I’ve always written, but I only got the idea of being a writer by trade last year. Supporting myself on a lattice of words sounded great, it also sounded like the only way I’d be able to make a living. With a mental illness in the habit of sidelining me for days or weeks at a time without any warning, it’s hard to work a nine to five gig. In fact, it’s fucking impossible.
My goal was to entertain people with my fiction. Horror fiction if you want to get specific. I wanted to distract you, give you a reprieve from the problems of the day so you could immerse yourself in the problems of the characters I create.
The world’s mostly hideous, I figured, and we’re mostly powerless to change it. But even if you can’t change the fundamentally awful taste of the medicine, you can help it go down with a spoonful of sugar as the song goes. That’s not a very happy or positive view, but then I’ve only ever been a personal optimist and a lover of individuals.
A person can be smart, caring, supportive and loving. Get them in groups…
So that was me. A writer of scary stories with no ambition other than to get paid for entertaining as many people as possible. The more mass appeal, the more people I could distract and the more likely I’d be paid for my services.
It turns out I can’t pull it off, because it relies on an almost Disney-esque mentality: be colorful, peppy and positive while avoiding any controversy. The theory goes that every soul starts with universal appeal, and every expression of that soul alienates someone. With every word you utter, you kill part of your audience. Stay positive, keep your real opinions to yourself and try not to give readers more to think about than absolutely necessary.
I think this view is pretty horrific, but I also think its truer than any of us would like to admit. Someone coloring inside these lines is apt to sell more books, get more followers and make more money.
Hearts in Atlantis started the trouble for me, I think. Stephen King gets knocked around a lot by his critics, accused of being exactly the sort of lowest-common-denominator writer I wrote about above. I don’t think this criticism is entirely deserved, and I believe King’s book about the Vietnam generation is a damn good argument against it.
Here are the sixties, a time when the youth of America saw the naked truth. The Bastards were out of control and the young people had the good sense to go completely apeshit. The Battle of Chicago, Kent State, Johnson, the rise of Nixon–it’s not something anyone could understand without being there, but Hearts is as good a field guide as any history book.
In fact, it’s better. Any high schooler can give you the Cliff’s Notes version of that perfect storm, sanitized for your safety or not–but King took the time to show you the emotions behind the bare facts and bland dates.
There’s a scene in the book where a group of students are looking at some graffiti on the wall, a line from it saying fuck the president. And in the paragraphs following, he makes you understand that this kind of bald pronouncement, so common in our present time, was unheard of in the era around them.
The words shocked them, at a fundamental level, and the scene becomes about so much more than graffiti. In half a page, King shows the flipping of the switch inside the head of a whole generation.
I don’t know I can ever pull off something like this, but I started thinking I maybe wanted to try.
And when I saw The Rum Diary, I decided I had to.
I write my best when I’m passionate about something. It’s not about hatred, love, rage, joy or any specific emotion. It’s about the depth of whatever emotion’s running the show. My saddest scenes are always written on the verge of tears and my angriest characters are always written with my fists half-clenched.
When I look back over my writing and see islands of good stuff floating in the sea mediocre and downright awful, those islands are always the ones that were born from a volcanic blast of emotional energy. I’m always happiest when I’m writing, but when I’m writing well I’m on a whole other level.
And I’ve come to realize there’s only one way I can write well: kill the bullshit, ditch the mass market horror and write nothing that doesn’t come when I’m on that other level.
This ain’t the sixties and we don’t have Vietnam, but we’ve got two wars with more on the way, politicians instead of leaders and a society with a cost so high and hidden that things are going to get a whole lot weirder before they get sane.
Writing about that is a lot more my thing than writing about creatures going bump in the night. I don’t know what that means for my serial, my reviews and my other work. I’m shifting my focus to freelancing and working through a couple of ideas I still think have legs even given this new direction I want to explore.
Like I said before, I’m new to the writing trade. This site has only ever been the real-time, full-frontal documentary of the journey I started last year. I’m as clueless as you as to how all this is going to turn out.
In 2011 I decided to write tales of horror.
In 2012 I decided to write about the horror that’s already here.