A Horror Writer’s Dilemma

I’ve taken the Sprouted serial down today
– the edited, polished version will be available for sale on Friday.
Thanks again to those who read the serial version!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I write horror the way I
do – and more to the point, why I’ve been leaning towards serial killers
as the main characters. What makes me want to explore that particular
psychological make-up? Is it healthy? Is it something I should even
subject my mind (and my reader’s minds) to? At what point is it best to
just leave the door closed? 

I’ll tell you right now, it feels dangerous to even enter some of
the places in the human mind that I’ve set out to explore. Sometimes
just writing the characters I do, I get the feeling that I shouldn’t be
there, shouldn’t be trying to understand someone who would deliberately
cause harm to other humans. It’s frightening to think that some minds
can justify such horrific actions, and others don’t even try to justify
them, but rather simply revel in the fact that they have no conscience. 

A lot of horror stories don’t try to understand the “horror”, but
rather try to portray it in as monstrous a form as possible. They make
it seem as though there can’t possibly be any explanation for the horror
other than it’s evil incarnate, and rather than poking and prodding it
we should run like hell the other way and hope to God it never catches
us, because we will die.

But what if the real reason we run from what we don’t understand is
the fear of a different kind of death? What if understanding the horror
means we have to confront the fact that it’s possible for the mind to
justify certain things that we know should never be justifiable? The
death of our own ignorance and the birth of the ability to identify with
certain ways of thinking could lead to very scary things indeed.

Honestly, physical horror doesn’t scare me nearly as much as the
thought of being able to identify with how a killer thinks and feels.
Being able to understand the thoughts and emotions of someone who preys
on other humans and still rejecting it as “wrong” morally and ethically
is a fine line to walk – understanding often leads us to give people
more leeway than we otherwise would.

It also leads to the consideration that we are all just a twitch of
environment or a flick of the DNA strand away from being that sort of
person which we so ardently fear and despise. And that is perhaps the
scariest proposition of all.

Some of the greatest horror writers of all time have explored this
concept in detail – Thomas Harris being one of my favorites (no, I don’t
care for the new TV show Hannibal). Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs
were absolutely fascinating and horrifying at the same time – if you
haven’t read them (which rock do you live under again?), I’d highly
suggest them both.

It’s taken me this long and several stories to really identify what
my goal is for writing horror, and I’m sure the stories I’ve written
thus far reflect my own hesitancy to embrace that goal. Why did I stop
working on Animal? Because I suddenly knew
exactly where the story *had* to go, in order for it to be honest, and
it scared the crap out of me that I could possibly write such a horrific

It made me reconsider writing horror altogether.
And that, dear readers, is exactly why I need to finish it. It’s
not just why I read horror, but why I write it too – to confront the
very things I fear the most, and take control of them, even if it’s just
in my own mind. Sometimes, that means acknowledging that control isn’t
possible, and sometimes evil will win.

All that said, I’m taking a break from the Death by Veggies series so I can go back and finally finish Animal
in the way it needs to be finished, scary as that may be. I won’t be
serializing it, but I’ll let you know when it’s ready to be published
(hopefully this October), and I hope that those of you who have been
waiting won’t be disappointed.

Until then, here’s to confronting our fears, and learning when to
prod a little deeper, and when to slam the door and run the other way…

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One Response to A Horror Writer’s Dilemma

  1. Ardee Eichelmann says:

    Alex, I wondered what had happened to Animal as I never did see the book. You know I had to stop reading it and it wasn’t just because of the horror content which does cause issues for me but rather for the very reasons you detailed in this post. I have dealt with true psychopaths and sociopaths. I understand the machinations of how their minds work and am horribly aware of that line you mentioned in this post that is able to be crossed. In fact, it is all too permeable. In your writing you have obviously felt this…I have felt it in my soul and had it brush up against my skin. Real life is more horrifying than fiction and I have seen, experience, felt way too much in the world around me so I avoid reading about it or watching it. I have actually met families whose dynamics were similar to the ones in Animal. You are so very close to the mark. I can understand why you would need to step away.

    I realize this is a very late response to your post but I only read this blog for the holiday serials. When Melanie’s story wasn’t posted yet I scrolled down to read for a minute and found this entry.

    I suggest after a writing session on Animal that you engage in a cleansing ritual if the story is not completed yet. If not a shower, spend time washing your hands, breathing fresh air, drinking tea and clearing your self body, mind and spirit. That is how I survive(d) contact with psychopaths and sociopaths. The act of physically cleaning myself in some manner was ever so important. When you look pure evil in the face whether literally or figuratively it changes you thus reclaiming your own heart and soul are vital.

    Deep Peace,