Horror fiction is dead, they say. Horror writers! You’re wasting your time, boys and girls. Folks are full of Zombies and Vampires, nobody gives a fuck anymore, it has all been done to death, yadayadayada.
Well, smarty pants business human majority, I put it to you that you’re full of shit. I’ve looked into my bowl full of quail bones and I’ve seen the future. I’ve read the twitters, I’ve scanned the bloggeral, and I’ve done the sums on the amazons.
HORROR IS FOR THE YOUNG
Why is that so many of us cut our teeth writing spooky stories? Why does nothing scratch an itch like a good horror flick? Why do I look for Candyman in my toilet even though he comes out of a mirror?
My extensive, thorough, double blind anecdotal research has led to an interesting conclusion. I put it to you that new writers of fiction LOVE writing horror. I argue from atop this pedestal that Horror is the perennial genre fiction flavor, that it’s about to undergo a huge resurgence and that the backlash against nicey nice mainstream fiction is already bubbling under.
The reason? Young people, duh. You remember being a kid? What exactly is it about being a kid that you remember so vividly. Is it the ice creams? Sure, you remember it being fun and all but you’ll be fucked if you go for detail. Is it the cuddles, the parties? Vague snapshot flashes blurred through years of binge drinking and over sleeping.
No, the things you remember with the most precision, the most clarity, are the things that terrified you. The time that dog growled at you for no good reason. Being left alone on your first day of school. A bigger kid starting rumours that he was going to beat the shit out of you. Nightmares that you’re still not sure were not real events, the UFOs you thought you saw. These things, real and imagined, are burned into your visual memory and neural networks, canals and valleys cut through flabby grey matter like the remains of lava flow.
WE WRITE TO EVOKE TERROR BECAUSE TERROR WAS EVOKED WITHIN US
I’ve just described some standard things that almost everybody can relate to, but the reason that some of us are pushed so far as to write horror is that the memories are only a part of it. Being a kid is all about not understanding stuff-and to go further-not believing stuff. When you’re all growed up into a big person, the stuff you don’t believe becomes the nonsensical, the fantastical. When you’re a kid the stuff you don’t believe is the stuff that’s right there in front of you. Why do you think toddlers ask why all the time? Why do you think I’m asking that? Why am I stuck in a loop of Whys? Because horror writing is the essence of that feeling, distilled.
The need to disbelieve is stoked by tales of the speculative and supernatural. Scary stories cut out that bullshit and speak to something deep within us, the all perceiving animal brain that operates on a binary basis of ‘FUCK THAT’ and ‘COOL SHIT, YO’. It’s already fully developed when we drop out of the womb, and friends and relatives and their creepy tales make it go ‘Mmm, yum yum. More Jungian tasty reactions for me, please’.
Kids like being scared. They want to think there is a monster under the bed, a big fucked up clown in the closet waiting to eat them. We spend most of our younger days being treated like fucking idiots, mainly because we are, but also because nobody wants anything to hurt us. They tell us scary stories as morality tales, with an incredibly simple moral- Be careful, otherwise things such as these may happen to you.
Our kid brain imaginations are the safe place to exercise this stuff, and it animates in irrational fears of stabby things and toothy bat folk.
When I was 9 or 10, I didn’t want to read young adult or kid’s books. Fuck no. I had this uncle, he was amazing. He’d sit me down, turn off the TV and tell me about the ghosts he’d seen. Straight up, serious, finger pointing stories about things that had followed him, things that had woken him up. He had fucking witnesses. I think I must have heard the same three or four stories thousands of times, but I loved it. I loved the sincerity in his voice. I loved the lingering fear in his eyes, the fact that his experiences of being a decade or so older than me had stayed with him to that day. Even as youngster I thought about how thrilling it would be to do the same thing with my kids, further down the line, and hoped to god I’d see a ghost or something to inspire the stories. If not I’d steal his, which is exactly what I have done for much of my better fiction. When I think of my childhood, this is what comes to mind immediately.
HORROR IS SUPERFOOD FOR DEVELOPING BRAINS
When it came to fiction, I picked up the stuff I wasn’t supposed to. I read Salem’s Lot at about the same time. It spoke to me, man. It knew me. It knew the town I grew up in, even though it was an Atlantic ocean and two decades in distance. It knew the adults in my life, it knew other people’s parents. It had me in the future, walking me in the present through a deadly and dangerous situation fraught with religion, betrayal, adultery and evil. It showed me the world of adults in the way that adults wouldn’t want me to see, and I fucking loved it. I finished that book on a boat, in the middle of the Carribean sea, moored up outside an old creepy whaling island that had a huge whale jaw bone erected at the port. I was terrified and enthralled. It was a mystical experience.
Whenever people ask me why I don’t try and write nice things, why I don’t like to focus replicating the reality of the world I grew up in, I point to that moment and the stories of my uncle. It’s who I was, and who I was is the primary reason behind who I am now. That, my friends, is the lingering presence of horror on the brain. It’s good for you.
STORIES ARE ABOUT CHARACTERS THAT CONNECT, CHARACTERS CONNECT THROUGH PITY AND FEAR
Go read a writing advice blog. Look for the character posts.They will invite you to create believable characters who make an emotional connection with the reader. Often they’ll tell you do to this by having the character make bad decisions. They’ll say a character’s arc is about escalation of tension, and that a story won’t work unless you’re invested in the outcome of that character’s decisions.
Why is this? I refer you to the god of writing, James Joyce. Joyce once wrote that the only genuine reactions you can invoke in a reader are pity and fear. Loving characters? Bullshit. You pity their circumstances and fear for them in times of peril. Guess what genre gives you free reign to do whatever the fuck you like? Horror, that’s what genre.
HORROR IS THE ZOMBIE THAT REFUSES TO DIE, BECAUSE HORROR IS THE TRUTH
Why am I so certain that Horror is due a resurgence? There are a few reasons.
First, people like me. Kids who grew up in the aftermath of the horror boom of the 70’s and 80’s, who picked up dusty books on their parent’s shelves and read in secret. Who stumbled upon their cousins playing Atmosphere and freaking out at the cloaked dude on the VHS. People who have lived through the fifth or sixth extinction of popular supernatural fiction, and have grown to be adults in a world that has changed so rapidly and unexpectedly. A world where there are no more towns like Salem’s Lot, where nothing can be forgotten because everything is permanent and immutable and traceable.
It is oft’ claimed that you can’t do anything new in horror, and that is why it is dead. I say No! Wrongess! Horror is truth. There will always be new truths. Truths that lurk behind the things we’re not supposed to talk about with decent folk in public. The smoke behind the fire, the spark behind the rumours. New technology, new relationships, new taboos. New truths in all of them, about who we are, what we are for and what is to be done about it.
There is too much new in the world. People are changing, man. We’re becoming isolated and connected all at once. We know so much more about other people than we ever have done, what with the facebooking and the smartphones and the tinder. You know what? All that knowledge just raises more questions about each other. The validity, the quality of the truth. That’s just going to make people like me disbelieve all the more.
What do we do to express that disbelief? We invent spooky stories to freak the fuck out of the next generation, passing our brain scars down the line.