Why so dark?

by Alex

We’ve talked about what our literary influences have been, and JT talked yesterday about how we collect characters from around us (that is, so I hear – I wasn’t able to get on for some reason).

But I spent a couple hours yesterday in an interview talking about how to write horror and that got me to wondering about the life incidents that led us to choose this dark genre of ours (some of us darker than others….).

For instance, I realized after seeing the movie ZODIAC this week that the Zodiac killer was a huge early – influence?  Inspiration?  Impression?  What I mean is, I grew up in California and even years after this guy had dropped off the map, we kids were scaring ourselves senseless by telling ourselves Zodiac stories around the fire at Girl Scout camp. He was our Boogey Man.   

My dad grew up in Mexico and he had a passel of ghost stories that he’d pull out around the campfire to scare us with.

Also, since Dad is a scientist and Russian, and attended a lot of scientific conferences that got turned into family road trips, I have early memories of us in the family station wagon being followed by the CIA because, you know, Russians were out to destroy the world at the time.    All that ever happened was that they followed us around but naturally I’d spice the whole thing up in my imagination – my first attempts at thrillers.

It’s only recently occurred to me that perhaps I write ghosts because I went to a haunted high school – specifically, the grand and decrepit old auditorium where I spent most of my high school, rehearsing choir programs and plays, was supposedly haunted by a girl named Vicki who died the night of her prom back in the 20’s.    Yes, yes, I know that’s a classic urban legend,  but we all believed in  Vicki, and there were parts of that auditorium where you just didn’t want to go, alone or with others.    Cold spots.   Strange noises.   Disappearing props.   

(But somehow it never once crossed my mind while I was writing THE HARROWING that I was writing about a haunted school because I went to a haunted school).

I also had some pretty scary experiences early on in life that made me realize that there was evil out there.    A child molester who’d been trolling the streets around my elementary school tried to grab me one afternoon when I was walking home from school.   He was a small and creepy man, and even though I didn’t have any sense of what child molesting was at the time, I knew there was something just wrong with him and I ran.    That was my first full-on experience of what evil looks and feels like, and it’s not something you forget or let go.

And I had friends, as we all do, who were not so lucky about escaping predators, and the anger about that has fueled a lot of my writing.

There’s more, of course, and once you start thinking of influences, it’s pretty fascinating how much you uncover about your motivations.

So I wondered what kinds of experiences from real life have made you all the dark, twisted writers you are…. and what in their own lives would make our ‘Rati readers seek out this genre?

9 thoughts on “Why so dark?

  1. Louise Ure

    Glad you got back on Typepad’s good side, Alex.

    I often quote the French author Colette, who said, “We write in order to live life twice.”

    In my case, I write so that I can perform better, or improve the situation the second time around. Be stronger and snappier against that would-be molester. Prevent the death of a second cousin who was hanged on his front porch by drug dealers. Con the con who tried to take my mother’s money away.

    It will be interesting to see what McLean has to say about this. I write out of frustration or despair with how things actually happened. I think he puts his anger on the page and writes about how he would like it to have happened.

  2. Alex Sokoloff

    That’s awful about your cousin, Louise, I’m sorry.

    I’m glad you said “tried” to take your mother’s money away – sounds like that had a happy ending.

    There is a lot of esprit d’escalier going on with writing. And pure revenge.

  3. Mike MacLean

    Louise, I don’t think I could’ve put that much better.

    I don’t think you can live in America today without being touched by violence—Alex’s run in with a predator is proof of that. I’m very fortunate that violence has only touched my life in small, peripheral ways. I think what fascinates me about crime fiction is the “what-could’ve-been’s.” How, at any moment, your whole life can change with the twitch of a trigger finger.

    As a middle-class white boy who never really got in much trouble, I also read crime fiction with the same sense of awe that I read science fiction. The world of crime is a foreign place to me. But unlike distant galaxies or fantastic lands, it’s far too close to home.

    And of course, writing about gunfights and murder and deals gone wrong is so damn fun.

  4. pari

    Alex,I don’t like looking into the face of evil often, but when I do, I want to be able to kick his nuts to the back of his head.

    Two people close to me were murdered. My cousin’s live-in boyfriend strangled her on New Year’s day. He was so despondent when he called the police that he almost succeeded in a suicide attempt. If only, the police had gotten there a little later — he might not have lived to get off on a mental disability plea.

    A high school friend was found floating in a ditch near a bar in a small town outside of ABQ. Her family hired a PI and is convinced that the son of a well-known politician was guilty of the crime. It remains “unsolved.”

    When I eventually write these two stories, you can bet your life I’ll make both of those people pay.

    How’s that for a nice, light comment? I don’t write horror, but, reading it can be incredibly cathartic.

  5. Alex Sokoloff

    Mike, yeah, I know what you mean about the “what could have beens”. I feel so lucky myself to have avoided so many things that could have been so life-shattering.

    Luck, and good instincts and a well-developed sense of self-preservation… some balance of those things that could tip at any time – that’s the scary part.

  6. Naomi

    Hello, Mistress of Darkness–

    I’ve been out, so I’m late to the party.

    At a young age, I heard war stories from my mother and grandmother in Hiroshima. These stories were communicated to me without melodrama–just the facts, ma’am. While some people can’t sit through frightening or sad movies, I feel drawn to them.

    And in terms of experiencing evil firsthand, I think that a lot of girls deal with unwanted sexual advances. So parents, enroll your girls in martial arts!

  7. Elaine Flinn

    I’m late to the party as well. For once – I’m glad to know I’ve little to contribute…other than to say…better learn street smarts at an early age. I was born and raised in Oakland, and while that ancient time was relatively peaceful – it didn’t take long before it changed. My mothers cousin was a homicide inspector with the Oakland PD and he told me tales and gave me advice – and showed me a few tricks – that I’ve never forgotten.

  8. Alex Sokoloff

    Naomi, it’s true – there was a lot of major fucking evil going on in WWII.

    And girls especially, but boys too, do experience a staggering amount of sexual harrassment and molestation. When I taught high school I couldn’t believe how many kids across the board had had traumatic experiences.

    Self-defense and self-assertiveness training is crucial… even better, a detective relative, like EE’s.


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