Whence the Scares?


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As a horror writer, I am often asked where I get my ideas from. (I'm also asked about the voices in my head - sometimes by the other voices in my head, which is weird - but that's a whole other therapy session.) And the sad answer is that there's no one answer. The ideas I get can come from anywhere: a radio piece I found interesting, a disturbing dream I had after too much hot sauce on my tacos, or just me watching a movie and thinking "they did that wrong."

That being said, all of the scary things I write about have one thing in common: they scare me.

An example: my most recent horror novel, Apparition, has been Amazon's list of bestselling supernatural horror for months now. It's about a family in which the mother goes insane and tries to stab her children to death. The father stops her, and she turns the knife on herself. Months later, the father is trying to cope with the loss of his wife, the kids are trying to get over it, they're trying to heal... and the father starts feeling urges to kill his children. Hijinks ensue.

Now a lot of people have asked how a devoted family man (which I am) could come up with something so messed up... something that revolves around the destruction of a family. And the answer is, of course, that that is the reason it's so scary. It is a story about the destruction of something I hold most dear. So how could it fail to be terrifying? Horror critics all over seem to agree with me (I'll avoid the temptation to spew quotes about how cool the book is; besides, I'm sure you've already bought it by now).

The thing with horror is that it is a universal element of life. We are born crying, terrified of a world which suddenly shows itself to be much larger, brighter, and more daunting than the womb we think of as our universe during our early months. Boo-boos and owies are the stitching in the tapestry of our childhood. Adolescence is as purely terrifying a time as any I can think of. And then we grow up, have children of our own... and suddenly we fear for more than just our own selves.

I don't mean to paint a maleficent picture here. The fear we all experience is just that: an experience. And we can either use it to tear us down, or we can create stories about it that meld us together like warriors against a dark invading army. We tell stories of terror so that we may come to control our fear. We whisper ghost tales around the campfire so that, come the dawn (and assuming all the campers have survived), we can clap hands and celebrate and draw tighter together as a community.

Fear is uncomfortable. But it is a fact of life. It is a facet of growth.

Where do I get my scary ideas from? From life. From the loss of the things most important to me. And so I tell stories about those things, in the hopes that by doing so I can ward off the losses, or at least cope better when they inevitably come. My stories of terror come from my own fear. But like many, they are really stories of hope. Tales in which I pray to be greater than the fear that I know must come upon me.

Halloween season is upon us. A month long celebration of all things dark and gruesome, a night of terror. But it is also a night of treats. We brave the darkness, we step onto paths decorated with the incarnations of our deepest fears... and in so doing, we may (we hope) win the prize.

Happy Halloween, everyone!