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Saturday, October 27, 2012
31 Days of Horror: Day 27-- Guest Post by Author Douglas Wynne
Today's guest post is by Douglas Wynne, who is experiencing a dream come true this month as he just saw the publication of his first novel, The Devil of Echo Lake. Wynne is a writer and a reader of dark fiction. Read on to see his perspective.
Why dark fiction? Why write that stuff? Why read it? Isn’t there enough horror in the real world without creating more of it for entertainment?
I think those are valid questions, and I’ll try to answer them first as a reader and then as a writer. The simplest and truest answer is probably that’s just the way I’m wired. I like dark books for the same reasons I’m drawn to the dark music of Pink Floyd and Tool. Fascination with the shadow side of things is simply woven into the fabric of who I am as a person. But it’s also just part of being human, I think, if you’re not in denial. Still, there are some rational reasons for the attraction.
Reading is an exercise in empathy, and if the character through whose eyes I’m experiencing the world is in horrible trouble, then my emotional investment in the story is greater. As a reader, I’m drawn to dark fiction because right there on the cover of a horror story is the promise of trouble. Someone is going to have to deal with some bad shit. And in life, well, as Jim Morrison said, “No one here gets out alive.”
In reading a horror novel you get to vicariously experience the things you fear. You get to drag them out from under the bed where they’ve been chattering away on the periphery of consciousness, raising your stress and anxiety, and you get to examine how you might react to the unknown, the disturbing and the terrifying, all within the safe confines of a fiction in which the danger can be dismissed as implausible if it gets to be too much for you. It’s kind of therapeutic.
But the threats in a good horror story are sometimes quite plausible, and the characters should always be plausible. There is something exhilarating about watching an author take an ordinary flawed character who inhabits the same mundane world you and I spend most of our time in, and then slowly open up windows from that world into a nightmare. If the ordinary world and characters are drawn with the same authenticity, detail, and emotional depth found in good literary fiction, then the fantastical or macabre elements become that much more credible, and far more disturbing. It can be a thrilling plunge to take after feeling the rollercoaster car you’re strapped into click clacking up the incline against the gravity of your disbelief.
I enjoy writing dark fiction for many of the same reasons that I enjoy reading it, but I don’t sit down with genre labels in mind when I start writing a book. Every novel has its own needs, and in the course of discovering the voice and shape of a story and the necessary consequences of a plot premise, I would never make a deliberate effort to add horror that isn’t natural to the tale I’m telling. That said, when I survey the playground of publishing, horror does seem to be the biggest sandbox because once you pin that disreputable badge on… anything goes. There are no taboos.
Why horror? Because in literary fiction magic is taboo, and in fantasy fiction sex is taboo.
In horror you can have all the sex, violence and magic you want, but all three are often metaphorical. You can also get into those sticky questions of religion and the afterlife. In politics the hot button question may be where does life begin? but in horror it’s where does life end? And then what? And is there more at stake sometimes than your mere life?
I write to explore those kinds of questions, if not to answer them.
Sex and death are the bookends of our existence, the polar forces of the human condition, the desire and fear that drive our lives. Any big story that tries to sweep them into the margins is impoverished by the omission. As for magic? I write fiction because it’s imaginative by definition. So why not dream big? It’s not like you don’t have a big enough canvas or an adequate effects budget when you pick up a pen to write.
On the dedication page of his horror magnum opus, IT, Stephen King wrote, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” I’ve always wanted to read and write books that tell some truth about the bad hand we’re all dealt when we come into this world, the fact that sooner or later, everyone is promised a death. Horror doesn’t deny that fact; it casts our ordinary lives in stark relief by reminding us of it. On the same page, King also wrote, “The magic exists.” And I believe that the healing, revelatory power of a good story, the illuminating power of a dark story, discovered ages ago by shamans crouching beside the first campfires, is the most tangible magic in the world.
I am a busy Readers' Advisor. Between manning a desk at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library and corrupting the minds of library school students at Dominican University, I recently published the second edition of my book, The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (ALA Eidtions, 2012). I also write content for EBSCO's NoveList database and am a proud member of The Horror Writers' Association. Check out the side bar of RA for All for links to the groups and organizations with which I am affiliated.