Are you lonely? Isolated? A little bit shy? Is black your favorite color? Do you often daydream about getting back at the Dunkin' Donuts clerk who puts sugar in your coffee when you specifically tell him not to? If you answer yes to all these questions, then horror fiction may be just the ticket you need to a bright, happy, prison-free future.
Here to guide annabelle through the world of horror is Nick Kaufmann, Brooklyn-based author of the short stories, "The Dead Stay Dead, "La Bête est Morte,"The Jew of Prague,and a short story collection to be published by Prime Books in the fall.
Mr. Kaufmann does not seem like your stereotypical horror writer. He doesn't have the lunatic eyes of a Stephen King or the eccentric kookiness of an Anne Rice. He's funny. Very funny, with a gloriously infectious laugh that should be trademarked and used in sitcoms. He's mild-mannered and friendly. So, how could such a regular guy write something like this?:
Ace was okay with a gun, but the others were better. They'd been doing it longer. Target practice, plowing, it was all part of what Deadbeat called the horror show.
The first time he heard about plowing, it made his stomach spaz out. Rotgut told him about the zombie chick he caught in an alley one night; he could tell it'd been a real hottie when it was alive, all tits and ass, and it wasn't too fucked up yet from being dead. He chopped of the its arms, tore open its dress and plowed her good; really got his rocks off, he said.
"Plowing," Rotgut said, "is what makes you a real Necro Fiend."
("Street Cred" by Nick Kaufmann)
I asked and he answered
Q. First of all, what should I call this genre? Is it horror fiction, terror fiction, or speculative fiction? I can''t figure it out.
A. Speculative fiction is often used more for what we call science fiction than the other genres like fantasy and horror because it's all about speculation rather than stark reality. But horror is such a strange word. Horror is an emotion. Horror is an effect you want to have on the reader. I'm not sure it really is a genre. I think in movies it's more identifiable as a genre than books.
Q. Did movies create the horror genre?
A. I'm not sure, but I know the literary genre of horror was invented by marketing departments in the '80s. It was a boom time and they said, "Let's make our own genre.
Horror movies have been around for a long time -- Edison made a movie of Frankenstein in 1910 -- but publisher pretty much didn't start putting the word horror on their book spines until the '80s boom. Before that, it was all labelled fiction, and there is a move in that direction again today.
Q. Where does Edgar Allen Poe fit in?
A. Edgar Allen Poe was considered the first at least Western horror writer because he was the one who understood it was about eliciting an emotion out of the reader. He wanted the reader to finish reading "The Pit and the Pendulum" or "The Masque of the Red Death" and feel freaked out. He also invented the modern mystery so he was quite an inventive guy.
Q. What elements make up the genre? Does a story have to be a mystery? Does it have to have a dwarf or a witch?
A. Horror is, to me, the genre of tragedy. It is bad things happening to people you care about.
Q. Is blood necessary?
A. No. I've read fantastic horror stories that don't shed a drop of blood. I've read horror stories where not a single person dies. And most people agree that horror is sort of a metaphor for dealing with death. But I've read stories where nobody dies.
Q. It seems like there's an emphasis on death and the unknown after death.
A. Right. It's really about metaphors for dealing with the unknown, and death, and life issues as well. One of the popularities of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the t.v. show, was that it dealt with all these issues of being a teenager in high school through the metaphor of horror. And it was wonderful; it worked really well. It purely just has to elicit that emotion. There doesn't have to be monsters or witches or any element of the supernatural. It's really just about a feeling, a tangible feeling that you get from reading these stories. Like, was it Ed Meese who said he knew pornography when he saw it but couldn't define it? ( It was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. -ed.) It's sorta the same with horror fiction. You know it when you see it but you can't really define it. It's a feel more than anything else, it's a feel.
