Why Do I Write Horror?
By Roger Jackson
I think, for me, the question “Why Do You Write Horror?” suggests that there’s some sort of element of free will involved as if I sat down one day and chose the genre. The truth of it is, the genre chose me.
Writing is like seeing shapes in the clouds. You and I might lay back on the warm grass, watching those little crystals of water or ice embrace tiny particles of dust in the blue sky, and, wondrously, this cold and unstoppable physical law will inspire you to see unicorns or angels, cats or dogs, the famous or the infamous, whatever your mind is wired to see. Mine is wired weird.
As a kid, my earliest stories were superficially science-fictional, cherry-picking concepts from my favourite films and TV shows and comic books and mashing them into tales that didn’t so much explore strange new worlds as recycle them … many are the story from that time that saw a Doctor Doom/Darth Vader hybrid commanding an army of “like Cybermen but not really Cybermen” against a brave band of Mutant mercenaries armed with laser swords (definitely NOT lightsabres).
The thing is, if I was writing about a cyborg, say, I started to realise how much more I enjoyed writing about the seeping, decaying remains of his or her flesh than the sleek, mechanical aspects of the cybernetics. Eventually, I came to understand that my science-fiction efforts were Horror stories in disguise and that if I was going to write, that was the territory in which I could have the most fun.
When people find out that I write, and the subject of genre comes up, people seem intrigued that I’m writing Horror stories, and why not? After all, everyone likes a scary story, don’t they? Pretty much everyone I know has sampled (and enjoyed) The Walking Dead, or a Stephen King novel, or the latest Hollywood remake of a film that was banned 30 years ago. People are mostly really positive about the genre, but every now and then a strange little question arises in our conversations, most often from folks who know and care about me: Why don’t you write something NICE?
It isn’t always phrased that way, of course. Sometimes, it’s something along the lines of, “Well, I liked it but, y’know, it was … disturbing.” Sometimes it’s a look that touches their eyes a few moments after they have finished reading a short story or novel excerpt, as though for a second or two they’re suspicious of me, wary that the same person that they know so well has all this … bleakness inside of them.
Nobody has really offered such a judgement in a judgemental way if that makes sense. A few of them are people with only a passing interest in the Horror genre. They might not settle down with some beer and Nachos for a hardcore 24-hour Video Nasty marathon but they’ve seen, for example, a couple of SAW films and gushed with ghoulish glee (Stan Lee alliteration alert!) about “that part at the end where the murderer cuts open the guy’s …” etcetera, etcetera. They have the perfectly reasonable view of an average consumer, recognising the role of such make-believe terrors in a world where every day the real, heartbreaking horror is a time-loop of doom on the rolling news channels.
It’s just that they’re not too sure about someone they know writing something like that. Something, y’know … disturbing.
They’re not being unkind, by any means. As I say they’re people that care, and sometimes the question has been asked carefully, like an intervention, as though it’s unhealthy that I’m wired to imagine such terrible things, rather than simply seek to be entertained by them, as they are. It’s a sickness to create, apparently, but a joy to behold. Strange.
If the question is “Why don’t you write something NICE?” then the flipside must be, “Why are you writing something so HORRIBLE?”. I think that slight sense of distaste might be to do with a perception of the Horror genre as a gaudy ghost-train ride, nothing but guts and gore, style over substance, axe-cleaved mind over festering matter, and yes, that element exists, just as for every lauded singer/songwriter there’s a cookie-cutter boy band, or for every cinematic masterpiece there’s a movie that fails on every level except focus.
Nothing wrong with that, in my view. I collect movies based on comic-books and my geek-gene means that I have to collect everything I can, regardless of quality. There are some TERRIBLE films on those shelves, but what the Hell … a little junk-food every now and then isn’t a bad thing.
The problem isn’t that the Horror genre has it’s shallower, visceral-thrill side. The problem is that there seems to be a general perception that that’s the ONLY side it has. Incidentally, it’s interesting how often people condemn a film they’ve watched when it was called something like, “Werewolf Chainsaw Apocalypse” as being “too horrible” … because of all the Werewolves and Chainsaws and stuff. What did they expect? Do they vilify comedies because there are too many jokes or love stories with too much romance? It’s Horror … the clue is in the name.
Horror is as valid as any other genre. It feels like the right path for me because I believe in its flexibility, its welcoming arms, its ability to embrace themes that run deeper than its ravenous undead and its haunted graveyards and its masks both literal and metaphorical. Horror, often, is a garish jukebox, an eye-catcher of neon and chrome, but look within, and the vinyl can be cut with songs of heartbreak, and joy, tunes to make you weep or dance. All types of story can employ allegory, of course, but not all while maintaining such purity of genre.
Horror owns the room, remaining honourable and undiluted no matter what other themes and elements it can comfortably incorporate. That’s why the Horror element always comes first when people talk about mashing it up with another genre. Zombie Western, Zombie Romance, never the other way around.
I can have my zombies and demons and killers (oh my!), but if I want I can also have comedy or erotica or teen angst or political drama or whatever I need. I don’t think it works the other way. Any of those genres can exist brilliantly on their own, but make the President a vampire or the angst-ridden teens serial killers and the story’s heart begins to blacken. You can have the romantic subplot to a Horror tale, but maybe it’s a tougher call to add an out and out Horror element to a romance. Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful tale of love and loss, but throw a werewolf grenade into Verona town square and that story belongs to the Dark Side.
I suppose I’m proud of the genre I’m wired to write, as all writers of all types of fiction should be. It’s just that, occasionally, the Horror genre seems to need justifying for some. That’s okay. I can defend its artistic value until the day I die … and come back.
And if “Werewolf Chainsaw Apocalypse” exists, I NEED to see it.
Cradle Of The Dead
On a bleak Christmas Eve, Paul Wren assists his associate with kidnapping and delivering a gangland rival to his place of execution: Alderville, an isolated and abandoned hospital. When Wren arrives, he discovers that what seemed like a simple murder contract is something far more horrifying. The forsaken structure’s history is fraught with unimaginable evil, and tonight’s most dangerous forces hail from a different kind of underworld. Killers come in many shades, and the darkest of them rise from beyond the grave.
Roger Jackson lives in England, existing mainly on a diet of energy drinks and questionable Horror movies. Many tales have crawled from the graveyard of his brain, including stories in Equilibrium Overturned from Grey Matter Press, The Flashes of Darkness e-book from Dark Chapter Press and the Manifest Reality anthology from Hair Brained Press, and his novella, “Cradle of the Dead”, published by Bloodbound Books. Third Person bios like this always make him feel like he’s writing his own obituary.
You can find out more about Roger by visiting www.jabe842beyond.wordpress.com
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