A couple months ago I finished reading Ray Garton's book about werewolves terrorizing a small town titled Ravenous. For several nights afterwards, I walked downstairs naked in the dark and had a moment of fear where I thought how easy it would be for a werewolf to lunge out of the dark and disembowel me with a single swipe of its claws. My imagination being what it is, I could even pictures the beasts slavering mouth and two-inch fangs its silver eyes catching the starlight and casting it back from the shadows. I could see its sharp yellowed claws reaching out for me from the blackness. Quickly I would grab a glass of water and hurry back upstairs to the safety of my bedroom. I had similar thoughts after watching 28 Weeks Later and reading Brian Keene's zombie apocalypse novels The Rising, City of the Dead, and Dead Sea. I still have moments where I imagine zombies lurking in the dark as I go down to the kitchen to raid my refrigerator.
What's even weirder is that I have the same fears as I write my own novels. Right now, I am finishing a novel about a serial killer who lives across the street from a couple that he repeatedly rapes and kills and then brings back to life. The novel is called The Ressurectionist and in my mind, it takes place in my neighborhood, in my house. As a result of living with these characters for the past few months, every time I go down stairs it is the antagonist from my own novel that I see lunging out for me from the darkness. I imagine how easy it would be for a killer to slash my throat or even decapitate me with a single stroke of a well-honed blade. I imagine all the terrible things he might then do to my family... and then I go back upstairs and write about it.
That's what a lot of readers do not realize about horror writers. Most often we are writing about the things that terrify us in the hopes that you share our same phobias. When someone asks me how I can think of such terrible things my first thoughts are always, "How can you not?" See, horror writers cannot shy away from the unpleasantries of life. They are our stock and trade. Thinking about the very worst things that can possibly happen to human beings is how we make our living, Part of writing in this genre means constantly researching and brainstorming about the very worst elements of human nature, life, nature, death, the afterlife, and the supernatural. We scour the headlines for tragic events to turn into stories. Rather than turn the channel when we hear of some horrific crime, natural disaster, disease, accident, or genocidal war, we listen attentively, filing away every detail to be used later. We even reach back through time and across continents to research myths and legends and atrocities from the past. Our minds are filled with more terrible things both real and imagined than most people can scarcely conceive of. And here's the secret. They scare us too.
Readers love to imagine the ghoulish horror writer that delights in madness, death, and perversity. But this is largely a myth. Most horror authors are outraged at the atrocity and inhumanity of which the world is everywhere full. That's why we write about it. We want you to be outraged too. We want you to be aware of it. We hate the fact that others are able to turn the channel and ignore even the most horrific events and pretend that they do not exist. We hate it because we can't do it. We see the serial killers lurking in the dark. We see the monsters under the bed. We see the Bogey man in the closet and the werewolves and predators that gobble up lost children and make men and women disappear never to be seen again. We see them in every unsolved murder or disappearance. We see the possibility of genetic mutations in every government funded biological experiment, the apocalypse that awaits us in every new nuclear weapon that is created, every new disease that is discovered and every newer, faster, smarter, more powerful computer we invent. We are terrified by it all and we want you to share our terror.
So I don't turn on the lights when I get up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. I allow myself to experience the terror so I can give it all back to you and make sure that when you get up in the middle of the night, you turn on every light in the house. Because something from the mind of your favorite horror author just might be coiled in the shadows, waiting to strike.