Why I'm a Ridiculous Person · Writing

Morbid Humor and the Sensitive Soul

Every once in a while, my morbid sense of humor bites me in the bum.

Despite the goat blood jokes, the references to those drugs that turn up every once in a while in real life to turn people in zombies who eat people’s faces, the presence in my manuscript of some seriously nasty stab wounds, and the running in-joke on Twitter that I’m a giant man-eating spider, I’m actually a pretty sensitive person.

Let that sink in for a moment. Re-read the sentence as many times as necessary until it makes sense.

I was the kid who couldn’t watch Hocus Pocus until middle school because the guy with his lips sewn shut (shudder) made me turn it off. The Nightmare Before Christmas stayed a distant dream until well into high school. The night my friends decided to watch Saw, I spent two hours pacing in the next room with my hands over my ears, because my ride home was busy.

And don’t get me started on the rainy afternoon in eighth grade when, home alone over spring break, bored stiff, I decided to listen to a ghost story book-on-tape.

This would be a lot simpler if I could say, straight out, that I don’t write horror, but I do. You know how reading something scary can be a delicious experience, making you feel giddy and jumpy? It’s the same for me–when I write it. Reading is a recipe for truly sinister nightmares, but if it’s me doing the inventing, it doesn’t scare me. Except when it does, but everyone has their limits.

I can tell you, no strings attached, I don’t write gore. The stabbings in my books have just enough to set the scene, no more, because I find a reader does not need more than that. They’ve watched a thousand movies, a hundred TV shows where someone hapless and stupid was impaled on a blade. They know what it looks like, they know how it sounds. My job, as an author, is not to illustrate that. Why should I tell you what you already know?

My job, as I see it, is to make you feel. Either you feel the betrayal that comes with the the dark bloom of pain, the creeping numbness as you wish things had been different, or you hold the knife, slick in your sweaty palms, and pray your desperate efforts were enough, because you don’t want to learn what else you are capable of.

That’s much, much more effective, I think, than telling you about this corpse or that wound. After all, your imagination is far more powerful than my prose could ever be.

So I don’t write gore, because I don’t need to. I don’t expand on physical pain that comes from violence, because we as a society are plenty good at comprehending those troubles. I stick to narrating the slow grinding-down of everyday aches and the dawning horror of inner realizations. I’ve often said I write creepy books, and I do, but perhaps I should expand on that. I do not bother with what will make you jump and scream, no, that is not my forte. I prefer what makes you look at the people you know and ask, “And what would you do?”

I write the kind of creepy that makes you want to take a bath and then read more, because you have learned something about yourself. Discomforting, I suppose.

In the meantime, of course, I will post silly jokes on Twitter about sacrificing goats for the sake of my muses, and that one quote from my book where a character jokes about how his pole barn is so soundproof he could beat people to death without anyone hearing–not that he does that. They genuinely do make me laugh, and I hope you find them funny too.

Perhaps I do this because in my books, those little asides aren’t the scary things. The villains in my stories do not hide in closets, they walk through the front door with full permission,  saluted by a society deaf to the screams of one person.

And that, as we all know, is more frightening than anything at all.

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