Who we are vs. what we write

Posted: February 9, 2012 in In my opinion...
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The current hot topic amongst my network of horror writing friends is the difference between the writer and his or her work, and how some people have trouble making the distinction.

One writer bemoaned the fact that, although he is in person a pleasant and laid-back fellow, his ‘extreme’ writing sees him ostracised from some circles.  Another recently took offense (and rightly so) because someone assumed that, as a horror writer, his parenting skills must therefore be lacking.  Autumn Christian talks about the dissonance between who she appears to be and what she writes about in her recent guest post, “Some difficulties in being a female horror writer”.

I see it as being an occupational hazard; it’s a bit like being an actor and having people frequently confuse you with the characters that you play.  If you’re a superstar like Stephen King, you can (or more likely have to) just roll with it, have a little fun with it, even.  Live in some gothic-looking mansion with bats and spider webs all over your front gate and take cameo roles in TV shows as the creepy guy whose job it is to ‘disappear’ dead bodies.

For the rest of us, it’s not so simple.  I’d particularly like to invite my friends who are erotica writers into this discussion, because I suspect they have it even worse than the horror writers.  All the erotica writers I know write under pseudonyms.  One of them, when she set up her erotica blog, asked me, please, please, PLEASE don’t ‘out ‘her real name, because she didn’t want the people in her town to find out (don’t worry, your secret is safe with me).  Sex and death, the bookends of life, the two biggest human taboos.  Because isn’t that what horror writing is really all about, death and our response to its inevitability?

The thing is, dear readers, that writers are no more or less weird than the rest of the world, regardless of what Chuck Wendig says.  And we don’t live out the fictions we commit to the page. Not all erotica writers spend their leisure time chained to the walls of a BDSM dungeon, participating in orgies or playing Adult Musical Chairs.  Some might, but not all.  Horror writers are not all itching to take to you with a blunt chainsaw and a flamethrower (some might, but not all…).

In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret; most of us are big wusses, and are still afraid of the monster under the bed (it’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real…).  That’s the real reason why we write horror; not to revel in it or glorify it, but as a way to cope with our deep-seated terrors.

So next time someone says, “I’m a horror writer,” don’t sidle away.  Don’t shun him or her.  What they really need is, not your distrust and condemnation, but a nice cup of tea and a hug.

Flowers and chocolates won't go astray, either.

  1. John Irvine says:

    Great blog, Tracie… I do love reading your writing of any kind.

    I don’t know about others, but I write horror because it’s fun! One may be anyone and do anything one desires with being arrested… or burned at the stake.

    • Fun! Of course! I knew I was forgetting something! And as writers, we all hope that our readers get some measure of enjoyment out of our work, too. Perhaps the real question should be not what is wrong with horror writers, but what is wrong with the people who like to read horror.

  2. As a fellow horror writer, I find myself dealing with this to a degree as well. Like you said…it’s a bit different because I’m a guy, but there’s still that sideways glance of, “Oh, you wrote THAT story? I think I left the stove on at home…excuse me!”

    My general experience has been that horror writers are simply some of the nicest people. They don’t have to do any of the horrors that they write about, perhaps BECAUSE they write about it. If we get the desire to feed a person through a wood chipper, we can write about it and get it out of our system. It’s cathartic. And honestly, if you’re renting the chipper, you’ll never get your deposit back…it’s just a big hassle. Writing it out is so much easier. It’s the ones with the actual wood chipper and no other outlet you have to worry about.

    • Interesting that you mention “because I’m a guy” – female horror writers do seem to be particularly subject to anti-horror prejudices.

      And yes – the cathartic aspect of writing horror can never be underestimated.

  3. ajbrown says:

    How about a nice cup of coffee instead? And a hug would be nice.

    Tracie, let me add one more thing to this: Religion and sexuality play a huge role in how we are viewed as writers as well. I write horror… there, I said it. But guess what? i have a firm belief in God. Yet, if I were to tell my Christian friends that I write horrific stories, a lot of them would view me completely different. They shouldn’t, but they do.

    Also, with homosexuality–breach that topic with folks and see what happens. No, i’m not homosexual, but I have quite a few friends who are and they are just like you and I and should be treated with the same respect. Then say that person is a horror writer, too. Whoa… the speculation as to why the person is either gay or a horror writer comes up and the stupidity of some people come out.

    As a writer, you shouldn’t have to defend your fiction work. It is fiction, right??

    • Sexuality, religion – all those wonderful topics we’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table! And all things that inform our writing, just as the rest of our personal experiences do. I recently had an experience where I was worried I was going to be judged negatively because I wasn’t gay…
      It’s surprising how many people have trouble telling the difference between fiction and reality. Stephen King got in trouble when he had a character kick a dog to death (I think it was in “The Dead Zone”), and some readers took him to task for animal cruelty.

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