Q. With this genre, do you feel most of the stories end optimistically? With happy endings?
A. It's a difficult question to answer because this brings up the subject of two different kinds of horror, at least in terms of the genre. There's commercial horror and then there's something that you might call category horror. Commercial horror is like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, those sorts. And they often have, not always, a happy ending. Things get resolved, the main character usually lives through the whole thing. Category horror is more like the hardcore stuff and a lot of those have real downer endings, which is fine. I have nothing against that. There's the tendency, though, to feel that because you're writing a horror story, you can't have a happy ending and that is wrong. You can have any kind of ending you want. It's your story and whatever works best for that story should be what's in the story. And sometimes you can actually read some stories where you feel the writers have shoved or shoehorned in an unhappy ending because that's what they have to do because it's a horror story. You can actually see in some stories where it should have gone and didn't. So it can go either way. A happy ending or a sad ending, as long as the story works.
Q. Do you feel there is a certain personality type that writes horror and that reads horror? In other words, do you feel the writers and the readers are a pretty close match personality-wise?
A. Not entirely. I know a lot horror writers who love heavy metal music and a lot of horror fans love heavy metal, but I bet that is all they would have in common, plus their love of horror.
Q. And their love of black?
A. And their love of black... But horror writers, the ones that I've met, are some of the sweetest people you'll ever meet. I go to writer's conferences and conventions and they're just wonderful people. They're funny and intelligent and bright, and they're not what people seemed to think horror writers would be like. They're not gloomy or deranged or violent.
I think most people who start writing horror fiction or suspense fiction at an early age, which I think the great majority do, but not all of them, but the ones who start at an early age writing this kind of darker stuff, had something in their childhood that was emotionally disturbing to them that they couldn't control. The urge to write horror fiction comes from that trying to control the bad things and control their environment. This make-believe environment where you're the creator, you're God. You can have whatever you want happen to whomever you want, which also is probably why so much of our fiction is revenge fiction. You know, where a scummy guy gets his comeuppance through supernatural and violent means.
Q. Do you think the genre is overlooked? Or people don't take it very seriously?
A. I think it has a bad rap now because when people think horror they think movies and there hasn't been a good horror movie in a while. When they come around, they're few and far between. They think slasher movies. They think the Friday the 13th movies. They think about scantily clad coeds getting stalked by somebody with a knife and it's all about violence. It's all about misogyny. It's all about blood. So, it's gotten a bad rap from that, but there's such good stuff out there. The weird thing about horror, though, is that I think it is one of those genres where it is defined in the mind of the general public by the worst elements in it rather than the best. So the average book-buying person who doesn't know horror very well will probably not read horror because they think it's just gore or mindless violence because of the movies.
Q. Talk about misogyny in horror.
A. A lot of it is accidental misogyny, in a way, because it's supposed to be not exactly sexualized violence. It's supposed to be horrific. I can't tell you how many stories I've read where a woman gets her nipple chopped off, or a breast chopped off, or stabbed in the vagina. By the way, those were all written by men.
Q. Are these guys just not getting dates?
A. No, I think it's more complicated than that. I think it's an attempt to be shocking and they don't realize that they're sexualizing violence. And I'm not going to actually take a stance against sexualized violence because, depending on the story, it can work. Especially if you're in the head of someone, the main character who is a misogynist, go for it, even though you do run the risk of people confusing character with author.
Q. Has that happened to you?
A. Yes, it happens to every writer, but in horror it's especially difficult because often you're in the head of really unsavory people and it can reflect on you because people don't see the line. They don't understand that it's fiction.
Q. Well, you mention a lot of the stories in the genre are about revenge and someone's comeuppance.
A. Yeah, a good fifty percent of horror fiction is about comeuppance. There's a lot of trite despicableness in some of those stories, too. For instance, just because somebody is having an affair doesn't mean he should die. You know what I mean? Like people who write stories about, like, somebody who cheats on his wife and then is murdered horribly.
Q. Yeah, you got to wonder what happened to that writer.
A. Yeah, I know. So, if you're going to have comeuppance fiction, comeuppance horror stories, really make it worth the getting their comeuppance. A friend of mine once told me about a comic book he saw with a story about kids eating chocolate bunnies for Easter and how they would always pull off the chocolate bunny head and eat that first. And then a giant bunny comes along and pulls their heads off and eats them. I'm thinking, What's the point of that comeuppance? Who got hurt and why do they need to die? It's ridiculous.
Q. But funny.
A. Funny, but ridiculous.
"Black is very slimming." Go To Page 2
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