Inside the Macabre Mind of the Horror Writer

Within each and every one of us are those dark thoughts that causes our skin to prickle and muscles to shiver in terror, thoughts that horrifically shame us. Deep in the recesses of each human mind is darkness. That darkness is what fuels our terror and nightmares. It is what gives us our conscience, our morality. However, there is a breed of humans that feed off the darkness and wallow in pits of of human fear. Those special, select humans are the ones that dabble in the writing of horror. The key difference between horror writers and others is that those who script the macabre shine a big spotlight on the darkness within their minds, drawing attention to it, where the majority of other writers prefer to not acknowledge that aspect of their being.

Now please, do not begin thinking that horror writers have dead bodies hiding in our basements or goat heads stung up on a shrine within our closets or that we are only driven by the macabre every second of our lives. We are not our characters. We do not live out the scenarios written about in our stories. Our fascination with horror resides only in our heads and when we put pen to paper. For most of us, we get a high off writing dark fiction. These horrible things that run through our minds, we want to share it. To give everyone else the thrill that we experience when we bring the darkness out from our minds and into the light. We love evoking the fight or flight response. And admit it, as a reader, you get a kick off of sitting at the edge of your seat. When you are at that peak during reading one of our ghastly tales, we have done our jobs. When you put our book down and walk away with a trembling feeling that you just survived a near-death experience, we have become the masters of sharing the true terror of our minds.

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

Horror is that shift in perspective away from the ordinary, everyday life. The genre is a path into a new parallel universe that rips the ground out from beneath your feet, casting you a hundred miles per hour to the core of the story while your mind prays you make it out alive. When you do surface from the grave, you feel more alive than ever. You have just survived Hell. That is why we do it. That is why we are so obsessed with the darkness within our minds, and yearn for the satisfaction of sharing it with the world through the written word. We want to bring you that shift in your reality, to knock you off your feet, to make you feel death, to make you fear the darkness, and to make you run like mad back to the pure light of all that is good.   Because what is darkness without light, and light without darkness?

Fear defines who we are

Fear is one of the strongest emotions humans feel.  Fear makes us pause and take every second of our lives into account.  Fear makes us realize what is and what is not important.  Fear makes us realize the limits of our mortality.

Fear is the ultimate emotion, which clings to us.  Any event that is tied to this emotion is forever burned in our brains; an emotion that cannot be forgotten.

We, as humans, give into this the emotion, allowing it to shape our lives.  It defines who we are and who we become.

I attribute my obsession to the macabre to a fright that I had as a child.  A fright that haunted most of my childhood years and sadly lends to my paranoia with mirrors.

I will never forget the Saturday afternoon special of Alice in Wonderland (Part 2), directed by Harry Harris, which I saw in 1986.  It was a normal weekend afternoon, I sat on the floor, curled up in a blanket and eating a PB and Mayo sandwich.  Earlier shows of the series were bright, fun, and comical.  I was excited about how much fun Alice was having in Wonderland.  It never occurred to me that such a nightmare would be awaiting us that afternoon…

It begins to dawn on me that something is amok when she is on the opposite side of the looking glass from her parents.  No matter how loud she screams or how hard she pounds at the glass, she is unable to gain their attention.

Just as the electricity goes out, a shuffling sound emanates from the parlor. From what light filters through the window, I watch in terror as it comes toward us, each footstep resonating in my ears. An ominous feel overtakes the room. Lightning flashes and for a split second I cannot see anything, but I can still hear the monster coming, even above the din of thunder.

I look at Alice and see her eyes go wide as the creature nears her from behind. My breath stills. From the old floral print wing-backed chair she slams the antique book shut, jumps from the seat, and turns toward the parlor. The words she recited from the ancient text unleashed the monster from where it was once locked away.

She lets out a high-pitched scream as she steps backwards from the advancing menace. Her eyes look locking onto the monster as her blonde hair shimmers in the darkness.

I cannot look away. Its red eyes blaze as it screeches in her direction. Maw wide open, glistening needle-like teeth protruding from is black jaws. A thick purple tongue forks out and curls at the end of its cry. I yearn to run and hide, but I am frozen in fear.

Alice continues to scream, backing away from the monster.

“Please don’t hurt me,” Alice says, crying. “Please, please.”

