Why Do I Write Horror?
By Kirk Jones
I got into horror for all the wrong reasons.
I have no regrets.
Before I’d decided to write horror, I was terrified by horror films. I still remember the first time my cousins all sat down to watch Nightmare on Elm Street. I was four, maybe five. I tucked my face into my mother, afraid to watch. She said, “It’s not that bad. They don’t show anyone dying.”
But they did. The days of Hitchcock’s implied terror—scenes that cutaway, leaving violence to the imagination—had long since passed. Nightmare on Elm Street was a new breed of horror, in-your-face horror. I wasn’t ready for that.
I would remain ill-prepared for horror until my early teens, when my friend had brought over a film to watch while my parents were gone, and there again on the screen was that man in the hat with the scorched flesh, those trademark knives glistening on the ends of his fingers. I didn’t watch it that night, but my friend let me borrow it, and eventually, I’d mustered up the courage to check it out.
It wasn’t so bad. The actors weren’t really dead. And the scenes surrounding the horror—these perfect suburban towns, the beautiful high-school settings—they really resonated with me.
Horror films taught me that film was an art form and an industry. It helped me parse out the distinctions between fiction and reality, a process that my mind years prior couldn’t manage.
Horror helped me grow into young adulthood.
Then the internet came along, and my family got their first personal computer when I was around 14. By this point, I’d seen all of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and more. It turned out Wes Craven has taught at Clarkson University, which was only a stone’s throw from my childhood home. I started to see some of the actors from the movies in other films, which reinforced the fictional aspect of the films.
By this point, I’d reconciled my aversion to fictional horror. I started to enjoy all things horror. I’d like to say that’s where the story ends, that by my early teens I was ready to write horror and move on. But it isn’t. At this point in my life, I wasn’t writing much of anything. Life was pretty uneventful for a small-town kid living in the middle of nowhere.
Then I started finding websites discussing snuff films, rumor mills purporting to know where to find them, which fictional films had real deaths embedded in them, etc. Forums led me to websites like rotten.com, where there was a different kind of horror awaiting me, not of the pleasant disposition.
For the life of me, I never was able to reconcile real-life horror in the same way that I could fictional horror. I have seen images that are forever etched in my mind. I’ve tried to make sense of the absurdity of real-world terrors: the indiscriminate murder weapons of war, those who profit from the creation of those weapons, random disappearances, the inherent brutality of the human condition . . . it’s all too much.
Paradoxically, I found myself going back to those forums and websites, trying to find some way that I could make sense of it and go on with my daily life as if I hadn’t seen any of it. What I found instead was a population of people who relished the idea of human cruelty. Sure, there were curious spectators who lingered in the shadows like myself, but the most vocal people on these forums seemed amused by real death in the same way I was amused by fictional horror. I kept going back, searching for answers, hoping that someday the knot in my stomach violence caused would disappear. That someday I’d be unaffected by it. I had thought, in the naiveté of my youth, that desensitization was the answer.
Around this time I was put on anti-anxiety medication. I thought, if exposure therapy doesn’t desensitize me, at least the medication will make me numb. But it didn’t. No matter how much I took, I was irrevocably human. I still wonder why I thought that was a weakness back then, being human.
I remember right before I quit my medication, I had a night where I took my normal dose (20mg), then I sat, thinking about the most terrible things I could imagine happening to me or my family.
The knot was still there, reminding me I felt.
So I took another 5mg, gave it a bit of time, and thought through those same things again.
Still a knot. Still empathy. Still feelings.
So I took more.
Finally I got to a point where I was numb. Maybe it was the medication. Maybe it was re-exposure to those same thoughts. Something desensitized me, and it scared the hell out of me.
So I took a little more, and I resolved not to think about it any longer.
A few weeks later I quit college and sat on my parents’ couch for a few days or weeks—I really can’t remember exactly how long it was—grinding my teeth, my legs twitching uncontrollably from withdrawals. I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to quit cold turkey, and for some reason it never occurred to me that something seriously wrong was happening. I was so preoccupied with my physical predisposition that I didn’t think of much of anything at the time. And that was kind of nice, honestly.
Fast forward through that to my first semester back in college. I was no longer on anti-anxiety medication. I was ready for a fresh start. That’s around the time I found the therapeutic value in writing.
When writing horror, I had control over what happened. I could line grey clouds with silver. I could infuse the dark and dismal world with an ounce of hope. When I became disillusioned with what was happening around me, I could escape into a fictional world and supplement reality with the hope reality didn’t always provide. I could make sense of the irrational. I could create worlds where it wasn’t paranoia if they were really out to get you, but where people could get away from whatever compromising situation they were in and find sanity again. Because all along, what I needed wasn’t more violence to desensitize myself. What I needed was hope that despite the absurdity and cruelty of the world, sometimes the good guys still win.
In all of my work you’ll see multiple threads of horror that reflect this. On the surface you might find cosmic horror or a spin on classic monster horror. But beneath that veneer, beneath that potentially marketable story, you’ll see another thread of horror. You’ll see horror that exists within the mind, the horror that comes when you realize how vast the disparity between subjective reality and the world around us really is. And you may not get an answer as to how much or what exactly is in the character’s head and what is real, but it doesn’t matter, because they have friends who understand their plight, and they love them regardless. You don’t get all the answers, but you get resolution.
I think western culture places a lot of emphasis on this notion of absolute closure, this idea that all loose ends have to be tied to be done with something. We expect that in story and reality. But sometimes people disappear from our lives and we don’t know what happened or why. Sometimes we’re exposed to some cruelty and we never know the underlying motivation, or we simply can’t make meaning of the circumstance. That’s okay. There can still be a resolution, and there can still be hope. That’s what horror is to me, and that’s what my work is about.
In this respect I write the antithesis to horror. It’s nothing new. It’s what many horror authors write. Sure, we write horror. But horror is a vehicle, a conduit through which we express hope. In times like this, where the world seems about to collapse in on itself, we need more of that. The world has beaten us upon the head for so long with the idea that nothing is sacred. We see it in the newspapers, on social media, and in our back yards every day. So why not give folks a little something to look forward to? Why not give them a little hope?
That’s why I do what I do. I write horror not to make people despair, but to help people not despair.
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Kirk Jones (k3rk Dʒoʊnz): 1. English Director of Nanny McPhee 2. “Sticky Fingaz,” rap artist and actor who played Blade for the television series 3. Canadian who survived a dive over Niagara Falls . . . only to return and pass upon his second attempt. 4. Boring white author of Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals (Eraserhead Press, 2010), Journey to Abortosphere (Rooster Republic, 2014), and Die Empty (Atlatl, 2017) who often gets mistaken for the other, arguably more notable, Kirk Jones fellows. 5. Also not Kirk Byron Jones.
You can find out more about Kirk via his official blog www.bizarrojones.wordpress.com
You can follow Kirk on Twitter @bizarrojones
The digital era: Analog is all but dead, but the rusted towers still strobe on the evening horizon. They project a conflicting myriad of hope, despair and eyeless ghouls who claim to see the world in gigahertz.
A small town in Vermont broadcasts prophecies of its residents’ deaths. Rey, a cutlery salesman, seems to flicker at the center of every murder on screen. He thinks the town is rigged with cameras, or the locals are trying to set him up. But as the broadcasts grow increasingly surreal, and maniacs start showing up in town to remove his sensory organs, Rey starts to realize that the images pulsing beneath the static-riddled airwaves have woven him into a battle between people who believe that analog is the frequency of the gods.