Mark Allan Gunnells, Why Do You Write Horror?
KR: You can read the Before He Wakes Kendall Review HERE
Why do I write horror?
I could give a lot of surface answers. The limitlessness of the genre, the freedom to really explore the imaginative, the prospect for metaphor. All of those things are true, but for this article, I thought I might dig a little deeper.
Fact is I write horror because from a very early age I was drawn to horror (movies, books, TV), but that begs the question why was I drawn to horror so young?
The simple answer is that I was drawn to horror because I felt my life was a horror. I realize that kind of thing is relative, and many had it worse than me, but my childhood was not easy. For one, I grew up in a house with an abusive alcoholic father. I spent every day tiptoeing around invisible landmines, afraid of detonating his anger and unleashing napalm. Sometimes during his rages, my mother would snatch me and my brother out of bed and run us in our bare feet to a neighbor’s house so we could escape the brunt of his wrath.
Growing up poor, while I never went without the basic necessities, the worry about money and making the rent and being able to afford groceries did permeate the house. Even as a small kid, I could feel it and it made me anxious, knowing that the very little we had was tenuous and could be taken away. I wasn’t all that concerned about not having a lot of toys or clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs, because I was too busy being concerned about homelessness and not having enough to eat.
And that was at home, the place that should be a refuge. At school, things were even worse. I went through most of my young life with no friends. I was the outcast, the pariah, the sacrificial lamb, the whipping post. When I see people dismissing bullying as “kids just being kids,” it tells me they were never truly bullied or they would understand the kind of emotional scars that can leave. I never fit in, partly because I was poor and partly because I was cripplingly shy, but mostly because I was gay. I mean, in grammar school I wasn’t self-aware enough to admit that, but because I was such an effeminate and sensitive boy, even before my peers themselves fully understood the concept, I was already called a “faggot” on an almost daily basis. This lasted all the way until I graduated high school. I’m sure on the day of graduation, someone probably called me a “faggot.” The bullying never turned physical, but the psychological toll this took on me was very real.
Since there was no escape at home or school, I escaped into movies and books. I know you would think that if life was such a horror show, why not escape into something uplifting, where parents were kind and supportive and school was full of friends and camaraderie? I guess because those kinds of stories felt like the most dishonest kind of fantasy. I couldn’t relate to that and so my brain rejected it. Horror I could relate to, but unlike real life, in fictional horror I learned some lessons that helped me.
In fictional horror, I could find strong characters who faced down the odds, stood up despite adversity, fought bitterly to the end and sometimes prevailed. (The fact that they didn’t always prevail also helped make the stories feel more real, which allowed me to believe even more strongly in the stories where they did.) I also learned about empathy from horror, because these stories hinged on getting you to empathize with the characters. I wasn’t learning that from those around me in my life. Also, because the other kids and even some adults treated me like a freak and a monster, the works of Clive Barker and Anne Rice were revelatory to me because they elevated the monster, made the monster into something beautiful and worthwhile. Misunderstood but deserving of love.
So the horror movies and books I devoured as a young person actually helped make the real-life horror I lived through more bearable. Odd as it may sound to some, these horror stories gave me hope and kept me going. Therefore, when I developed my passion for writing, it was only natural that I gravitated toward horror myself.
And that is why I keep coming back, all these years later. I hope works like my new book Before He Wakes provide me with the same kind of escape and it is my hope they also provide that escape to readers of all ages.
KR: If you write horror, published or not, I’d love to hear Why Do You Write Horror? Please get in touch via my email and together let’s promote horror.
Before He Wakes
Patrick and Clare wake up trapped in a basement, a thin wall separating their cells. Their captor is mysteriously absent, which at first seems like a blessing. As more time passes with no food or water, they begin to realize a clock is ticking for their survival.
Combining their intelligence and determination, the two begin plotting an escape from their shared prison. Overcoming each obstacle only presents another obstacle standing in the way of their freedom. It will take all of their ingenuity and strength to find their way out of this mess.
They know their captor is still out there, and it is only a matter of time before he returns.
Mark Allan Gunnells
Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.