It screams again at her and stretches out its horrid, battered wings. Like the wings of a bat that escaped from the depths of hell. Then it looks in my direction where I sit, cowering on the floor with a blanket held up to my neck. If I stay motionless, will it not see me?

As she continues to retreat, Alice stumbles over a chessboard that is sitting on the end table. She tries to quickly turn and catch the board before it falls, but it is too late. All the game pieces clatter to the floor and the monster quickens its pace towards her.

Taking the blanket and leaving my sandwich, I get up and run behind a chair, peeking out to watch the monster move in on her.

“You are not real, you are not real,” Alice says with her face in her hands and back to the creature that looms closer.

I hold my breath as I watch from my sanctuary behind the old orange recliner. My hands tremble as I continue to clutch the blanket to my throat. I echo Alice’s voice in my mind, You are not real, you are not real.

And then the lights come back on. Silence fills the room. Alice stands and turns around, the Jabberwocky has disappeared.

Still cowering behind the chair, I worry about Alice. Is she safe?

She sighs with relief, but deep down I know that it will be back. Once you unlock a daemon, it is impossible to escape from it.

For the next hour, I continue to covertly hide and spy on Alice from behind my father’s recliner; preparing for the horrors that await Alice in Wonderland.

And from that TV movie, my fear-driven fascination with monsters and the macabre is born.

Here is the link to the original terror:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7dxhbHAGRE

And just to pile on more Jabberwocky:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DV7ASH_BHR0

“Go back – he’ll kill you… He really will!!”

©2013, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivative – visit Amanda Headlee — It is Always Darkest Before the Dawn for the original source of this content.

Happy 165th Birthday, Bram Stoker!!

The writings of Bram Stoker are words that I take to heart.  The pages of his novels flow with mysticism and the occult.  A wondrous world of true Horror.  The eloquence in his words is hypnotic, and it takes all powers of God to force me to put his novels down.  I must devour each book in one sitting – cover to cover.

Photo from "Internet Archive" of the movie Dracula (1931) (http://www.archive.org/details/Dracula1931-Trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsLately, I have been on this kick of writing stories that are heavily based in folklore with a light twist of the macabre added in for an additional effect.  I find a resonance with Stoker as his stories are derived in this same manner.  His research for the heart of his novels’ settings is laid on the foundation of the regional folklore.  For instance, the Gothic fiction Dracula (1897) is believed to have come into life from stories based on dark lore from the Carpathian Mountains.  His research embodied all European mythologies of the Vampie… er, I mean the Vampyre (nod to Polidori).  Stoker poured these historical facts from this region into Dracula and spun one of the greatest Vampire legends of all times.

So in honor of one of the greatest masters of Horror, I am going to leave you with some interesting fun facts about the man of the hour:

On April 20th 1912, Stoker passed away from what was believed to be tertiary syphilis.  I find a trace of irony in his place of death.  He died at Number 26 St. George’s Square.  His greatest novel of all times is heavy with the St. George and the Dragon allegory, where Van Helsing and his men (the embodiment of St. George) succeed in slaying Dracula (the Dragon).

Stoker originally titled Dracula as The Un-Dead, but changed the title shortly before publishing.

After his death, his widow, Florence, published a collection of his short stories, which she titled Dracula’s Guests and Other Weird Stories (1914).  It has long been speculated that these short stories are actually the deleted first chapter of Dracula.  The unnamed main character is believed to be none other than Jonathan Harker.

Stoker is the third of seven children born to a Dublin family.

He was the personal assistant of famed English stage actor, Henry Irving, and was also the business manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theater in London.

Happy Birthday, Bram Stoker!   Your writings are deeply engrained in the world of Literature, and shall remain as a part of our history for all time.

©2012, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivative – visit Amanda Headlee — It is Always Darkest Before the Dawn for the original source of this content.

The Synergy of Halloween and Horror

Tonight, the gateway between the worlds has all but disappeared.  Departed souls shall cross over into our world and walk amid the living.  Some Spirits come with peace and love, other come with a more sinister agenda.  A night of terror awaits those of mortal blood who may stumble across the path of a Spirit with an ulterior motive.

