First, let’s dispense with the Literary versus Genre argument, in which it is often said that genre fiction is the lesser of the two. I’ve never gone in for that sort of thing because I have found that good genre fiction deals with all the same issues, philosophical or otherwise, and often does it in a more creative and entertaining way, which is why we love genre fiction so much.
Now I don’t really write horror, not in my opinion anyway, as most of my fiction is cross-genre with literary themes wrapped around elements of horror, romance, fantasy, and historical fiction. That said, much of my short fiction would be classified as horror so it can be packaged in a nice neat little box for consumers, and so when I read articles like this in the Atlantic, it inspires me to think about my own motivations for writing what I write. In the article it states:
“The good-versus-evil/monster-hunt narrative is a way to manage the incomprehensible. Evil doesn’t need to be understood, just eliminated. So the desire for answers is satisfied; the burden of parsing a killer’s complicated motivation falls away. All the messy details are composited into a single figure: the serial killer. This boogeyman-like entity has become less of a threat than a stock character, useful for selling publications and spicing up fictional stories.”
I like being scared. I was a Saturday afternoon horror movie kid, and to be honest, the archetypal stabby naked-teenager-killing slasher holds little appeal for me. It’s boring. So fucking boring. Violence does not frighten me. Vampires, blobs, shape-shifting hairy gonads and Satan babies do not frighten me, and neither do alien creatures and rampant viruses.
People frighten me. They are often irrational, hysterical, ego-maniacal freaks who seem to always be a cunt-hair away from the edge of sanity at the best of times. Of course that is a generalization, and not all people are like this, but just peruse the news on any given day and it will seem like humanity has officially descended into madness. And the news is where I get most of my inspiration when it comes to my horror fiction. No surprise really.
So as a horror fan and a fiction writer who writes a lot of very creepy disturbing shit, “parsing a killer’s complicated motivation” is the only thing I am interested in when reading, watching, or writing my own horror fiction. I need to dig in deeply. I need to explore the psychology because when I experience it in whatever form, it has to feel authentic. Authenticity is more frightening than any clown costume — well, except Twisty. He’s a nightmare. So as a writer, if I don’t understand why my killers — or my lovers for that matter — do what they do then how can I expect a reader to feel the full magnitude of the experience, to get that chill in their gut because on some subconscious level, they can relate to the monster? They can’t believe it unless I do. That’s my motivation, I suppose. I got straight As in my Psych and Sociology classes.
Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I admire the monsters. Maybe on some level I can connect and maybe even sympathize with them to some degree because I have spent a huge amount of time with them in my head. Even in my totally hardcore horror stories, you will find a relationship there: between the killer and their victim, between the killer and society, between the killer and God, and between the killer and their own respective ids and egos. I think those relationships are worth exploring, just like any other relationship. That’s why movies like 28 Days Later and TV shows like The Walking Dead are so popular. The creatures are basically a nuisance. People are the monsters, and that idea is the most frightening of all. I do try to capture that in my own fiction, which can, on occasion, come off a bit raw, but horror readers seem to appreciate that, so I try to be fearless when I can.
So why do I write horror? Did I answer that? Oh well, I guess I write horror because I enjoy the psychological journey. Lame? Maybe, but that’s the real reason. I never sat down and intended to write horror fiction. It just happened. The gentle prodding from some of my author friends had a bit to do with it as well.
I do hope you enjoy the free horror offerings next week. I sure enjoyed writing them.
Cheryl Anne Gardner