DarkEcho Horror
AI Redchalk by Rick Berry
Dark Thought
The Perception and Psychology of the Horror Writer

[NOTE : This one started somewhere back in 1996 with the core answers and a couple more were added later. The answers all pre-date 1998. Since responses are slices from a particular period in their lives and careers, I've not updated the authors bios or credits. I have, however, corrected URLs. -- PRLG, April 2002]

". . .[W]e make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones." -- Stephen King

Horror writers are perceived rather differently than other writers. People don't assume that romance writers live a life of unbridled passion and heaving bosoms...well, not ALL the time. Horror writers, on the other hand, are considered to be not entirely "nice". Devil worship and baby-eating are sometimes considered daily fare for authors of dark fiction; they are assumed to never wear anything but black; they are pictured as pale figures who sit about gazing at skulls while smoking opium and drinking absinthe.

Mystery writers are seldom asked, "Why do you write that stuff?" When a science fiction writer is asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" -- the questioner is friendly and inquisitive. That question posed to a horrorist is occasionally accompanied by fear, loathing and the writer's immediate need for legal counsel.

One of the things I love about people who write horror is not only their common intelligence, but their obvious diversity. Horror author F. Paul Wilson, famed at NeCon (an annual gathering of horror folk and fen) for his plaid shorts and nifty golf shirts, looks like...well...a suburban physician, which he is. Writer Christa Faust often dresses as a leather fantasy dominatrix , which she is. Most horrorists blend right in with any crowd. Of course, sometimes the most divinely sick writing comes from the most normal looking person.

Considering the perception of the horror writer and the reality of why they write horror, I asked some authors:

Why do you write weird stuff? How do people react to you when they discover your chosen field?. . . Do you enjoy the role of the dark writer. . .slinking about in black leathers or perhaps trailing slightly bloodstained period velvet? Are you really just a mundane person who golfs and goes to PTA meetings? Do you like the other type of horrorist? Do you lead a double life?

Here are a few of the responses:

JOHN SAUL is the prodigious and perennial best selling author of mainstream suspense such as BLACK LIGHTENING, GUARDIAN, DARKNESS and the BLACKSTONE CHRONICLES.

Most people seem to think I'm relatively normal, and wind up asking me how I can come up with such strange stories. Whenever I move, the new neighbors are always a tad worried for the first few months, but when their children don't disappear, nor their houses mysteriously burn, they get used to the idea that I'm not quite as strange as my work.

As for why I went into this line of work, I just plain got tired of being a starving writer, and when I did my market research, strange tales about kids were filling the racks. So I figured if I couldn't beat 'em I might as well join 'em, and went home to put together SUFFER THE CHILDREN. The rest, as they say, is history, if not precisely literary history.

RICHARD LAYMON is the author of more than 20 novels -- but is known primarily in the U.S. only by knowledgeable and appreciative horror readers who can find British editions of books like his recent BODY RIDES. He's a very normal looking fellow.

I write horror because I'm always been drawn to scary stuff -- SAFE (or reasonably safe) scary stuff like books, movies, amusement parks, spooky places in general. My very first published work, a poem that appeared in my high school literary magazine, ended up with a guy getting his head lopped off. In fiction, I think that horror gives the writer an opportunity to go for the ultimate experiences in fear, violence, gross-out, etc.

As a horror writer, I go incognito. I don't sport leather duds or fingerless gloves. All the time, I get the comment, "You don't LOOK like a horror writer."

As for respect, horror writing don't get none. Except among horror fans and kids. Kids think horror is coolest thing a person can write. General readers, however, seem to think we're delving in garbage and not real authors. So I hope the door don't hit their butts on the way out.

CHRISTA FAUST was mentioned above. Her intense short fiction has been published in anthologies such as LOVE IN VEIN, YOUNG BLOOD (writing with Poppy Z. Brite), SPLATTERPUNKS II, and DARKSIDE.

I write dark fiction because I am driven to. Most of what I write is highly sexual for that same reason. I never made a conscious choice to write disquieting stories, it's just what spills out whenever I open a vein.

People are never shocked when they find out what I write because they are too busy being shocked by what I am. They would be shocked if I told them I wrote children's stories. However, in spite of the fact that I do slink around in black leathers and even occational period velvet, I consider myself to be a very balanced and sane person. I act out my dark fantasies both in my fiction and in consentual SM rituals and I see no reason to live a double life, to keep who I am a secret. If you take a look at real life atrocities, when grandma puts rat poison in little Suzy's formula, or when they dig up the crawlspace under nice Mr Jones' porch, what's the cliche you always hear? He or she "...seemed so normal." I give my inner monster a safe place to come out and play and show off and generally let off steam so that it will never be deprived and feel the need to escape on it's own.

I have nothing against "normal" looking writers. I know that, like in the SM scene, the ones who appear the most normal are often the most deliciously twisted. But I do have a problem with people who try to be cool by sporting mall-leather and Fredrick's of Hollywood pseudo-kink, people who tack scraps gleened from talkshows about SM onto their tawdry little fictions and try to be so "edge". I have far more respect for people who are the real thing but hide it, like the guy in the business suit that covers a body full of piercings and tattoos. At least he does what he does for pleasure, for himself, and not as some "look at me" gimmick to sell an otherwise unappealing package.

DEL JAMESlooks like one of the boys your mother warned you against: tattoos, long hair and shades. He survived a sordid youth and the rock-n- roll life to become the author of a collection of original short stories -- THE LANGUAGE OF FEAR.

