Guest post by Michaelbrent Collings.
I am a guy who writes scary stuff. It’s basically all I do. I’m one of the bestselling horror writers on Amazon, a supernatural horror movie I wrote came out last year, and in 2013 I have another horror flick (this one of the “axe-wielding maniac” variety) slated to hit theaters.
I do write other things, but I specialize in ghosts and goblins. In things that go bump in the night, in demons that steal souls, in madmen whose greatest desire is to maim and to kill.
In my most recent bestselling horror novel, Apparition, I write extensively about filicide – about parents who kill their children. And in my book, the parents who commit such atrocities do so with gusto, with relish, with lust. It is, as many reviewers have said, not only scary, but a deeply disturbing book. My upcoming novel, Darkbound, which bows on January 28, 2013, is a story about six strangers who get on a subway train where all their worst fears come true. It will probably make Apparition look like a nighty-night story for toddlers.
To reiterate: I am a guy who writes scary stuff.
I am also a father who adores his children, a husband who loves his wife to a point that verges at times on worshipfulness. And I am a fairly (I hope) faithful member of the LDS church, who served a full-time mission and returned with honor, and who continues to serve in ecclesiastical positions whenever asked in whatever capacity I can.
I am someone who believes in good and bad, and in a God who loves us.
This last is particularly interesting. There have been a lot of conversations at church that have gone like this:
Other Church Person: Hi! You must be new here!
Me: Yup! Just moved in.
OCP: Well, glad to have you. What do you do.
Me: I’m a writer.
OCP: How cool! Like, Harry Potter?
Me: Yeah. If Harry bursts into flames and then murders Ron and Hermione.
OCP: Um… huh….
I’m exaggerating a bit. Most people at church are actually very welcoming and interested in my work (I’m going to see a scary movie with the bishop this Friday). But there are a lot of surprised looks when they realize I wrote that book, or that movie. Because how could someone so normal-seeming, so loving, who says such nice things when he raises his hand in (or even teaches) Gospel Doctrine class write stuff like… that?
The answer is in the question: it’s precisely because I am those things that horror comes so easily to me. Because horror is by far the most hopeful and Godly (note the capital “g”) of all the genres.
To be sure, there are plenty of horror stories out there that are nothing more than an excuse to go diving in the sewers of the mind. The kind of movies and books that basically make their audiences feel like taking a shower afterward… if not just taking a Brillo to the surface of their brains to get those images out.
But the thing about horror is that because it is, by definition, horrible, it also allows for goodness to bloom. In taking us to the depths of misery it allows us to climb to the heights of heroism.
An example: during history classes in U.S. schools, wars are taught more than anything else. Partly this is because wars determine history more than almost any other factor. Partly it is because wars are intrinsically dramatic and therefor interesting.
And of all the wars taught, there are two that are taught more than any other: WWII and the Civil War. There are a lot of erudite, scholarly reasons that could be given for this. But they are wrong. The simple fact is that in these two wars we saw something rare: a clear “good” guy and an even clearer “bad” guy. There was no way of painting the South as anything but evil, since their primary political platform rested on the backs of African slaves. Similarly, Hitler’s entire philosophy was one of megalomaniacal hatred and genocide. He even had the black moustache preferred by evildoers since caveman times (Snidely Whiplash and Yosemite Sam are actually based on cave paintings found in Mesopotamia).
So the lines were drawn. The evil stood on one side, the good on the other. And these were not genteel, rule-abiding evils. If you ever want a real definition of “horror,” read about what happened at places like Dachau and Buchenwald, imagine what occurred during the Bataan Death March, try to put yourself in the place of the slaves transported from Africa to the Southern Confederacy in the bellies of ships we wouldn’t consider humane for cockroaches today.
The horror was real, and it was beyond the imagining of most of us.
But just as important… the horror, the evil, the wickedness failed to conquer. There were perils, there were terrors. Real people were challenged, many lost their lives. Perhaps even worse, those that did not die lived lives marred by mental and physical maimings, by emotional and psychic traumas the true depths of which no other mortal soul could understand.
But we went on. Heroes were made, not born. Humanity rose above itself and, in the best of moments, became enough – if only just enough – to combat the evil.
Another example: I remember seeing a movie during a trip to Temple Square in Salt Lake City. In it, Moroni is depicted walking through desert sands, across mountains. I was moved to tears. Not by the beauty of the moment, but by the horror of what he had to have experienced.
Think of it: for the last decades of his life he was hunted at every turn, knowing that if he saw a human being, it was likely an enemy. Someone who would try to kill him or force him to recant his faith – which amounted to the same thing. I wept, because I could imagine no greater exercise in terror, in despair.
And what does all this have to do with writing horror?
Horror has power possessed by no other genre. It can take us to the depths. It can then leave us there to rot, which is not my style, or it can then bring us back up… and in so doing show us that salvation is possible even from the profoundest darkness. It can possess a child and put her through terrible privations and suffering… but then rescue her, and in so doing remind us that if there is a Devil, perhaps there is also a God.
There are many kinds of horror. There are those that celebrate evil, and I don’t like those so much. I’m not advocating for a book-burning (one of the lessons we’ve learned). I’m just saying I personally don’t like those stories.
But I do like the horror that examines evil. And then shows us its weaknesses. Shows us that it can be beaten. And shows us, most importantly, that we are not it. That we are better than it. That we are more than what we fear.
When looking around at the community of Mormon horror writers, it’s (pardon the pun) sinfully small. There are Mormon fantasists, Mormon sci-fi writers. There are Mormon poets and Mormons who write highly “literary” works (whatever that means). But not many who write horror: the one remaining genre where we are not only allowed but at times demanded to assert our faith, to bear testimony to the divine reality that hides just out of sight behind our world.
Horror is the failure of hope, and perhaps that scares many members of the church away. Or perhaps it is the fact that some horror certainly revels in blood and gore and sex and obscenity for its own sake, and I certainly am not writing this to say that such must be sought after. But….
The Nazis fought to subjugate humanity. But humanity would not be chained, would not be cowed.
The South wished an entire race enslaved. But that race would only be free, and good men and women took up arms in their defense.
Moroni walked in complete isolation, doomed to solitude and fear. But he never gave up hope, and angels came and ministered to him.
It is only in that final moment when hope fails that we can find faith, and in so doing can rise above our fallen states and find a bit of divinity within ourselves. It is only in horror that hope can rise again. The Atonement, certainly the most horrific event in all of human history, was also the thing that enabled us to return to God. And so it may be when horror is used carefully in literature, that we may remember that our traumas and trials are not the end… they are just the beginning, and the way He makes bare His arms in our lives.
Michaelbrent Collings has written numerous bestselling novels and is a produced screenwriter and member of the Writers Guild of America, Horror Writers of America, and his newest novel, Darkbound, will be available on Amazon on January 28, 2013. Follow him and his writings at www.facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings or michaelbrentcollings.com.