Why Do I Write Horror?
Charles Austin Muir
Somewhere along my tenth year, I read a story called “Pigeons from Hell” by Robert E. Howard. I’d read a lot of Howard’s stories but nothing like “Pigeons from Hell.” Nothing so creepy. Nothing so horrifying.
The story is about two friends traveling in the South who spend the night in a deserted plantation manor. The outside of the house is infested by pigeons that, unbeknownst to the travelers, are not of this earth. During the night, the protagonist stirs from his blankets and sees his companion walking up the moonlit stairs across the hall. He hears a scream. When his friend comes back in sight, he is gripping a bloody axe and his head has been split open. Even worse… he’s still walking.
I’d never been so spooked by a made-up story in my life. I went from writing sprawling (for a ten-year-old) Tolkien imitations to dark fiction that attempted to evoke atmosphere like “Pigeons from Hell.” I wanted to rouse chills like what I felt wondering what happened to the man at the top of the stairs. By what unearthly mechanism is someone slain with an axe and sent downstairs to turn the weapon on his traveling partner?
The sight of the dead man’s bloody face in the moonlight… the creak of his footfalls on the stairs… I’m creeping myself out just by writing about it. This is the mood and suspense I want in a story.
I want to write about what’s in the shadows. I want to write about what’s on the other side of the door. I want to write about the dangers lingering out of sight. And I want to bring the horrors to life in minute detail. One of the scariest scenes I’ve ever read in a novel is the scene in room 217 in Stephen King’s The Shining. From Jack Torrance’s point of view, even the rattle of curtain rings on a shower rod becomes a shiver-inducing revelation.
Here’s an anecdote that gets to the heart of why I write horror.
A few years ago in a dive bar, I watched a drunk guy smash his fist into a shot glass. Guess who won that fight? The drunk guy bled all over the place and passed out in the chair in front of me. There he was, arm dangling at his side, blood dripping from his mangled hand when—plop! A fat, dark drool leaked through his fingers into the remnants of glass on the carpet. In the bar light the liquid looked like Guinness. I wondered how the drunk guy could have spilled another drink… then realized he wasn’t wasting good beer at this point but a thick quantity of blood.
It sounds obvious in the abstract, but my brain needed a second to process what I was seeing. And once I realized it, I just stared at the jagged glass bottom filled with blood on the carpet. I was fascinated. Hypnotized. Like Clive Barker’s saying, the drunk guy was a book of blood—and where he was opened, he was red. Horror is the red we would rather not think about. It’s the thing that’s just waiting out there to show us we’re not nearly as safe as we want to think. The book-of-blood drunk guy could be me, if I was dumb (and blitzed) enough to punch a shot glass.
We are not safe. We do ourselves a favor to remember that. Too much fear though, and our fight-or-flight response will harm our bodies. Horror stories give us a healthy dose of fear in the guise of entertainment. It’s not fun to read a report describing “an unspecified neoplasm” in your mother’s internal organs, but it is fun to read a well-crafted fictional narrative about a man who has a tapeworm for a girlfriend (“Rebound” by Brendan Vidito). How does that work? How does a ghost in a hotel take a bath? How does a man get his head axed open and still walk around? Yikes, the world is weird. There are many realities. Horror lets us be vulnerable in them without our soft tissues being at stake. Horror lets us face the assortment of reds behind the door and come back to our own (relatively) stable ground.
I write horror to take that journey and hopefully take others along for the ride, too.
Can pigeons from Hell be scary? You bet your ass they can.
This Is A Horror Book
Horror isn’t just about what hides in the shadows. It’s about how weird the shadows themselves can be. And darkness gets insanely weird in Charles Austin Muir’s THIS IS A HORROR BOOK. Enter a world where a heartbroken boy can turn himself into a doomsday weapon. Where a book found outside a convenience store can incinerate the earth. Killer rabbits, kung fu sorcerers, mystical prostitutes, mutant slasher villains and sexually insatiable librarians collide in these stories author and screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner (Nemo Rising and Prison, respectively) called “a life-mosaic in words, touching on common experience and the unreal.”
Charles Austin Muir
Charles Austin Muir is the author of This is a Horror Book and Bodybuilding Spider Rangers and Other Stories. His fiction has appeared in several anthologies of dark and bizarre fiction, including Peel Back the Skin, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror and This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With. He worked as an obituary writer and fitness columnist before he became a therapeutic exercise trainer for a chiropractic clinic. He lives with his wife, who is a retired air guitarist (that’s right), three pugs and a pit lab in Portland, Oregon.
You can find out more about Charles by visiting his official website www.charlesaustinmuir.com
Follow Charles on Twitter @CharlesAMuir