on some traumas regarding my upbringing and the losses of several pregnancies and now raising two children, I started seeing my writing gravitate more toward tales of ghosts and grief, of loss and love, of confused cultural identities, and the pain of wanting a child but losing them over and over again in some gruesome real-life Groundhog Day.
What I’ve been wanting to explore in horror recently is probably what many do not want to explore, or care to read, and that is fine. My preferred brand of horror tends to be slow burn. We write what haunts us, and what haunts me is memory and past actions and lives, and the question humanity has been asking since we found ourselves crawling through dirt – what happens to us after we die?
We think that the earliest recording of a haunted house story is the story of Athenodorus written by Pliny the Younger about a rented house in Athens, and a ghost that emerges from a courtyard each night, shaking chains and moaning. The spot where the ghost emerges from is dug up. Bones are discovered and a proper burial is given and the ghost never returns. It is the old tale of the haunted house and a restless spirit, but I would argue that the ghost story goes farther back than 44 BC. The ancient, and I would say masterful, civilizations of Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, and others in Mesopotamia long spoke of ghosts and other worlds. Sumer, for example, is one of the earliest known civilizations with records dating back to 3000 BC, thousands of years before Pliny the Younger gave us his ghost story. The great epic poem of Gilgamesh written in 2100 BC contemplates life and death, the gods, and the beyond. So we have always been haunted by something, and we have always written about it. Our fear of death binds us.
So I write today about lost love, lost lives, the ghosts that haunt me, about the missing and the murdered, and about the tragedy of never knowing. I write about the unforgivable wickedness that stalks the good and innocent and consumes them gleefully with no remorse. Horror is a wide-ranging genre. We all come to it with different anxieties, fears, stylistic preferences, and what may scare me may not scare you, but we are all joined by one great thing; that we all live and we all die, and this is the story that has been written about since humanity appeared on this planet.
Into The Forest And All The Way Through
Into The Forest And All The Way Through is a collection of true crime poetry that explores the cases of over one hundred missing and murdered women in the United States.
Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, POEMS OF MY NIGHT, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH and the upcoming CHILDREN OF CHICAGO by Agora/Polis Books. Pelayo is an International Latino Book Award winning author and an Elgin Award nominee. She lives in Chicago with her family.
Find out more about Cynthia via her Official website www.cinapelayo.com
You can follow Cynthia on Twitter @cinapelayo