Guest post: “What’s in the Mind of a Horror Author,” by Allison M. Dickson
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 some of the movies and books I read. 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 was asked what’s inside the mind of a horror author and I was later asked to expand upon it. Originally, 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. People who aren’t a fan of the horror genre aren’t without this darkness. They just don’t like to look at it, and that’s okay. There are people who like to highlight on the positive and make people feel good, but make no mistake: horror writers like to make you feel good too. Only, it’s more of an inverse process. Anyone who has ever been through a rough time in their lives, be it losing a loved one or financial hardship or being the victim of a violent crime, I think we can all say that when we reach a place of peace and healing, we have a new gratitude for it.
To get technical about it, horror stories try to simulate those events by activating the same parts of the brain that are active during times of peril. It serves the same purpose that minor thrill seeking does, like riding a rollercoaster or skydiving. 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 you have this otherwise normal and sort of mundane life, but at least you’re not being held captive in a decrepit old mansion by a human spider. Sometimes when I watch movies or read books that are 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. Maybe that’s just an odd quirk about my mind, but I think it’s why I tend to stray to the darker side of things. I crave that shift in perspective, and I think a lot of people out there do too.
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 horror, because the underlying message in a lot of it is: “See how much WORSE things could be?” 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, but that’s not pessimism. That’s just reality.
Allison M. Dickson is a writer of dark contemporary fiction living in Dayton, Ohio. Though STRINGS is her debut novel, she has been writing for a number of years, with several short stories (including “Dust” and “Under the Scotch Broom”) available on Amazon. Two of her stories were featured The Endlands Volume 2 from Hobbes End Publishing. In 2014, Hobbes End will also be releasing her dystopian science fiction novel, THE LAST SUPPER, and she is independently producing her pulpy dieselpunk noir novel, COLT COLTRANE AND THE LOTUS KILLER to be released in November of 2013. When she isn’t writing, she’s one of the co-hosts of the weekly Creative Commoners podcast. She might also be found gaming, watching movies, hiking the local nature preserve with her husband and two kids who also serve as willing guinea pigs for her many culinary experiments.