The other day I was talking with someone, won’t mention her name on the inter-blag without her permission so let’s just call her Regina P. Bunterfinkel the VIII, and a slightly touchy subject came up. Regina and I were talking about my writing hobby and she looked me dead in the eye and asked me with cheery, good natured honesty, “So, what are you going to write when you’re done with scary stuff.”
Let’s forget, for a moment, that she called it “scary stuff” instead of horror. That doesn’t bother me, it’s just her little idiosyncrasy. What bothered me was that she assumed that this was a phase I was going through. That one day I might graduate to some “real” fiction. And that bothered me because not only do I have a lingering, unwarranted fear/shame of telling people I specialize in horror, but also because I didn’t have a rebuttal. I did not know how to let her know in a clear, intelligent way that I think horror is a valid genre in which to write and should not be considered a mere stepping stone to something else.
I have my own idiosyncrasies. One of which is that I try my hardest never to open my mouth to give an opinion about something I don’t fully understand. If I haven’t thought it through to the extent that I can converse about it in an intelligent manner, I don’t voice my opinion unless specifically asked/probed. This stems partly from social anxiety, but also from (I hope) wisdom. Without a rational starting point the human mind is ruled by emotions, and a mind wholly ruled by emotions is not a friend to the individual it is in control of. At best I would sound like a crazy person, frothing over my favorite subject to the point of revulsion, and at worst I would become heated and take comments as personal attacks, alienating the person who I was two seconds ago trying to convert to my way of thinking. Basically, a mind ruled wholly by emotions is the kind of mind who argues politics in YouTube comments at 4 in the morning.
So I didn’t try to defend myself. I simply told her that I was also interested in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Not a lie, just untruthful. And then we moved on. But it got me thinking. Why DO I like horror so much? It’s Halloween, so I figured it would be as good a time as any to explore the question. Some of this is stuff I’ve ruminated on over the past 2 days, some of it will be off the cuff.
First off, let me say, I don’t get scared easily. At least, not by fiction. I routinely walk around at night (because it’s cooler and more private), listening to my mp3 player play horror stories I’ve downloaded from the internet. Usually I try to find ones that are well written and even more well performed, but I take what I can get. And I don’t really get scared. At least, no more so that walking around at midnight would normally scare a normal person. I don’t really get scared by horror movies or books or video games. Oh, I get startled, or anxious, but those are not the same thing. I get anxious to see if a character will live, I get startled by the jump scare, but I don’t get really, truly scared any deeper than that. It’s never personal. But I love horror. I love it. I had to create a second netflix profile so that my room mate could browse movies without seeing a wall of horror each time he logged on. I read as many horror stories as I can, and obviously I write it almost exclusively. So why?
My first line of thought on the subject goes something like this. Halloween. Is the best holiday. Ever. Not even because you get candy. It is the best holiday ever because it’s fun. It is the one holiday that almost everybody seems to enjoy on a deep, childlike level. The unbridled joy of throwing normal activities to the wind and reveling in the strange and the different is so mind blowingly liberating that I still can’t comprehend how some people prefer any other holiday. And let’s face it, when you ask someone what their favorite holiday is, they are going to answer either Halloween, or Christmas. At least where I grew up, which was in the midwest of America. I fully realize that there are people that don’t celebrate Christmas, but let’s just say that there weren’t many where I grew up.
Now, I don’t think I have to draw a parallel between horror as a genre, and Halloween. Horror and Halloween go together like tricks and treats. So, my love of Halloween is a pretty direct link to my love of horror. But it’s not perfect. I mean, disregarding the mundane and reveling in the decidedly unreal, well, that has a name. It’s called fantasy. So, why don’t I like fantasy more than horror? Well, two reasons. One, horror IS fantasy. Literally, it IS fantasy. Dark fantasy to be precise. All horror is fantasy, but not all fantasy is horror. I’m not going to get into the difference between horror and “thriller” today, so for now let’s just stick with what we’ve got. And two, it comes down to perception.
The line between horror and fantasy is blurry. Some would say that books like “Game of Thrones” is “dark fantasy”. I wouldn’t argue, though I wouldn’t 100% agree either. The main difference between horror and fantasy is, as I said, perception. Fantasy seeks to point the reader in the direction of wonder and awe, to open them up to brand new vistas and let them explore. Horror tries to make the reader see new vistas and run away from them, to regret the day they wished for the mundane to disappear. Fantasy asks “what if…”. Horror asks “Aren’t you glad that…”
And to me, that’s better. At the end of the day, I think horror is more satisfying. Don’t believe me. Read this. You may have heard of it before. Post Avatar Depression Syndrome. Let’s not get me started on my deep hatred of the public’s reaction to Avatar (Remember the fucking commercials? “Since when do mountains fly?!?” SINCE FUCKING ALWAYS YOU FUCKING PLEBS!!!), but let’s just focus on the fact that this is a real thing. Remember reading Harry Potter? I do. I was 11 when the 3rd book came out. 11. What happens at 11 for witches and wizards? They get accepted to Hogwarts. What happens when you turn 11 in the real world? Before Harry Potter, not much. After Harry Potter, the same amount of not much, only now, it’s not much because you aren’t going to be at Hogwarts ya filthy muggle. Fantasy makes people sad. It makes people sit and dream about things that will never exist rather than make new things happen. You will always be slightly disappointed that the real world is so boring by comparison.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fantasy. Love it. Wouldn’t want it to go away. I particularly love Urban Fantasy (because it makes it easier to hope). But horror, oh now that’s a whole new can of worms. Bigger. Slimier. Wormier. You ever watched a horror movie and gone “Hey, I really wish that would happen to me.”? No. If you have, well, you’re either a sadist, or a masochist, or both, so….thank you for reading I hope you’re enjoying it pleasedon’thurtme. But the point is, normal people don’t. Horror lets the mind detach from reality for a while, explore something new, and strange and somehow still universally true and profound, and then come back to life and simply enjoy life a little bit more. Horror let’s you realize that life might not be so bad after all, that there could always be something lurking in the shadows ready to make it a thousand times worse. You know it won’t, because those things don’t exist, and that makes you just a little bit grateful. Most of the time you won’t even notice it.
Horror, as a genre, edifies life. It improves it. It holds a fun house mirror up to your soul and makes you glad that you aren’t as ugly as the warped glass makes you look. At the end of the day you are happier because you know that Pinhead, Cthulhu, Dracula, zombies, ghost and goblins and everything else that bumps the night don’t exist. If you spend your life in shadow, then the sunlight seems brighter by comparison.
And that, I think, is why I like writing horror so much. Not sure if I sounded intelligent or like a rambling hobo, but at least I have established my stance on the issue. I now feel better able to discuss it with my friends and acquaintances.
Don’t forget that tomorrow I start my 30 day, 2000 words a day challenge. I’ll be writing whatever I fell like for most of it, but you can always feel free to give me suggestions, and according to the rules I’ve set for myself, I will be obligated to use them.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to bombarding your emails with my daily posts for the next month.