Many of the horror writers I know have been fans of the genre for as long as they can remember. They were transfixed by old horror movies as children, found pleasure in the Goosebumps books of R.L. Stine (depending on their generation), and loved Halloween more than any other holiday.
I, however, was not this way. I proudly admit that I was—and still am—a wuss. I avoided scary movies like the plague. The nightmares that the relatively benign Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) gave me lasted for years. And for this very reason, I avoided horror literature at all costs. Why would I pursue such a miserable feeling?
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I decided to give the genre a chance. I had just discovered bizarro fiction at the time and the first bizarro book I read was He Digs A Hole by Danger Slater. The way Slater incorporated body horror—including a man slicing off his own hands—had me intrigued. Yes, it was disturbing, but it was thrilling as well. Soon after, I read The Sorrow King by Andersen Prunty. It was described as “bizarro” on a website, but it was very much a horror novel. I couldn’t read it fast enough.
Maybe I did like horror. Ready to take the plunge, I read Cujo, Misery and Pet Sematary in quick succession. I started watching horror films, gaining a love for the work of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter. Soon, I was consuming extreme horror from authors like Wrath James White and Robert Devereux. I wondered how I could live my life without the genre.
Author Tim Waggoner said, “Horror stories allow us to confront our deepest fears through the buffer of fiction.” Once I realized that the buffer was there, I gained courage. It was my irrational child’s mind that told me the telepathic mutants in the Beneath the Planet of the Apes could actually get me. I had grown up still believing those childish fears.
With the buffer in place, I could now experience extremes of emotion that seem impossible in other genres. The rush of adrenaline that came with reading horror was almost a drug. More than that, I discovered I could use my writing to elicit these responses in my readers. I gained twisted pleasure from frightening and disturbing people with my work.
Not all horror appeals to me. I’m cautious of anything with a vampire or werewolves. I loathe zombies and post-apocalyptic fiction (Max Brooks’ World War Z is a notable exception). For the most part, I find “jump scares” cheap in films (again there are exceptions). My prudishness makes it hard to consume too much extreme horror.
Of all the speculative genres, however, I feel horror has some of the most wiggle room. There is so much out there, so many directions to take. Back when I was a fantasy reader, if I got sick of certain tropes, much of the genre was closed to me. But with horror, there are never-ending possibilities.
Unfortunately, horror comes with a stigma. Many horror authors have elaborated on this in the past, so I won’t tarry. But when I tell certain people I read/write/watch horror, they get a look on their face: a wrinkled nose, a grimace, even a shudder. It has taken a few years to deal with that. Now I simply smile back, thinking, “You don’t know what you’re missing!”