I love being afraid. It sounds strange, but it’s true. Ever since I was a little girl, I longed for the moment when someone would jump out from behind a closed door in the middle of the night and scare me. I’d stay up late at night with a book by Koontz or King, crouched down on the floor beside a night light (I shared a room with my younger brother so the light was for him), and read macabre tales early into the next day. Halloween was my favorite holiday (and still is) and I imagined what I’d rename myself once I was made a kickass, punk vampire like the kids in The Lost Boys.
I loved werewolves, zombies, ghosts, demons, witches, clowns (yes, they count as monsters thanks to the murderous toy in Poltergeist and Pennywise in IT), and the aforementioned vamps. Serial killers intrigued me and possession stories dealing with Satan both fascinated and terrified me.
Strangely, I didn’t start writing my own horror stories until I’d reached adulthood. I spent most of my adolescence writing Emo poetry and pretentious literary fiction. I could read and watch horror all I wanted, but I couldn’t imagine crafting those kinds of stories myself. Every monster had been done before; every twist and turn already well traversed.
But that’s true of every plot in every genre of fiction. Originality doesn’t come from the story points and themes we use, but from our individual perspectives. No two people will ever see events happen the exact same way. We all have different filters through which we absorb and process information. Our surroundings – where we live, our families, our religions and cultures, etc. – help shape our worldviews and that worldview, our distinct voice, is what each writer brings to our work, separating it from another’s.
I don’t try to write the kinds of stories my childhood heroes wrote for that reason. I don’t see the world the way they do so I’d never be able to tell a tale the way they do. So I write about the things that unsettle me and make me uncomfortable. The things that horrify me on a personal level aren’t made up creatures (although I can still appreciate those kinds of stories when they’re well-written), but humanity itself.
People can be some of the scariest monsters on Earth.
My first completed novel was a supernatural suspense story about a second generation Haitian-American pre-teen girl in 1960s Louisiana who can “see” things about people: emotions, thoughts, desires, etc. The images she sees come to her in Polaroid-style snapshots in front of her mind’s eye and she sometimes doesn’t get the full scope of what these images mean until it’s too late. Such is the case when she forms an innocent childhood crush on the new teacher in town only to discover that the man in question is a child murderer.
There is a magical element to the story that involves hoodoo, a practice that most people believe is a sham, but what everyone can agree on is the disturbing fact that there are adults in the world who prey on young children. And as someone who has a burning desire to one day have children of my own, the idea that someone would hurt my child in this way terrifies me, especially if that someone was in a position of authority over said child.
It’s a universal fear many parents face. I’m a grown woman, but my mother calls or texts me at least five times a day to make sure I’m all right and no one has raped and murdered me in a dark alley somewhere. That’s her biggest fear when it comes to me because it’s such a common crime. My fourth grade teacher’s teenage daughter was raped and murdered the year before I entered her class and I remember how her grief, plus the stress of the trial, wore her down.
Being powerless to protect those we love is also a universal fear. It’s a common theme that pops up in not just my novels, but also in my short works. I recently wrote the first draft of a short story for this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo entitled “Child’s Play” where the main character, Maggie, is a widowed mother of a five-year-old boy who has an imaginary friend named Edgar who talks to him late at night. Only Edgar might not be so imaginary and Maggie’s son might not be so safe.
Abandonment and the fear of being alone is also something I like to play around with. A flash piece I wrote earlier this year that I plan to resume re-submitting to horror magazines next month deals with this very thing. In “When Daddy Comes Home,” Opal Brown will go to any lengths to keep her husband from leaving her and her young girls again. It’s safe to say, this story doesn’t end well for anyone involved.
All of these stories have Big Bads that are regular people just like you and me. These stories aren’t necessarily “scary” in the traditional sense of the word, but they are unsettling, discomforting, and definitely disturbing. This is why I write horror – to take my readers, and myself, to the darkest depths of the world we inhabit and embrace the scariness of our pending mortality because only then can we truly be brave when we’ve faced death and continued to live.