Monday, October 29, 2018

Making a Murderer (Writer Abouter)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Happy (Almost) Horror Christmas, everybody!

Sometimes it's funny to think about myself being a horror author.  Like most people I grew up being taught that horror had a certain disreputable sheen, maybe one step above porn and one step below country music.  Horror was simply "understood" to consist of bargain bin dregs with titles like "Freddy III," "Leprechaun in the Hood," and "Jason Goes to Space."

I recall one weekend as a young boy staying at my aunt's house.  As was customary at the time, my sister and I were each allowed to pick out one video at the video store.  (Am I dating myself with that reference, kids?  A video store is what Netflix was before Netflix mailed you DVDs, which is what Netflix was before it was what Netflix is now.)  Anyway, my sister picked out "Drop Dead Fred" and I tried to pick up "Critters."  My sister said I knew my mother would never let me pick out a "slasher movie" and to pick out something else, so I settled on "Godzilla vs. Biollante" with her grudging acceptance.  

Over the course of the weekend we watched "Drop Dead Fred" not less than one dozen times, and I tried, with some desperation, to watch my movie as well, but only managed to see about half an hour before our mother picked us up Sunday evening.  My sister later bragged that "I had tried to pick up some slasher movie at the video store" but she had successfully prevented me from watching it.  And then I got in trouble for the attempt at "deception."

This is a silly little story, of no real consequence really, but I'm reminded of it because it's illustrative.  "Critters" and "Godzilla" were horror movies, and therefore indistinguishable from slasher movies, and therefore utter trash, and not only that, but banned in our household.  It was a very simplistic perspective that my parents held, but one that I know was common at the time, and I suspect is common among parents of today as well.

Well, I discovered Johnny Cash in college, and learned that while Billy Ray Cyrus and Big & Rich aren't exactly the finest artists on the planet, they don't represent the depth and breadth of all country music.  And as for porn, well you grow up and find out there's really nothing wrong with sex work performed by consenting adults it's just our cultural hangups that make it seem illicit.  It wasn't terribly long ago TROPIC OF CANCER, PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, LOLITA, and, hell, MADAME BOVARY were banned as pornography.  It turns out that reducing entire genres to "obscene" or "lowbrow" is reductive and not just a little bit ignorant.

And the funny thing is, we watched "The Exorcist" and "Aliens" and "The Birds" in our household, not to mention "Jaws" and "Psycho."  My mother, of the "no horror movies" rule was a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan.  In fact, I was allowed to watch "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on Nick at Nite every night during the summer.  And "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits" every day.  My sister of the "slasher movies are trash" outlook read Christopher Pike and "Goosebumps" and "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" and, oh yeah, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker, and introduced me to all of the same.  

We just didn't call any of that "horror."  

"Horror," you see, was demonstrably bad.  Therefore, if we were reading and watching stuff that was good, it wasn't, by definition, "horror."

Strangely (and somewhat to my detriment in my present occupation) Stephen King was an absolute no-no.  Stephen King, you see, was known to write horror, and therefore his books were not allowed in the house.

Ten years ago when I started trying to get published, I had always thought of myself as a science fiction author.  But the first novel I had banged into shape to be published was a story about a zombie detective.  Not really science fiction, maybe a mystery, but I could market it as horror.

And once I became a horror author I realized how much horror was still considered obscene.  Lowbrow.  Many book reviewers explicitly state "no horror or erotica."  

But in the last decade something strange started happening.  "Get Out" and "The Shape of Water" were up for Oscars, something once all but explicitly prohibited for horror films.  "The Walking Dead," "Stranger Things," and "American Horror Story" turned out to be smash hits, while shows like "Black Mirror" and "The Terror" aspired to award worthiness.

Horror is gradually becoming acceptable, even commendable.  And Stephen King, the guy who was banned in my childhood house?  Well, he got a National Medal of the Arts.  I'm glad to be where I am and do what I do, because it feels like I'm on the cutting edge of a new era in terror.  Even if I never expected to end up here growing up.

Happy Halloween, everybody!  Enjoy the month when everybody loves fear.  Soon there will be twelve of them.


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I never could handle horror as a teen. I know! But I am appreciating it more as an adult. The Haunting of Hill House is on my TB watched pile because I keep hearing how awesome the storytelling is...even though I am scared to death.

Carrie Beckort said...

I've been up and down with horror. I mostly can't handle the gory ones because I'm just so squeamish. Even when I know it's all fake. My brother (who is practically your name twin) has always been into horror. He introduced me to reading King in my late teens/early twenties. He also loves to write, and it's funny because he would often get in trouble at school for the types of stories he'd write. His teacher even had the 'I'm concerned about Steve' talk with my mom. So my mom made him write a story about puppies. It was all going well until the end. You can imagine what he did to those poor puppies at the end of his story! I think he was grounded for a long time after that.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Yes! And you might like A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS as well.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I feel like this needs to be your next blogpost. Or else hold onto it until next October. :)

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