Fear, macabre, horror… all characteristics that make up the holiday of Halloween as we know it today.  Yet, Halloween’s roots were not originally embedded within the realm of horror.  The origins of Halloween stems from the Gaelic festival, Samhain (pronounced Sow-en).   This holiday is celebrated at the harvest season when summer ends and autumn begins.  During this seasonal shift, the Gaels harvest their crops and prepare for the approaching winter.  October 31st, was an integral date within this time because it is the day that the Gaels believed the veil between the Spirit and mortal world was at its thinnest.  Spirits who passed during the previous year had a chance on this day to return to Earth.  Relatives and loved ones would beckon the Spirits to come through, and the living would honor the Spirit with Samhain festivities.  This Gaelic celebration is very much akin to el Dia de los Muertos in Latin American traditions, which is a festival that is celebrated to this very day.

Out of this festival of Samhain grew stories that would evolve into modern day Halloween traditions.  Certain stories about this festival have a more sinister side to the Spirits return to Earth.  Some stories say that the Spirits return on October 31st to possess a mortal’s body so that the Spirit can once again enjoy the spoils of the Earth.  In order to thwart possession, an entire village would put out all their lights on this evening, which would cause the Spirits to walk through a dark village.  Seeing no lights within the homes, the Spirits would believe that there was no one among the living, so they would take their leave and return to their dimension.  Other stories say that the Gaels would dress up in costumes of animals and dance around a bonfire in order to scare away any evil spirits that have come to cause harm upon the season’s crops.

Other Halloween traditions grew out of the Christian version of the holy days , All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day.  The two main traditions for these days are gathering “treats” and Jack-o’-lanterns.  Both of these Christian holy days were for prayer to free trapped souls from purgatory.  Soul cakes were baked and collected door-to-door as a means to pray for these purgatory-trapped souls.  In Brittany, children would light candles in skulls and place them in graveyards as a representation of these souls.  This tradition would be one of a few early influences of the modern day Jack-o’-lantern. 

Lighting candles in skulls in a graveyard, of all places, is rather morbid, and the perfect jumping point for tying Horror and Halloween together in a harmonious relationship.

Today we have grown to expect a bit of terror on this day, which was originally established to honor the dead.  We would be too desensitized to go “trick-or-treating” just for soul cakes and then praying for the souls in purgatory.  Over these years we have been exposed to haunted amusement attractions, gory costumes, slice-em’ dice-em’ Halloween based Horror flicks, that praying for a bunch of souls would be rather lost on us.  For the month leading up to this day: the television is plagued with horror movies,  book stores predominantly display Horror novels on their end caps,  horror writing competitions have beguiled the Internet,  haunted houses are popping up along Interstates everywhere…  Halloween and Horror have a true symbiotic relationship today that is deeply ingrained in traditions of antiquity.

So as you get dressed up tonight to go bang on some stranger’s door for some candy that will probably rot out your teeth, won’t you please think of those poor souls who are trapped in purgatory?

Happy Haunting!

©2012, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivative – visit Amanda Headlee — It is Always Darkest Before the Dawn for the original source of this content.

An Ode to Halloween

The twilight is upon us, and All Hallow’s Eve is almost here. Tales of yore say that when time is past midnight on the night of October 31st, the veil between this world and the Spirits’ is at its thinnest. The dissipation of this veil allows our Earth’s departed souls to once again be free to traverse among the living. Some great Spirits bring to the living tidings of love, while others deliver messages of true horror.

What Spirits shall you attract on the night when the dimensions converge?

Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allen Poe (1827)

Thy soul shall find itself alone

‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;

Not one, of all the crowd, to pry

Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,

Which is not loneliness — for then

The spirits of the dead, who stood

In life before thee, are again

In death around thee, and their will

Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,

And the stars shall not look down

From their high thrones in the Heaven

With light like hope to mortals given,

But their red orbs, without beam,

To thy weariness shall seem

As a burning and a fever

Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,

Now are visions ne’er to vanish;

From thy spirit shall they pass

No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,

And the mist upon the hill

Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,

Is a symbol and a token.

How it hangs upon the trees,

A mystery of mysteries!

Here is a sweet little prelude to a special Halloween 2012 blog post:  The Synergy of Halloween and Horror

©2012, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivative – visit Amanda Headlee — It is Always Darkest Before the Dawn for the original source of this content.