Why Do You Write Horror?
Why Do You Write Horror is a great question with a difficult, transient answer, so if you’re interested, please indulge me, and I promise I’ll try to keep it tight and coherent. After all, it is mid-October as I write this, and I’m sure you all have frightening books to read, scary movies to watch, and maybe people to kill…not judging.
I’d say I write horror because I grew up the same way everyone else did who is submitting/reading blogs on this excellent site: I loved monsters, and gore, and doomed heroes and heroines of all stripes trying to survive and overcome evil in all its many guises. As a small impressionable child, I loved the zombies and vamps and masked killers and demons locked away in their VHS vaults. And then I started reading King and Simmons, Herbert and Laymon and Barker and enjoyed them very much too (I looooved Cabal). But then I read Robert McCammon, chiefly Stinger, They Thirst and Swan Song and my mind was utterly blown. Here was an author who could deliver the frights and violence as skilfully as anybody else I had read thus far, but for me personally, he was also capable of creating characters that stayed with me for longer, hero and villain alike. And that was new to me. Those books came to life inside my head like no other that had come before, creating the best damn pulse-pounding, action-heavy horror I could hope to experience on page or celluloid. Of course, at the time I didn’t realise it, but slowly, like glacier-speed slow, I thought it would be awesome to be responsible for creating such rich, dramatic stories of good vs evil. To confect ideas and scenarios which touch the hearts and minds of fellow introverts, which is the best gift you can give an introvert, next to alcohol. But boiling it down to its intrinsic constituents, I just wanted to create worlds and ideas that some reader might one day go, “that’s pretty cool.” It’s a humble ambition, and one that I hope is obtainable.
But the idea to write my own story never took root until many years later.
I was somewhere along that hazy, badly signposted path of my early to mid-twenties. I had already spent all of my life toying with ideas and imagining monsters and so forth, but it wasn’t until I began working evenings as a cleaner at a mental rehabilitation unit that the desire finally took hold. I had moved from the wards to the offices, which were empty by the time I started my shift, and on one particular eerie night, I walked into a counselling room, only to find shed hair coating the entire floor, and the suite. Now pets aren’t allowed in there, so I was puzzled by the presence of so many stringy clumps, not to mention pissed off because it meant an awful lot of hoovering, but my mind subconsciously threw up the idea of a werewolf patient (perhaps with alopecia, judging from the amount of loose hair) being counselled by one of the therapists, and from there I suddenly spiralled into entertaining musings on an entire secret patient-listing comprised of various monsters and oddities, perhaps dwelling deep beneath the hospital in a restricted, private clinic, only to venture up into the more public domain of the hospital on rare occasions. Clearly a load of bullshit, but it put a smile on my face as I toiled away with hoover and mop, and I realised that elements of this daydream clung to my imagination with hooked claws, digging in, unshakable, and before long I was cobbling together a story based around this brief concept. However, it just as quickly got away from me, and early on I realised that it wasn’t going to be a horror story, but an urban fantasy with no shortage of supernatural super-heroics, lots of monsters, and gangsters, and before I knew it my amateur’s enthusiasm had significantly outstretched my ability, creating a wild blend of bright and brash bravado with barely a plot to hold it all together. Still, despite this early jumbled idea, lots of the characters stayed with me, and to this day I think many of them have potential. Which is why I dusted a couple of them off and re-worked them for my latest novel Hourglass. Now, whilst leaps and bounds ahead of its original incarnation (at least I bloody well hope it is!), it is still very much a dark fantasy, with lots of foul creatures and bloodshed yes, but also guns, preternatural fisticuffs and things going BOOM!
And this takes me back to Robert McCammon and his excellent ability to marry gunplay and gore, militaristic plots and mystery, deftly weaving between straight horror to sci-fi, to fantasy, to pulpy action thrillers such as Gone South. He is a master of genre fiction, (much like John Carpenter, who I greatly admire, as a visionary capable of such a diverse range of genres. I mean Halloween, The Thing/They Live, Big Trouble I’m Little China, Precinct 13; all exceptional examples of their specific genre), and since my own personal writing preferences tend to vary from book to book, I can only hope I achieve a fraction of such ability within my lifetime.
Now I have to mention this in case the horror police start howling and scratching at my door, but right now I don’t actually have a horror novel on the market. I have written several horror novels: one of which WILL (!) be released next year (I’ve currently been waiting almost a year to hear back from a horror imprint, but they’re a bit backlogged because of the whole apocalypse and what-not, but if I have to indie pub it I will); I am awaiting editorial feedback to commence the third draft of another horror novel (also hopefully next year); and I wrote one after my first doomed foray into writing (you know, that crummy ADHD-induced farrago of monsters and super-powered mayhem I mentioned), which I might one day revisit;
In fact, to this day I vividly recall the reason I started that first horror novel. It came about after a bout of sleep paralysis. This is something I’ve experienced several times throughout my life, but this particular episode was a goddamn nightmare, literally. If you’ve ever experienced it for yourself you’ll know what I’m talking about. It started with me partially waking up, only to discover that my entire body was numb and completely immovable. I couldn’t so much as flex a damn pinky. That was bad and all, worse than bad if I’m being honest, but what made it worse was the dark figure standing at the foot of my bed. This black nebulous form could have been mimicking my paralysis, for all it seemed to do was stare down at me for a deeply unnerving amount of time. It could have been seconds. It could have been minutes. It’s difficult to gauge the passage of time when you partially wake-up into a frozen meat suit and met with figures who have followed you out of your dream. The shade at the foot of the bed was bad enough, but things really escalated into the holy shit category when I noticed out the corner of my eye, a toddler-sized foetus, also entirely black and devoid of any discernible features besides its overgrown bulbous head. Now this felt like a heart-pounding game of chicken, where the first to look away loses. The moment stretched into an icy sliver as I stared out at this haunting embryonic thing waiting patiently in my periphery, close enough to touch my sweat-damp face. The moment shattered, as the tiny black hand speared out and grabbed my throat. It was at this point where the paralysis broke, and most shockingly, I discovered that it was not some hideous black claw at my windpipe, but my own hand, choking me.
