Why I Travel The Dark Path

I wrote this blog some months ago as a guest post for Mayra Calvani, and it originally appears on her page. I'm reposting it here with a few additions, because I want to remind people and myself why I write what I write. Am I a depressed, morbid, disturbed individual who likes to swim around in misery and ennui? Not exactly. Read on and find out . . .

I am a horror author, but I promise I’m not a freak. There isn’t a body hidden beneath the floorboards in my house, and I don’t have anyone tied up in my basement (because I don’t have a basement, but that’s beside the point). I also don’t revel in violence and I’m far from titillated by blood and gore. If anything, I’m as much disturbed by some of what I write as any of my readers are, and I’m even more prone to being afraid of scary movies and books than most. I don’t know where my desire to write about the dark side of life comes from necessarily, and I’m not sure I want to know. I’m only grateful that it’s there, because it’s given me a career.

In a recent interview, I said horror authors’ minds aren’t much different from any others, but they do have this desire to shine a light on the darkness that lives in all of us. Non-fans of the horror genre have their share of darkness, too, but they just don’t like to study it so much, and that’s okay. There are people who like to highlight on the positive and make people feel good, they require happy endings, and they don't want their fictions mimicking the already depressing aspects of real life. I get that. I do. But I'm here to offer another spin on the matter.

Believe it or not, horror writers like to make you feel good too. They really do! Only, it’s more of an inverse process, and it isn't something you're going to get by taking things at face value. If you've ever been through a rough time, be it losing a loved one or financial hardship or being the victim of a violent crime, I think you can agree that when you reach a place of peace and healing, you have a new gratitude for it. You truly understand the stillness, and it doesn't just register as boredom or emptiness. Dark stories can help you find that gratitude and hold tight to it.

To get technical, dark stories try to simulate harrowing events by activating the same parts of the brain that are active during times of peril. It's like a roller coaster or a skydive for your brain. By the time you put down that book or finish that movie, we want you to feel more alive than you did before. We want you to feel glad it’s over and that while you have this otherwise normal and sort of mundane life, you’re at least not being held captive in a decrepit old mansion by a human spider. By giving yourself a fictional burden that is harder than any could possibly bear in life, when you finally shed it, you feel lighter.

Sometimes when my fiction is too positive, the opposite happens to me. I look at my life and find it starkly unfulfilling and mundane in comparison, and that can depress me. Not always, but sometimes. The perfect romance, the perfect happy ending. It can signify the idyllic, unobtanium of Happily Ever After that makes real life feel so flat. Not always, but sometimes. Maybe it's a weird quirk in my head, but catch me in the wrong kind of mood, and a romantic comedy can make me want to jump off a bridge.

Another thing people assume about dark fiction authors is that we are cynics and pessimists in daily life. Now, I don’t want to fool anyone into thinking that this isn’t the case. Writers can be some of the most jaded people out there. In many cases, it’s why they write. But I also argue that there is a lot of optimism buried in dark fiction, because the people in them, the protagonists and heroes, are searching and fighting for something better. They're reminding us of the strength and persistence of the human spirit. My book STRINGS is probably the most grim piece of fiction I have ever written or will ever write, but it was also written by an optimist who believes that human beings are as equally capable of good as they are of bad, and that even the worst among us have a spark of humanity that can be coaxed into a flame under the right conditions.

Of course, it could just as easily go the other way too, and it often does, but that’s not pessimism. That’s just reality. That's just truth. And really, that is all I ever seek to write. In my mind, the darkness is just a natural side effect of telling the truth.