I’m A Nice Girl
I write horror because it’s fun.
It’s counterintuitive. I’m a nice person. I worked as a counselor listening to real horror stories and helping others for many years. Friends with more demanding jobs in protective services and law enforcement witnessed physical injuries and death from abuse, and I heard those stories second-hand. I did not look at the pictures. I’m squeamish about violence. When I walk past a pathology lab, I can barely stand to look.
And don’t even get me started about the smell.
As a quick aside, too many horror stories omit the fact that dead things smell bad. In a very distinctive way. I mean, zombies can’t sneak up on you if you can smell them a mile away, and Aunt Millie’s serial killing habit won’t go unnoticed no matter how many Yankee candles she sets aflame during the holiday season.
So if life is horrible, and horror is real, how can horror be fun?
One answer I came up with delves into object relations theory and the serious developmental work mammals accomplish through play, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet you don’t want a lecture about schizophrenia and fecal gifts. Plus, I’d have to do a refresher course to make sure I got all my facts straight.
On a less technical level, horror’s a type of fantasy writing, a personal journey, like any creative act. Creative space is a sacred bubble where, as the old man said, nothing is true, everything is permitted.
How’s that for an ethical minefield?
I’ve been writing more brutal, offensive scenes lately, and thinking more than ever about ethics as I work with edgier material. It’s fun, it feels imperative and necessary because it stabs at some seed of truth, and in one case my own story made me want to throw up. I walked away from the first draft thinking, is this what success feels like?
The answer is yes. In horror, the answer is always yes. To anything, to everything. You can never go too far.
The pressure to adhere to some external standard of behavior is always present in human groups. It’s how we build community, but it’s also how we break the individual down. The pressure to Always Be Branding is strong on the internet.
Whether it’s real or virtual life, no one is telling the truth. There’s no way to do it. You can’t present the full scope of what it means to be human and show all the facets of a lifetime of experiences and emotions in one moment or phrase. When we interact, we pick—or try to pick—an appropriate mask.
Horror takes off the mask.
I’m here to say what you can’t or won’t say. Don’t worry, I got your back. I’ve heard your story, or glimpsed it or guessed it, and I’m not ashamed to make a disgusting bloody mess of myself in honor of everything you’ve repressed.
Hell, I enjoy it.
Horror and humor are twins. That laughter you hear at a comedy show is the sweet sound of release. It’s the sound you hear when Big Daddy Superego takes a back seat. Or better yet, when he gets bludgeoned, gagged, and tied up in the trunk.
When an idea or character makes me laugh in the midst of horror, I know I’ve hit gold. Sometimes I laugh out loud when I write. In between feeling like I want to throw up.
Why horror? Because there are no rules about politeness or correctness or adhering to reality. Fuck reality. Because horror goes all the way, and then it goes further, and then it blows your brains out. Because horror always says yes.
There’s a vast universe of wondrous, horrible and hilarious things that I want to play with, and horror lets me do that. If I do my job right, you can come along and play too.
Author Joanna Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. Her short stories have been published in journals and anthologies such as New Millennium Writings and Doorbells at Dusk. An artist and fan of folklore, fairy tales, and anthropology, Joanna holds an MA in Contemplative Psychotherapy from Naropa University. Follow her monstrous musings at horrorsong.blog.
You can follow Joanna on Twitter @horrorsong
Doorbells At Dusk
Halloween horror, dark fiction and suspense short stories.
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I had to laugh at some parts of the things you mentioned. Thanks for the great guest post. And I really enjoyed Doorbells At Dusk.