It’s likely you already know the scenarios by heart. Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, or Raymond Chandler would. A cynical, world-weary private eye is visited by a mysterious client (female, more often than not) and winds up taking a case that finally shakes up his life enough to make him feel something—only to inevitably remind him why he always felt safer not feeling anything at all.
The H Word
When it comes to people, most of us know the dead only as waxy, foreign looking shells on display in coffins at the occasional funeral. Our world today has largely divorced us from experiencing the many strange and conflicting feelings that come with being in the presence of the dead. We don’t know that horror as much anymore, no matter how many times we see it on TV, and so I wanted to talk about that today.
Whenever anyone who creates horror fiction says they don’t, it simply confirms me in my commitment to the field. No doubt they have their reasons, but I have mine, which is to support the kind of fiction I’ve loved pretty well ever since I can remember.
For generations, the monsters populating horror fiction have, with very few exceptions, belonged to the scary trinity: vampires, werewolves, and zombies. For every aswang, a dozen Draculaesque vampires sip bodily fluids. For every huli jing, a score of humans transform into their wolfish selves under a full moon. For every draugr, a horde of reanimated corpses out of central casting shambles by looking for brains.
Some years ago I left Alaska, land of my birth. Since then I’ve dwelt in the cities and farmland of the Pacific Northwest, and deep in the mountains of western Montana. At the moment, the trail has led a long and winding way to upstate New York, about as far as one can migrate east and still dwell within the continental U.S.
Horror fans may have hammered the final stake! The general consensus is: zombies are in, vampires out. Whether or not that is true, zombies have definitely surged to the fore while vampires have seemingly faded into the mist. Which begs the question—Why?
The Revel is all, or almost all; the weight of the story, and of the reader’s experience of the story, is given over to the physical materials of the catastrophe: the bump in the night, the splat on the wall, the slaughter of the innocents, the razing of the town.
Long before I found my way to horror, as a reader and a writer, without realizing it, I sought horrible female characters to confirm what I knew. In mainstream fiction I was drawn to transgressors who allowed a glimpse of the monster inside the female heart.
The horror audience runs a wide spectrum, but at either end are two extremes. These polarities are divided not so much by conflicting interests as by degree of morbidity. At one end we have people who enjoy horror where the supernatural mayhem is kept in check. Their outré quotient is relatively slim. The internal logic of a horror story must hew closely with everyday life. They take their horror as a teetotaller does honey; a mere tincture to tease the palate.
See if this plot sounds familiar to you: A disillusioned middle-aged writer is forced to return to the small town where he was born to reunite with childhood friends so they can face the ancient evil that almost destroyed them once before.