Good things have happened with my writing this year. Externally, in terms of work being accepted and the welcome encouragement from fine, talented people (some of whom I’ve never even met), and internally, in that I’ve been more productive and feel like I might even be getting the hang of this writing malarkey (publication is wonderful, and desired, but I think that enjoyment and improvement are qualities to be treasured and aspired to even when the rejections are piling up). More often than not these days, I feel better about my writing, more confident.
One strand of this frankly alien self-belief is that I have talked to people about my work, old friends and new. The subject of genre comes up, and I tell them that I’m writing Horror stories. They seem interested. After all, everyone likes a scary story, don’t they? Pretty much everyone I know has sampled (and enjoyed) The Walking Dead, or a Stephen King novel, or the latest Hollywood remake of a film that was banned 30 years ago. One or two people showed enough of an interest that our chat put a smile on my face all day. People are mostly really positive about my chosen subject matter (although, even after all this time, I’m still not sure if I chose the Horror genre, or if it chose me), but every now and then a strange little question arises in our conversations, most often from folks who know and care about me: Why don’t you write something NICE?
It isn’t always phrased that way, of course. Sometimes, it’s something along the lines of, “Well, I liked it but, y’know, it was … disturbing.” Sometimes it’s a look that touches their eyes a few moments after they have finished reading a short story or novel excerpt, as though for a second or two they’re suspicious of me, wary that the same person that they know so well has all this … bleakness inside of them.
Nobody has really offered such a judgement in a judgemental way, if that makes sense. A few of them are people with only a passing interest in the Horror genre. They might not settle down with some beer and Nachos for a hardcore 24-hour Video Nasty marathon but they’ve seen, for example, a couple of SAW films and gushed with ghoulish glee (Stan Lee alliteration alert!) about “that part at the end where the murderer cuts open the guy’s …” etcetera, etcetera. They have the perfectly reasonable view of an average consumer, recognising the role of such make-believe terrors in a world where every day the real, heartbreaking horror is a time-loop of doom on the rolling news channels.
It’s just that they’re not too sure about someone they know writing something like that. Something, y’know … disturbing.
They’re not being unkind, by any means. As I say they’re people that care, and sometimes the question has been asked carefully, like an intervention, as though it’s unhealthy that I’m wired to imagine such terrible things, rather than simply seek to be entertained by them, as they are. It’s a sickness to create, apparently, but a joy to behold. Strange.
If the question is “Why don’t you write something NICE?” then the flipside must be, “Why are you writing something so HORRIBLE?”. I think that slight sense of distaste might be to do with a perception of the Horror genre as a gaudy ghost-train ride, nothing but guts and gore, style over substance, axe-cleaved mind over festering matter, and yes, that element exists, just as for every lauded singer/songwriter there’s a cookie-cutter boy band, or for every cinematic masterpiece there’s a movie that fails on every level except focus.
Nothing wrong with that, in my view. I collect movies based on comic-books and my geek-gene means that I have to collect everything I can, regardless of quality. There are some TERRIBLE films on those shelves, but what the Hell … a little junk-food every now and then isn’t a bad thing.
The problem isn’t that the Horror genre has it’s shallower, visceral-thrill side. The problem is that there seems to be a general perception that that’s the ONLY side it has. Incidentally, it’s interesting how often people condemn a film they’ve watched when it was called something like, “Werewolf Chainsaw Apocalypse” as being “too horrible” … because of all the Werewolves and Chainsaws and stuff. What did they expect? Do they vilify comedies because there are too many jokes, or love stories with too much romance? It’s Horror … the clue is in the name.
Horror is as valid as any other genre. It feels like the right path for me because I believe in its flexibility, its welcoming arms, its ability to embrace themes that run deeper than its ravenous undead and its haunted graveyards and its masks both literal and metaphorical. Horror, often, is a garish jukebox, an eye-catcher of neon and chrome, but look within, and the vinyl can be cut with songs of heartbreak, and joy, tunes to make you weep or dance. All types of story can employ allegory, of course, but not all while maintaining such purity of genre. You can have the romantic subplot to a Horror tale, but maybe it’s a tougher call to add an out and out Horror element to a romance. Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful tale of love and loss, but throw a werewolf grenade into Verona town square and that story belongs to the Dark Side.
I suppose I’m proud of the genre I’m wired to write, as all writers of all types of fiction should be. It’s just that, occasionally, the Horror genre seems to need justifying for some. That’s okay. I can defend its artistic value until the day I die … and come back.
And if “Werewolf Chainsaw Apocalypse” exists, I NEED to see it.