Why Do I Write Horror?
By Mark Steensland
Why does it seem such a strange thing to enjoy tales of horror? Perhaps “enjoy” is the wrong word. But, then again, maybe not. Most people who ride roller-coasters enjoy the experience, don’t they? There is something thrilling about having a brush with death (even a carefully controlled one). That’s the appeal, isn’t it? And yet, while roller coasters are ridden by all kinds of people in all kinds of places, they are not looked at in the same way as are horror stories. Try this experiment during the next coffee hour after church: walk up to someone and say, “I quite like riding roller coasters.” See what happens. Nothing, likely. Then try saying, “I quite like horror stories.” And in the silence of their stunned reaction, before they call the white coats to take you to Bellevue, ask them to consider the following:
Stories are clearly important to us as a species. For entertainment. For education. For advancement. For telling us what’s possible, often in a way that gets at the truth more accurately and insightfully than a mere recitation of facts.
Take the simple bedtime story, for example. A frog turns into a prince. An evil step-mother leaves her children in the woods. A little girl discovers the Big Bad Wolf masquerading as her grandmother. These kinds of stories thrill us as children. But as adults, we likely realize they are metaphors for real-life possibilities. You get married to a man who turns out to be Bill Gates. Or you get married to a man who turns out to be B.T.K. Maybe you end up the father of Rod Serling. Or the mother of Jeffrey Dahmer.
It’s natural to want to believe in only good possibilities. And there are many content with narrowing life down to those outcomes alone. Like someone eating a Big Mac for dinner every night just so they can be sure of what they’re getting. They avoid bad news by pretending it doesn’t exist. The opposite error can be made, as well. There are people who only want to hear bad news so they can prove that good cannot happen. But it’s still only half the picture. The truth is: death is one of those open secrets, like going to the bathroom. We know everyone does exactly what we do in the toilet. But nobody wants to talk about it. In the same way, we all know that we will face death. But nobody really wants to talk about it.
This is where horror stories come in: as bedtime fables for adults with a different ratio of reality to metaphor. And perhaps that’s why they are so upsetting, especially to those who’d rather pretend such stuff as death and toilet paper don’t exist.
If your coffee hour audience remains unconvinced, remind them that some of the greatest stories ever told are horror tales. What is “Hamlet” but a ghost story that asks us to face the possibility that our step-father murdered our real father and that we are now being asked to take revenge by something that might be only a figment of our imagination? And what is “Macbeth” but a story of witches that asks us to face the possibility that our own quest for stature and power might drive us to murder and madness? Then take a breath and close with something snappy like, “Good enough for Shakespeare is good enough for me.”
Mark Steensland self-published his first book while in fourth grade and has been telling stories ever since–some of them true. He became a professional journalist at the age of 18, writing about movies for such magazines as Prevue and American Cinematographer. His award-winning films have played in festivals around the world. His novel for young readers, Behind the Bookcase, was published in 2012. His novel for adults, The Special, was published in late 2018 and is now being made into a feature film. He currently lives in California with his wife and their three children.
Mark’s Amazon page is here
When you need something extra-special, think inside the box.
You can buy The Special from Amazon UK & Amazon US
You can read The Special Kendall Review here
Jimmy The Freak
Thanks to being dropped on his head when he was a baby, Jimmy is now both mentally disabled and psychic. This has made him the perfect target for abuse by those who would exploit his wild talent for their own power and glory.
Disgusted by his part in the game, Jimmy’s bodyguard Mike takes him on the run. But Mike’s boss isn’t the sort to let a meal ticket go easily, so he dispatches a brutal hitman named Ash to hunt them down and bring Jimmy back to work.
Winding through a snow-covered landscape of back alleys, cheap motels, and strip clubs, Mike must fight his own personal demons while desperately trying to keep Jimmy free.
You can buy Jimmy The Freak from Amazon UK & Amazon US
The Jimmy The Freak Kendall Review can be found here
In The Scrape
Most kids dream about a new bike, a pair of top-dollar sneakers endorsed by their favourite athlete, or that totally awesome videogame everyone’s raving about. But thirteen-year-old Jake and his little brother Matthew want nothing more than to escape from their abusive father. As soon as possible, they plan to run away to California, where they will reunite with their mother and live happily ever after. It won’t be easy, though. After a scuffle with a local bully puts Jake’s arch-nemesis in the hospital, Sheriff Theresa McLelland starts poking her nose into their feud. During a trip to the family cabin for the opening weekend of deer-hunting season, Jake and Matthew kick their plan into action, leaving Dad tied to a chair as they flee into the night. Meanwhile, the bully and his father have their own plans for revenge, and the events to follow will forever change the lives of everyone involved…
You can buy In The Scrape from Amazon UK & Amazon US
The In The Scrape Kendall Review can be read here
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