Welcome to the latest episode of the ongoing Kendall Reviews series where I ask the simple question…Why Do You Write Horror? This episode features Alan Baxter’s fantastic response to this question that originally appeared on John F.D. Taff’s blog in November 2018.
I’d like to thank both Alan and John for their continued support of Kendall Reviews and for constantly pushing that horror bar higher and higher.
Why Do You Write Horror?
I want to thank John for offering me his digital home for this post. What I’ve got here is actually a new version of the Afterword from my first short fiction collection, Crow Shine. But with the recent release of my new horror novel, Devouring Dark, the subject is apposite, so here we go!
The question is often asked, “Why do you write such horrible stuff?” And it’s weird, because I don’t think I do. I certainly write dark stuff because, in a nutshell, I think it’s more honest. But it’s not simply horrible. It’s necessary. We don’t live in a world with happy endings. Everyone dies, everything breaks, all things ends. Entropy is the only certainty. Now that’s not to say I’m a nihilist. I love life, I think the world and nature and at least a few people are wonderful and beautiful and awe-inspiring. I adore showing my young son the wonders of the world. But there’s already a lot of people writing about that. I explore things darker, because things darker hold my interest more. If I come to a fork in the road and one way is a well-lighted street and the other a dark alley, I’ll take the alley. I apply the same principles to my fiction. If there’s a literary rabbit hole leading underground, I won’t turn back when the light fails. I’ll follow it all the way down, however dark it gets, and I’ll see it through to the end, because I want the honesty of its totality. Horror is the genre of honesty.
Though for me it’s many-layered, not unrelenting blackness. In my fiction there are facets of light and shade. Certainly there are moments of horror, weird shit happening, bad people making nasty choices and good people making bad decisions, but alongside it there’s a fight for good too, and a hope for the light. There’s optimism and realism, though perhaps not in equal measure. G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” This is something I think is absolutely true and incredibly necessary in our stories. But you know what? It’s not entirely true. Because sometimes the dragons win. Sometimes they’re not beaten. And survivors need to live with that truth. Or if the monster is beaten, at what cost? That’s the purpose of dark fiction. To help us live with those truths, to prepare us in some way for the shit that will go down.
Bad things happens to good people for no reason at all every single day. We can interrogate that with our fiction, and we can look for our own optimism in someone else’s tragedy. Now there’s a dichotomy on which to meditate. I write dark fantasy and horror wherein sometimes the dragon prevails, but not always. I write it because there are monsters everywhere, and we must face them, win or lose. Sometimes losing is not the worst thing and sometimes the victories are pyrrhic. In Devouring Dark I explore these ideas in great depth, especially in terms of justice, redemption, and death. Especially death – who deserves it, what does it mean, how can we cope with it?
I love the lens of horror, tightly focussed on the visceral, powerful nature of humanity and life. That most honest delving into the rabbit hole and not flinching. Using fantasy and the supernatural allows us to create and explore the deepest rabbit holes of all. After all, what horrors might await when all the rules are taken away? Or new, impossible to decipher rules take over?
All stories are magic. I think it was Albert Camus who said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” All my stories come from one place or another of personal experience, and Devouring Dark is no exception. In many ways it’s the most personal story I’ve ever written, it was made by tapping directly into a deep well of pain and personal trauma.. There are lines put into the mouths of characters in this book that I took directly from the mouths of loved ones as they lay dying. I don’t think I could possibly be more honest than that with my fiction. I wonder if you’ll recognise any of those sections of dialogue? But personal as this book is, like all my work it’s greatly leavened with imagination and what if, with dread and tension. I don’t believe it’s true that you need to be in pain to make good art. Fuck that. I make my best art when I’m content and happy. But it’s no lie that drawing on pain can inform our art.
I’ve always struggled at a gut level with injustice, unfairness, bigotry, ignorance, lack of agency. I’ve seen way more terminal illness and premature death than I’d like. All these things and more I explore in my stories. I also try to simply tell a good yarn. To spin a tale that will entertain you, discomfort you, confound you, engage or perturb you. Whatever the result, if there’s any emotional resonance in my work for you, then I’m happy. Why do I always write such horrible stuff? Because the world is a horrible place, and horror is the genre of honesty. But there’s light and hope too. When we read dark fiction, it gives us tools and mechanisms to survive the slings and arrows of unjust existence. And it helps us to look for the light and the hope and the wonder, and gravitate towards it.
This post originally featured on John F.D. Taff’s superb website and can be found here
Matt McLeod is a man plagued since childhood by a malevolent darkness that threatens to consume him. Following a lifetime spent wrestling for control over this lethal onslaught, he’s learned to wield his mysterious paranormal skill to achieve an odious goal: retribution as a supernatural vigilante.
When one such hit goes bad, McLeod finds himself ensnared in a multi-tentacled criminal enterprise caught between a corrupt cop and a brutal mobster. His only promise of salvation may be a bewitching young woman who shares his dark talent but has murderous designs of her own.
Devouring Dark is a genre-smashing supernatural thriller that masterfully blends elements of crime and horror in an adrenaline-fueled, life-or-death rollercoaster ride that’s emblematic of the fiction from award-winning author Alan Baxter.
You can buy Devouring Dark from Amazon UK & Amazon US
Alan Baxter is a multi-award-winning British-Australian author who writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural thrillers, rides a motorcycle and loves his dogs. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, and two crazy hounds. His latest book is the horror novel, DEVOURING DARK, which explores death, guilt, and redemption, set against a backdrop of crime and corruption in modern-day London. Read extracts from Alan’s novels and novellas, and find free short stories at his website – http://www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.
You can find out more about Alan by visiting his official website www.alanbaxteronline.com
Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanBaxter
Thanks for the fascinating post. I’m reading Devouring Dark now and getting the best creepy vibes!