There was a time when every horror author was asked why they wrote about such violent, morbid, terrifying, depressing topics. Many of us are still badgered by friends and neighbors who don't understand why we can't write about puppies and kittens. That's why I'm always surprised when a horror author asks me why I write extreme horror as opposed to traditional or quiet horror. I write extreme horror for the same reason they write horror. Because that is what I love to write. It's what I love to read. It's what I love to see on screen. I don't write traditional horror for the same reason they don't write romance. Because I have no love of it. I personally feel cheated when an author shies away from describing some hideous or gruesome thing for fear of offending his audience just like most of us felt cheated when we went to see a horror movie in the seventies and the camera cut away just before the knife would penetrate or the monster would rip the victim's head off. Or when some gruesome horror movie would finally make it to network television with all the violence cut out, fading to commercial every time the monster closed in on his victim. So, now that I'm writing the stories myself I don't cut away to commercial. I show everything.
I don't leave anything to the reader's imagination because the whole reason they picked up my book in the first place is because they wanted to step inside my head. It seems like a cop out to me to tell the reader to use his own imagination. If I wanted to use my own imagination when I read a book I'd write the damned thing myself. I don't want to use my imagination I want to be taken inside the author's head, to see his or her unique perspective on the world. To see and feel through their descriptions things I have never experienced or could never imagine, at least not in the same way the author has. I give my readers that. I will give you more in my stories than you could ever possibly conceive of. I will give you my perspective, undiluted Wrath.
The other reason I write the way I do is because I truly think of myself as an artist, in Tolstoy's definition of the word. As one who is "impelled by an inner need to express his feelings", one who seeks to "...evoke in oneself a feeling one has experienced and having evoked it in oneself then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others experience the same feeling..." In other words, when I write something that scares me, I want to make sure it scares the reader too. If I write something that embarrasses me I want my readers to blush upon reading it. If I write something that shocks or appalls me, then I want the reader to be shocked and appalled as well. If it makes me sad, I want to make sure my readers cry when they read it . If I jacked-off when I wrote it I don't want my readers to be able to read it with both hands. If it grossed me out, I want to make sure it grosses you out too. Whatever I was feeling when I wrote it I want my reader to experience as well. In my opinion the only true judge of art is the degree of the artist's success in transmitting his thoughts and emotions to his audience, in transmitting his unique "condition of soul". And no matter how finely crafted a work is, no matter how beautiful or entertaining it is, if it fails to clearly transmit the artist's unique perspective to the reader than it fails. If it was not created with the intention of transmitting the artist's thoughts and emotions but rather merely to amuse or beautify than it is not art and the creator, no matter how talented or skillful, is not an artist but a skilled craftsman. As Tolstoy said:
"... If a man without exercising effort and without altering his standpoint, on reading, hearing, or seeing another man's work experiences a mental condition which unites him with that man and with others who are also affected by that work, then the object evoking that condition is a work of art. And however poetic, realistic, striking, or interesting, a work may be, it is not a work of art if it does not evoke that feeling...A real work of art destroy in the consciousness of the recipient the separation between himself and the artist."
I use such powerful imagery because I want to guarantee that my point is understood. I use the most extreme and visceral analogies available to illustrate my ideas and opinions so that my audience is dragged screaming and kicking into my point of view. Most of the stories I write are born out of arguments. They are the hypothetical situations I use to illustrate my point. Propaganda of a sort. So I heap on the imagery in order to ensure that I elicit the desired emotional and/or intellectual response in my reader. Some may argue that it takes less talent to be heard with a scream then it does with a whisper. Coincidentally the same individuals who make that claim are the ones who find it impossible to write extreme horror well. But, more to the point, I believe that most of those who whisper are not heard. I find quiet horror so mind-numbingly boring that whatever point the author was trying to make and whatever emotion he was trying to evoke (unless that emotion was boredom) usually gets lost when I put the book down before finishing it or find myself daydreaming about something else while trying to read through it. Anything worth expressing is worth screaming.
Isn't it also a fact that horror that screams in the face of its reader turns as many or perhaps even more readers off than horror that whispers softly?
I don't agree. Like that tired cliche' about rubberneckers at the scene of an automobile accident, many more are drawn to these stories out of morbid curiosity than are ever pushed away. Sex and violence will always attract many more than it repels. There is a reason Mike Tyson is a cultural icon and pornography is a billion-dollar a year industry. This is the reason I first decided to use sex and violence to hammer home whatever point I am trying to illustrate, because it captures the reader's attention. Once they are captivated it is far easier to dump my social, political, or existential commentary on them without it appearing cold and dull.
True, there are many who find visceral tales unpalatable. Elizabeth Peake for instance makes it a point to bring up the fact that she couldn't make it through Poisoning Eros at any and every mention of extreme horror. It's almost become an obsession with her. We get it Liz. The extreme is not your cup of tea. For those who are not attracted to it there are plenty of other genres for them to enjoy. In Elizabeth's defense I have never heard her say such things should not be written. That's when I would get offended. If you're not into it then you are not into it. Live long and prosper. No skin off my nose. But when people drag out their big moral stick and start questioning, judging, and out and out attacking the moral character of the author because of what he or she has written, when they start calling for it to be banned, that's when I get pissed. I mean, Harry Potter? Come the fuck on! Doesn't anyone else think the Catholic church is more than a little ridiculous for how they have attacked this harmless little children's book? Or how about how the PMRC went after American Psycho in the late eighties? An extreme book to be sure but far from dangerous. I'd much rather my kid read Brett Easton Ellis than sit in front of the TV all day playing video games and watching cartoons. And most recently, right here in our own little horror community, the flack Shane Staley got on Shocklines when he published an excerpt of a story in which a retarded girl was raped. He was called sick, perverted, irresponsible, insensitive, someone even said they wanted to kick his ass. All over a piece of fiction. That type of idiocy is one of the reasons I write extreme horror in the first place. It's like when you were a kid and you identified the cry-baby in the group and began teasing his ass until he learned to toughen up. Well, that's what I'm doing, toughening up the cry-babies, trying to force them to loosen up their constricted rectums and get over themselves. The world is a less civilized place than most will admit. Most prefer to ignore the unpleasantries rather than face them, which only perpetuates it. They turn their backs on the horror because it is too terrifying for them to contemplate and therefore they turn their backs on the perpetrators as well as the victims. Think Rwanda.
In the end I write extreme horror because I am an extreme individual. I grew up on the crime infested streets of Philadelphia fighting almost everyday from age five to age fifteen. After that it slowed down to once a month. I was a bouncer for eight years in nightclubs all over the Bay Area and for a short time in Las Vegas where I witnessed and participated in more decadence, violence, and hedonism than most people ever even hear about. I am an admitted sex addict with a sexual past that would make most prostitutes blush. I am a fighter who has trained for more than a decade in the art of destroying other human beings and has exercised that talent in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans. My experiences have been extreme. My opinions are extreme. My tastes are extreme. My lifestyle is extreme. How could I possibly write anything else?