See that little image over there to the right of the screen? It’s right below where it asks for you to subscribe to my mailing list (which I’m sure you've already done so that you can get notices of new releases and sometimes free stuff. It’s really worth it and I promise not to bother you more than once or twice a year). That picture of a book cover with the title Shell Shock signifies that I have released my 5th novel. Quite a small and unassuming little image, hidden away on an almost unknown blog-site.
And yet to me it signifies the result of all my spare energies for over a year now. It signifies a heck of a lot of research into areas that showed in gory detail some of the bleaker aspects of humanity. That’s what I do, I stare into the abyss and try to bring forth hope from it. I think that’s the essence of the horror genre, at least for me: to stare into the darkness and see something other than what our fears awaken in us. To shine the light into the dark places rather than turn away and pretend the darkness doesn’t exist.
Horror to me is not a means of distracting myself from reality. I remember as a child peering through slightly-parted fingers at many a movie that both terrified and excited me. Perhaps my favorite story was that of Frankenstein. The story has been told many times and often the creature was not always called Frankenstein, but the similarities were there. A scientist, who is blind to everything except his ability to do what no one has done before, creates an abomination. Through genius and hubris he brings to life something God and nature never intended. The creature, ill-equipped for the world, becomes a monster through no fault of its own and must be destroyed.
There were lessons to be drawn from such stories, lessons that have always stayed with me. One important lesson I learned from such stories was that the monster was not really the monster, that he was an object of pity who may have harmed others but did so not because he was evil but because he was misunderstood and ill-fashioned for the world he was brought into. I could even feel pity for the creator of such a being, because his intentions were ambitious and noble, though they were taken too far.
The other lesson I learned from the Frankenstein story—whether the monster went by the name of Godzilla, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Fly, or countless other movies—was that the use of technology always brought with it unintended consequences, that there were powers too great for man to control. They warned against the perils that our technological progress would bring with it, warned against the sin of too-great pride and self-importance.
Pity for others and humility in oneself. Not bad lessons to be learned from works of horror. You see, not all horror stories need be escapist, in fact the best ones aren’t. The best ones don’t end up distracting you from what you fear but causing you to look at what most frightens you so that you can overcome it. That’s what I try to write, about real-life problems we would rather not face head-on. That’s where horror lurks in real-life, in those problems we stuff into our subconscious because we don’t feel brave enough or strong enough to overcome them. They become monsters there, always lurking in the darkness to pounce upon us in our moment of weakness. I deal with them through fiction so that perhaps the reader will dare to chance a peek at them even as they cover their eyes. That maybe what we fear is not insurmountable and we are in fact capable of perceiving it for what it truly is and perhaps even be stronger in the end for having dared.
But I’ve strayed far from my original intention, which was to announce the release of my new novel, Shell Shock, and have you sign up for my mailing list. For all of my high-minded talk, I’m still just a writer who’d like to be read and perhaps even rewarded a little for my efforts, however modestly. But there is more to it than just that, as you will see when you crack open one of my books. The monster I deal with in Shell Shock is war, and it kills more than Jason, Freddy, Godzilla, Dracula, The Wolfman, and every-zombie-that-ever-was combined. There’s an element of Frankenstein in it too, in that man has managed to create horrors with technology he never should have toyed with.
While I have employed supernatural aspects in Shell Shock, I assure you the horror is all too real and 100% man-made. And if we try to avoid it, if we shove it deep into our sub-conscious, it will fester and grow in the darkness until one day it eats us in our sleep.