That…fucked me up. So much so that I quickly abandoned that original fantasy mess, and started to channel a Laymon-Esque yarn entailing a succubus preying on the cheating men of a small California town, with her hunger and sinful interests circling a group of young friends. That was my first true horror story, and I still remember the fevered intensity at which I toiled over it. It was obsessive and I loved every second of it, and to this day I love feeling a new story or brief idea sink its teeth into me, making me it’s puppet until the bloody work concludes.
Alas, whilst I don’t have a horror novel to purchase at this very moment, I can only hope you read this with patience and faith in my intent and credentials as a horror author. If it helps satisfy your curiosity, out of the two novels that will be out next year, one involves a group of Michigan high-school rocker outcasts surviving against the local bullies/dealers and gangsters with the help of a deranged, drug-induced monster; and the second involves an ancient, on-going war beneath the streets of Liverpool between a nigh-extinct group of Druids and a demented and monstrously disfigured aristocratic family.
Still here? Huh. Very cool.
Well, besides my latest fantasy action/thriller on the market, I do have a dark and violent crime thriller called Pigs available – not exactly Michael Connelly, more along the lines of Dan Simmon’s Joe Kurtz trilogy, and you guessed it, McCammon. Now originally Pigs was a horror novel, so even though I eventually decided to omit the sci-fi/horror mould of the story, I still wrote it with that same malevolent joy in my beating heart, and I tried my best to channel the grim combination of suicidal revenge amidst a criminal Chicago underworld of pulpy 1980’s-inspired machismo and bloody-minded psychopaths; as opposed to the original idea of tricked and trapped criminals being stalked and killed by the unstoppable psychological constructs of a mutilated and deeply-traumatised surgeon.
I don’t know whether I should have stuck with that original germ of an idea, or if I did the right thing by stripping it back to a standard tale of redemption and wrath, but I do know that I started writing it in the horror vein because of what I mentioned previously, my humble desire to make a reader go “Gee, that’s an okay idea”, irrespective of genre.
But I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. I love horror, always have, but I’ll be the first person to admit – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – but even the greatest horror novels/movies don’t actually scare me, and not since I watched Michael Myers slowly sit back up behind a weeping Laurie Strode, or Krueger chasing Tina down the alleyway, as a wide-eyed boy, have I been frightened. I enjoy them because they’re fun, because I love the cathartic exorcism that they create, leaving all the sweaty terror and ghastly wounds for the plucky survivors to endure rather than myself. I love the set-ups and the things that creep and crawl and kill. To me, horror is fun, which is also partly why I don’t want to corner myself purely into the horror box as a writer. I know I’ll write more horror stories in future, but I’ll wait until the idea comes naturally, and see if it distils itself into pure 100% proof horror, or if it’s a dilution to be mixed into fantasy or another genre story.
In the meantime, horror will always be my muse to varying extents, and as long as I can craft more tales of monsters, madmen, guts and glory, I’ll be content in the knowledge that I’m on the right path.
A massive thanks to Gavin and his awesome review team for allowing me to bore any of his poor readership. I hope I haven’t scared them off for good.
Daniel James (about to have a beer)
Clyde Williams just wanted to draw comic books. Life and death have other plans.
Brooklyn-born artist Clyde Williams has spent his life obsessing over comic books and chasing his big dream to one day break into the industry as a hot new artist. But chasing the dream isn’t easy. It’s tiring, dispiriting work.
And that was before the ghost of his recently murdered best friend and roommate, Kev Carpenter, showed up at their apartment. Shocked and confused, the pair have been trying to establish some sense of their old status quo, of normality, but normality left town and isn’t coming back.
Instead, they get a knock at their front door. Rose Hadfield, agent of Hourglass, has some understanding of what it’s like to commune with the dead, living with the ghosts of her former military unit, and offers them the choice to educate themselves and train their abilities, or remain under Hourglass’ scrutiny in the name of public safety.
Clyde’s long-held distrust of all things military and federal, has him prepared to decline Rose’s offer. Kev, however, has other ideas. Being restless and detached from the world, he sees this as his only real option. A purpose. Wracked with sympathy for his best friend’s plight, Clyde accepts Rose’s offer on one condition: upon completion of his training, he will remain a civilian. A fair compromise.
Unbeknownst to Clyde and Kev, their acceptance of Rose’s offer has catapulted them on a collision course with an ex-KGB officer turned necromantic monk, and the ancient, wealthy, and morally dubious Cairnwood Society. Clyde and Kev will soon learn that death is only the beginning.
Daniel James is an author of horror, fantasy and pulpy, fast-paced thrillers. He first began writing as a hobby to distract himself from the mundanity of completing his dissertation at Liverpool Hope University. When not writing, he loves reading genre fiction novels and comic books, watching movies, and listening to music (he used to play bass in local rock bands).
He is the recipient of the Literary Titan Gold Book award for his crime-thriller novel, Pigs.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter @DJauthor85