Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Horror? - And Some Personal Revelations

So I'm going to try another question.  Some people actually answered last time, and that was cool.  We'll see how it goes this time.  I was going to do a Friday question, but we've had some sleep issues with Zack this week, so Friday morning was simply a no go.  He slept better last night, so we'll give it a whirl today.

But no, I'm not asking "what is horror" or trying to define "horror".  That topic has been done to death.  I want to know what brought people to horror in the first place - fans and writers alike.  Folks are often surprised to discover that horror wasn't my first love.  

There were certainly indications that I'd go that way someday: I loved those collections of "spooky" tales in the school libraries and I was obsessed with "movie monster" books in sixth grade.   Plus (don't laugh, people) as a youngster I found a few of the Hardy Boys to be a "touch" spooky, and I liked that.

However in high school I was pretty much an "equal opportunity" kinda reader.  I read everything I could get my hands on. Even a few (again - some of you, I KNOW where you live) teen romances when I'd exhausted our library's stores.  BUT, toward the end of my high school career I discovered Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and it pretty much hooked me.  

That same year Timothy Zahn wrote the first ever post-Return of the Jedi STAR WARS novel, Heir to the Empire.  During this time, my parents also got me my first box set of Star Trek novels, and this coincided with the premier of Star Trek: TNG on television.  So, for most my college career I considered myself a Sci Fi guy and devoured every science fiction novel I could find.  Of course, I also planned on being the next Isaac Asimov and my greatest dream was to write a Star Wars novel ( that latter sorta still is, BTW).

My first completed novel manuscript - written senior year in high school, in a Mead spiral notebook - was a goofy teen basketball drama/romance.  My second completed novel manuscript -part one of an epic science fiction trilogy that would stun the world with its bloated 178,000 words - I finished my senior year in college.  I also sold my first science fiction story - for a grand  total of $10 - to a long defunct magazine called Millennium Science Fiction & Fantasy, of which only this encyclopedic entry remains (sadly, I misplaced my contributor copy during several apartment moves).

This all extended to January 2000.  Then, my life came to a screeching halt.  

I ran into serious money and credit problems.  Lived every day one step from eviction, and pretty much felt like a reprobate.

My personal life descended into a shambles.  I can honestly admit I did a lot of things and went  a lot of places I'd regret later.

I broke off my engagement to my then-fiance four months before the wedding.  Even though it was the right thing to do - that's never fun.  This, of course spurned me into several ill-advised relationships directly following.

I enlisted in the NAVY Reserves, went to Boot Camp, survived - and discovered what a BAD decision that was.

I had my driving privileges almost taken away, and was limited to a "work-restricted license".

After graduating from Binghamton University, being a teacher, Youth Director, administrator, and college basketball coach...I found myself working as an aide in a middle school for just barely over minimum wage.  And I pretty much lived in a slum apartment.

AND, for a brief time, I believed I'd never write anything, ever again.

Enter horror.  Enter Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub and for a few novels, John Saul.  On the faith side of things, enter Ted Dekker.  Science fiction just didn't do it, anymore.   Those stories didn't have that sense of "loss" that consumed my life for almost 5-6 years.  Plus, I no longer cared about monsters from space.  I'd seen - most powerfully in my mirror - what a monster a human being could be, and how people survived those things - even the monsters themselves - called to me in a way science fiction never has.

Soon after that, I met Abby and got married. Then, several years later, Madison was born... and then my sense of horror became even further defined.  Now, loss of life and sanity or soul didn't seem so bad.

How about the loss of a wife?  A child?  Your entire family?  Or loss of respect and pride before them?  Ironically enough, during this period I also discovered what I still believe are seminal works in my development as a writer, Peter Straub's lost boy, lost girl and in the night room - and to me, Rio Youers is the modern contemporary to Peter. And of course recently I've been delighted to discover T.M. Wright, Norman Prentiss and Charles Grant, writers who epitomize "quiet horror".

So  there.  I love battles against monsters and demons and ghosts, but I'm only interested in them insofar as they reflect the monsters and demons within, and our battles against them.  I'm into atmospheric, tension-filled, "quiet horror" - where any bloodshed is calculated and moderated.

So.  How about you? Why horror?  What type of horror is for you?