Why Do I Write Horror?
By Carrie Laben
Well, it’s probably glib to say “because I’m crazy”, isn’t it?
Nevertheless, the raw truth is that my mental health – most notably my life-long relationship with anxiety – plays a big role in both why I write and why horror is my preferred genre.
I’m lucky that my catastrophizing helps with plotting. I’m lucky that my ability to expect the worst even from people I know well who are acting with the best of motives (maybe especially from those people, if you look at the statistics) helps with character-building. And I’m lucky that my inherent sense that hey, we’re all on very thin ice here is practically modern horror’s reason for existing.
Anxiety can be both a symptom and a social mood, after all, and sometimes being anxious is completely appropriate. Horror is well-known as a medium for talking about real-life fears, from vampires linking sex and death to zombies standing in for various mass movements to the old chestnut about the “ancient Indian burial ground” as a way of expressing residual guilt and unease about how the American continent was seized and suburbanized. The horror classics speak to the fears of their respective eras, and the best and most perennial of them speak to the fears that are with us still.
I was born ready for an anxious era, and boy did I get one. As a child I saw on the news that our leaders were content to toy with nuclear winter, catastrophic epidemics, and South American genocide in order to play at being the good guys in a film; in undergrad I learned (in class) about climate change and (in person) about the profound undercurrents of gendered violence that would eventually begin to bubble forth in the #Metoo movement; when I got into the working world, I had any last shreds of belief in economic meritocracy or even rationality stripped from my eyes.
I also saw many, many instances of low-key personal injustice and pain going unaddressed and unacknowledged – or even praised in the guise of love stories and happy families, hidden behind spiritual awakenings and brilliant careers. These individual stories had lower stakes when taken one by one, but added all together they were world-shaking.
Turns out, people don’t like talking about any of this! The Just World fallacy is super comforting, even – or perhaps especially – for many of the people who are getting the short end of the unjust real world’s stick. From Cassandra in classical mythology to Miles Bennell from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there are plenty of examples in our literature of why you shouldn’t just tell your unvarnished truth on the street corner – not if you want things to go well with you or your message. Better to put it in a more palatable form. In horror fiction you can tell a story of grand conspiracy, or apocalypse, or hide a sinister sting in a story about two loving sisters like I do in my novel A HAWK IN THE WOODS.
With horror fiction, I can communicate my anxieties in the guise of entertainment. At best, I’ll find that they resonate with others and we’re ready to have a conversation about these things, a conversation that might offer some solutions. At worst, people will just think I’m a little crazy.
A Hawk In The Woods
When newscaster Abby Waite is diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, she decides to do the logical thing… break her twin sister Martha out of prison and hit the road. Their destination is the Waite family cabin in Minnesota where Abby plans a family reunion of sorts. But when you come from a family where your grandfather frequently took control of your body during your youth, where your mother tried to inhabit your mind and suck your youthful energies out of you, and where so many dark secrets–and bodies, even–are buried, such a family meeting promises to be nothing short of complicated…
Carrie Laben is the author of A Hawk in the Woods, coming from Word Horde in March 2019. Her work has appeared in such venues as Apex, The Dark, Indiana Review, Okey-Panky, and Outlook Springs. In 2017 she won the Shirley Jackson Award in Short Fiction for her story “Postcards from Natalie” and Duke University’s Documentary Essay Prize for the essay “The Wrong Place”. She has been a MacDowell Fellow and a resident at the Anne LaBastille Memorial Residency. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana and now resides in Queens.
You can follow Carrie on Twitter @pinguinus
Please visit Carrie at her official website http://www.carrielaben.com
Please visit the Word Horde website here for more information and additional purchase links.