While each writer is unique, I'd be willing to bet that many horror writers share a curiosity that goes beyond accepting things at face value. Horror writers and fans (cuz you can't be one and not the other) ask the touchy questions like 'What's death really like', 'If there is a God why doesn't he just (fill in the blank),' 'What drives someone (usually the villain) to do those sick things,' and 'Imagine if someone (fill in the blank).' It's this curiosity that might get one dubbed "odd," "eccentric," "strange," but it's also a factor that helps the writer's imagination go places that other's might not consider socially acceptable--that's why horror is not for everyone. It's not supposed to be and that's why people's reaction to why someone would actually write "that stuff" is often accompanied by a queer look.

Whenever you present someone with something that's out of their ordinary reality, they are not going to understand where the hell you're coming from. And as an example I'll turn the tables-- someone can tell me how artistic the opera is, how much talent it takes to perform in an opera, how calming it is, and how downright beautiful opera is. But, to me, it's always going to sound like a bunch of fat people in funky costumes squawking loudly in Italian. Am I being ignorant to opera? Sure, but, guess what -- I just don't get it. Never have and probably never will (Gimme Guns N' Roses or Marilyn Manson over Luciano Pavorotti or Placido Domingo anyday). As horror fans we just can't expect non-horror people to understand why horror appeals to us.

I write horror for my own entertainment first. I try to push the page as far as it can go without being ridiculous. Sometimes I succeed.

Secondly I write for others who. in a way, are like me. They want to go past what's commonly considered "good taste" and really have fun. Fictional accounts of serial murder/infidelity/Satanism/life-after-death/evil/drug abuse/insanity/and the dark side of human nature will always be sources of inspiration to me. I'm curious of these topics. In real life, I don't want any of those to touch my family or friends, but after I've written some pages, they're the ones I share it with first. If I get a reaction of 'That's sick,' 'How did you think of that?' or 'You've gone too far this time', then there's a good chance the story might be kinda cool. Cool for people who understand horror. . .

TANANARIVE DUE's first novel THE BETWEEN was a stunning entry in the horror field as well as fiction as a whole. .

I wasn't sure I was a real horror writer until I got a good review in FANGORIA. I got my first Stephen King novel, THE SHINING, for my 16th birthday; I was so enamored of him that I read everything I could get my hands on. In college, I mentioned him alongside Toni Morrison as a writer I admired and my classmates in the creative writing workshop looked at me like I'd offered them food that had gone bad.

That had a real impact on me. Trained to be a snob, I never wrote anything supernatural until a telephone interview with Anne Rice in 1992 opened my mind-- and once it was open, THE BETWEEN came splattering out. I began writing it only days after the interview.

I covet, above almost anything, a good scare. I look for it in the silence of my own home (which I tried to convince myself was haunted when I first bought it, but it was really only my cats making a mess); I look for it in bad movie after bad movie; I look for it in real-life anecdotes related in hushed tones. Some of my most rewarding moments while I was writing THE BETWEEN were when I spooked myself so much at my word processor late at night that it was hard to go to sleep. Why do I enjoy being frightened so much? Because it's an art form; the same way I can admire the purity of a musician's solo and have tears spring to my eyes, a highly visual phrase or surprising occurrence on-camera or a downright chilling thought makes the hairs on my neck stand up, gives me tingles. I appreciate emotional response on all levels, and to frighten someone within the "safe" confines of a book or movie is difficult to achieve.

I still remember--and admire--that the born-again dead cat in PET SEMATARY did not walk, but "lurched." The image gives me the creeps even now.

Do people find it strange? Absolutely. I've had impassioned letters from readers begging me not to classify THE BETWEEN, a book they enjoyed, as "horror" -- because they don't read that kind of stuff. For those who don't have the same religion, it's difficult to explain why I enjoy being scared. And why I take spirited delight in trying to scare others in whatever subtle, or not-so-subtle, ways I can.

Where does it come from? I have no idea. Too many black and white horror movies with my mother as a child. For me, personally, I have a bit of a death fixation. The thing I fear most of all is the ultimate unknown that is death (my own, that is), so horror is an artificial way to face it and wake up the next morning with the world still intact.

And I know that, in the end, all that scary stuff was just in my head. Until next time, that is.

JOHN SHIRLEYis known in SF for his cyberpunk and novels like the recent SILICON EMBRACE and in horror for novels like WETBONES.

I'm interested in telling stories that otherwise wouldn't get told: the horror of certain lifestyles; the REAL horror in life. The monsters in the real world. I perceive the world as predacious but also - equally - a place of evolving harmonies. I keep one foot in yin and one foot in yang.

I'm totally at home with my darkside; too much at home with it. But I watch it; I see it for what it is: I perceive it objectively and that gives me power over it. I don't identify with it; but I do admit it, I give it slack on its leash. Long as I keep it in the light of inner attention, it obeys me. When I saw the movie HEAT I identified with the Deniro character, the professional outlaw, and I wanted him to get away; but I also completely understood the cop, the guy who holds his finger in the dike against the sea of chaos.

I tend to write dark; I'm always looking for redemption, though. I have an urge to bring the most twisted parts of me into the light and redeem them; cauterize them.

I identify with goth-rock bands; I'm the guy who found the comic book of THE CROW, took it to the producers, sold it to them and wrote the first five drafts of the screenplay; there's a reason for that. I was drawn to it. I'm aware of the tragic-adolescent syndrome of it all; I'm aware of the need to redeem death itself in THE CROW.

Sometimes people write to me and tell me my novels (especially IN DARKNESS WAITING and CELLARS and WETBONES) made them physically ill. I don't gloat - but I do see it as a sign that I penetrated. I want to penetrate. I want INSIDE.

That's where the life is.

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