Why I Write Horror?
For a long time, it wasn’t a conscious decision for me to write horror. It was only after a certain number of years of writing that I looked at all of what I’d written, from childhood to my most recent fiction, and realized that almost everything had monsters in it.
In the past few years, a couple of things helped me further locate myself on the map of horror/speculative fiction (or whatever term you prefer). The first was discovering Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s work through the Southern Reach trilogy. To me, it was important because that series straddles so many different genres while still managing to maintain its own unique atmosphere, but also because so much of what the VanderMeers do is to develop and nurture the structure on which to hang a conscious practice in weird fiction. Through them, I discovered authors like Lena Krohn and Karin Tidbeck and Amos Tutuola, a whole international through-line of weirdos across the ages.
The second was seeing the exhibition Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters, which is a beautifully curated showcase of a selection of objects and memorabilia from del Toro’s personal collection. Both the exhibition and the accompanying book, which contains detailed influence trees for del Toro’s aesthetic, further clarified for me what had always been true, to an extent: I’m happiest among monsters. My work isn’t always horror, but it’s often horrifying.
As to the why, I think it has to do with fear. Looking at the world clearly—all the beauty in it and all the ugliness—is terrifying. So terrifying that it might be impossible. Never mind the elder gods: who could stand it, to honestly and brutally catalogue all of the things any average human is capable of? We are rightfully afraid of ourselves. Horror, or weird fiction, is a way of putting a scary but also compelling mask on those things, so we can look at them, turn them over, and reconcile them. It makes unspeakable things both tolerable and novel, so that we might see them from new perspectives.
As well, for me, horror is part of the spectrum of weird/dark/spec/fantasy/sci-fi writing that is a key to the development and maintenance of humankind’s capacity for imagination. Although we certainly don’t need any more ingenious cruelties, any writing that pushes at the edges of belief or other spiritual or intellectual extremes is helping to shape new ways of thinking, new possibilities in existence. Right now, as much as anything, I think we’re seeing a crisis of credulity—an inability for a lot of people, in a lot of bad situations, to get past the idea that “it can’t happen here” or “that kind of thing only happens in the movies”. Horror fans are, perhaps, more likely to have the elasticity of mind required to acknowledge, without blinking, a threat like a global pandemic or catastrophic climate change. If the shape of your reality is limited to a very narrow or conventional understanding about how one is supposed to be human, or why, you’re less likely to believe in the possibility of that fundamentally changing. If you’re into horror, your psyche is ready for this stuff. Donald Trump is Randall Flagg, Jeffrey Epstein could have been in The Island Club from Carrion Comfort, and there are passages in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower that could be ripped straight from last night’s news on CNN. What some people call horror is, to me, just another way of being open-minded and aware of the world.
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The twelve stories in Different Beasts ask what it means to be both human and monster. Shape-shifting waifs, haunted stuffies, scavenging drones, insectoid demon-gods, and mutant angels all come to life in this wildly imagined debut. As do broken soldiers, disgraced politicians, tired parents, ogres and children, opportunists, and desperate survivors — human beasts each struggling with the animalian aspects of their nature.
In this wild, fantastical, viscerally memorable debut, J.R. McConvey explores the power dynamics that undergird social relationships and crystallize into structures of fealty and worship, fear and control, aspiration and desire.
J.R. McConvey’s debut short story collection, DIFFERENT BEASTS, won the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for speculative fiction. His stories have been shortlisted for the Journey Prize, the Bristol Short Story Prize and the Thomas Morton Prize, and he won the 2016 Jack Hodgins Founders’ Award. His work has appeared in The Malahat Review, Joyland, EVENT, The Puritan, carte blanche and filling station, among other outlets. He sometimes works as a journalist and media producer, and exists on social media @jrmcconvey and on the web at www.jrmcconvey.com.