I am often asked to explain why I choose to write horror fiction. I mean, it’s not the most popular or financially lucrative genre in the world of literature. So why write horror? Usually, this question is followed by a look on the part of the questioner similar to that, which one might have upon stepping upon something foul such as a slug, a worm, a dead squirrel, or perhaps the contents from the backside of a dog.
Looks of disgust aside, the question is a fair one, one which I might be inclined to ask myself if I were not on the receiving end of the inquiry. Why would anyone want to write horror fiction stories, especially those stories of the gruesome and emotionally disturbing variety that I tend to write?
I guess the simple answer is, I write stories about what I like. And as a life-long fan of the horror genre, writing horror fiction is something, which comes as naturally to me as breathing. (Ok, maybe breathing is not a good example since breathing is an involuntary function — luckily for me, as I would likely absent-mindedly forget to breathe otherwise.) But I digress.
I generally prefer to write a certain type of horror story, one which tends to feature monsters, demons, ghosts, or other such fantasy creatures based completely in the world of imagination, rather than based in the reality of, say, insane human killers. And believe me, there are plenty of other authors out there who regularly travel down that literary road.
This is not to speak negatively about such work; it’s just not what I choose to write. That being said, I should point out the hypocrisy in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. You see, I am a major fan of cop TV shows, detective novels, and murder mysteries, so I do enjoy the genre immensely, but as a consumer, not as a writer. Anyway, there is plenty of murder and mayhem of the human variety in those works, without adding to the mix.
As long as I am coming clean, I should point out that in my first short story collection published by Sunbury Press called “13 Nasty Endings,” I actually did write a short story entitled “Retribution” involving a man driven mad by grief who subjected his victim (a really bad character) to unmentionable tortures. I had originally had twelve stories ready for the book, then my publisher, Lawrence Knorr, had an idea for the title, and I needed to come up with an additional story to make it thirteen. I had written “Retribution” as an experiment simply to put the idea down on paper. I once thought it might make a good novel but decided a short story would be bad enough. I was extremely reluctant to submit it as it was not one of my typical works, but I did so nonetheless, and it became the last and thirteenth story in the collection. (Unlucky 13?) It still makes me uncomfortable to read it, as I said… not really my thing.
I should also mention that my personal horror movie collection is chocked full of slasher, mangler, hacker, ax murder, and other similar types of movies as well; some of them quite well-known and popular while others might be considered more obscure. And yes, I do watch them too; I watch all types of horror and sci-fi movies.
In doing so, I’ve been fortunate to see some really great classic horror films. Unfortunately, I’ve also had to endure some real bottom-of-the-barrel, virtually un-watch-able crapola as well.
In fact, it was that very overabundance of bad horror movies, which motivated me to stop talking about writing horror stories and actually take the leap into writing. For example, my first novel, “99 Souls,” started as a screenplay in 2005 or 2006. I had an idea for a really scary and horrible scene, and so I wrote it down. Then it evolved into several scenes, then to a complete story.
Since I had never written a screenplay before, I had it spilling over with detailed descriptions and set directions, I quickly learned it did not quite fit the design of a typical screenplay.(Apparently, film directors like to give direction rather than take them.) As such, I decided the story would have a better life as a novel, so in 2009 I rewrote it, and it eventually became my first published book. It also ended up being my maiden voyage onto the tumultuous seas of serious horror writing.
If I had a dollar for every time in my life, I said, “I would have written that much better” (or at least much differently), I would probably be able to afford to pay someone else to type all of my manuscripts. But I digress. (again). So, as my collection of bad horror movies grew, did my frustration with pitiful storylines.
After completing “99 Souls,” the novel, I started shopping it around to publishers for about a year or so, and in my spare time writing a number of short stories as well as started on my second novel, “Burn Phone.” Then lo and behold, in 2010, a small publisher from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, Sunbury Press, liked “99 Souls” and wanted to see some of my short stories. They liked them and suggested publishing a collection. Then when I pitched “Burn Phone,” I was blown away to have them offer me a 3-book contract. Within several months, we published “99 Souls” followed by “13 Nasty Endings” then “Burn Phone.”
After that, I was hooked (and still am). I started writing like a maniac. I currently have seven books published through Sunbury Press; “99 Souls”, “13 Nasty Endings”, “Burn Phone,” “Eye Contact,” “Gallery Of Horror,” “Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 1, and Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 2. In addition, I have a collection of bizarre single-panel cartoons called “Yes, I Smelled It Too: Cartoons For The Slightly Off-Center.” I have finished with my latest novel, “Fallen Stones,” a ghost story, which should be out in early October. Oh yeah. I’m hooked, alright.
Another reason I love to write horror is that I discovered something interesting and exciting about writing. Instead of wasting my time watching bad horror movies, my stories have become movies in my mind. When I am writing a story, I’m attending a movie screening inside my head. Often three-quarters of the way through a novel or short story, I have no idea how it will end. When I am writing, it’s just like watching a horror movie, with me being as anxious to learn the ending as any of my readers might be. And the cool thing about it is, unlike a bad movie where you are stuck with a crappy ending, if I write something I don’t like, I can just rewrite it until I like what I read. I realize that sounds a bit strange, if not self-serving, but that’s how it works for me.
I am also a musician and artist, so when I am writing a story, I am painting a picture with words, and if I do a good job, then the reader should be able to see the scene played out in his mind, exactly as I meant for it to be visualized. If I do an exceptional job, the reader might even be able to imagine a horrifying musical score to accompany the scene appropriately.
This is extremely important for horror fiction because, as an author, I am expecting the reader to buy into a completely impossible set of scenarios. Unlike other forms of fiction, most of what I write is not only fiction but is impossible fiction; something, which the reader knows from the beginning, can absolutely never happen.
This is quite a commitment to expect from a reader because before they can truly enjoy the story, they must first change their rational, logical mindset to one capable of accepting the possibility of the impossible if only for the time they are reading the work. It’s like when someone starts telling you a joke about a priest, a rabbi, and a gorilla walking into a bar. If you are not willing to accept the possibility of those three unlikely companions entering a drinking establishment together, in other words, the premise of the joke, then there is probably no point in listening to the rest of it.
Likewise, with horror fiction, if you are not willing to buy into the premise and also be willing to free yourself from the confines of reality and jump headlong into the abyss of terrifying darkness, then what’s the point? Again, if I do my job well, then the reader can easily leave the world of day-to-day reality, and comfortable (or uncomfortably as the case may be), step into my special realm of unimaginable terror.
One way I can tell if I’ve done really well is when someone tells me they are disturbed for hours or even days after reading one of my stories. Or even better than that is when they tell me they had nightmares about something of mine they have read. Then I truly knew not only was I successful, but they did their part as well and bought into my premise. And that means, for a short while, we were able to share and enjoy the experience of horror fiction together.
My website carries my horror fiction slogan, “Embrace The Fear.” That is a credo, which I feel is useful in explaining how I like my readers to approach one of my stories. When you ready my work, don’t fight it, don’t hold back, and don’t allow reality to get in your way. Instead, let go, relax and enjoy the roller coaster ride of terror, which I have provided for you. And that, my friends, is why I write horror fiction. When it works, it can be an amazing experience, and I do my best to make it work every time. Sometimes I hit a home run, sometimes a single. But regardless of the level of success, I don’t want you ever to be disappointed.