Of all the short stories I need to rewrite, there’s only one I never seem to get anywhere with. You guessed it, it’s a horror story.
The reason progress has been so slow on this one is because re-reading it frightens me.
My desk faces the window, with a lovely view of thick vines, flowers, honeybees, and the occasional hummingbird. The price I pay for having that view is that I have my back to the door (which was an anxiety I sought to break myself of, since despite all my training, the likelihood of being assaulted is so slim). There’s also a fold-out couch behind me. Every single time I get to work on this story, I feel someone there… sitting on the couch with one knee over the other; or crouched in the doorway. Watching. Waiting… and I can’t stand it.
I don’t have a great deal of exposure to the genre because I get nightmares so easily. My senses prickle to things in the dark — listening for silences that could be body-shaped.
I’ve tried writing in other parts of the house, or in coffee shops, or with my partner sitting next to me; but in those places of safety I can’t summon the emotional reality that the story requires. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. I’m not talking about revulsion, or gore, or torture porn; that’s nothing. I’m talking about the kind of horror that steals your sleep and eats your safety.
What does it take to be a good horror writer? What safeguards do they put in place? Or, are the greatest working from a place of pure catharsis, without a need to come down afterward? Perhaps the only way is to develop a relationship with fear — to actively seek the nightmares — and to fall in love with one’s own death.
Which invites a whole other set of demons to the door.
Maybe next time I take on that story, I’ll set up a lovely tea service and a kitten in a the next room. That way, I can come out, settle in, and pretend it isn’t a trap.
“I learn by going where I have to go.”
— Theodore Roethke