I write horror. This is the usual response I give people (delivered in a flat tone, because it’s hard to gauge how they’ll respond) when people ask what floats my boat. I’ve been met with a variety of reactions, but the most frequently recurring are the following:
You must watch a lot of horror movies.
I do, but I’m a chicken. I often won’t watch them alone, and I would prefer to have someone burly next to me whose shoulder I can cram my face against during the scary parts. I often have trouble sleeping for weeks afterwards.
You must have some strange stuff in your head.
Well, yes, but so do you. The difference between you and I is that my chosen venue to get those things out is fiction. Also, I try not to dwell too much on labels: strange. Bizarre. Freakish. Strange. Whatever.
Nothing scares you.
Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. After thirty-ish years on this earth, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m downright terrified of a few things, and the only way to really get over it is to face it down.
We talk about craft, and we talk about experience, and we talk about knowing to add authenticity to the material we work with. “Write what you know.” Well, I’ve never met a vampire in real life, but I’ve sure met a few people who can suck the life out of you. That’s passable, right?
Every so often we hit a wall — there’s something in the brain that shuts down, shirks away, and you just don’t wanna write that scene because it pushes a few buttons that result in something that doesn’t feel real enough because you wibbled under the shadow of those words. You just didn’t want to go there because you were having a mini-freakout and your pulse was hammering. You know the feeling:
You played it safe.
Let’s take a moment to pause and look at this gorgeous view:
I snapped this photo on the walk up a hill in Ireland. It was a twenty minute march in full, blaring sunlight on a warm day. Stripping off layers, and not only from the exertion and the heat, my heart started jackhammering about fifteen minutes in. Believe me when I say this is the face of someone who ain’t happy about what’s about to go down:
At the end of this walk on this beautiful day, something troubling was waiting for me. They call it the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge: a wobbly structure once used by fisherman to get to a small island off the cliffside.
Here’s the thing about fear: it manifests differently for everyone. I hate heights. Hate them. I get instantaneous vertigo, my knees get weak, my head swims. If I’m standing at the top of a building, I get the hell away from the safety rail. Back up against a wall. Look at the sky sucking in shallow little breaths.
Much like watching a horror movie, the anticipation of knowing what’s coming is enough to make me feel faint.
You toe up to the edge and take a look into the swirling vortex that can pop your skull like a grape. That fight or flight response kicks in. Try to rationalize things: it’s on or it’s not. You do the thing, or you waste your opportunity.
We talk about experience and we want to say we’ve had them. We talk about opportunities that manifest once in a lifetime — how are you going to feel afterwards if you pull every punch? What do you tell the folks back home? “Yeah I looked into that gaping maw with my palms sweating and I couldn’t do it.” Explain that about your work — you wanted to go for the jugular and you had your teeth on that throbbing vein, and you didn’t take a bite.
I looked at that bridge with grandma bobbing on the air drafts right in the middle, I climbed that narrow staircase down onto its wobbly, bouncy, wood-slatted surface swearing the whole time.
I made it across, threw myself onto the ground, panting, sweaty, and snapped the above photo because even though I’d done it, it was the closest I was willing to get to the edge to get a shot of the rocky beach below.
I later learned that the little “island” at the other side was actually a dormant volcano, responsible for the strange geometric configurations found several miles away at the Giant’s Causeway. It erupted approximately 60 million years ago, and the hexagonal basalt configurations were the results of the cooled lava. I sat my butt down, gurgling water, regained my breath, and realized that after I’d explored the volcano, the only way back was across the bridge again.
It wasn’t as bad. I even looked down, knowing I’d done it once before and I hadn’t died. (It still sucked.)
All this to say, though, sometimes you’ve gotta take that trip; you’ve gotta go there to say that you can. That’s today’s lesson: you’ve got to face down the things that scare you to learn that sometimes they’re not so bad, and sometimes, you just really need to see what’s on the other side of that bridge.
Even if the view sorta looks the same. :/