I tend to write creepy. I blame my parents. They let me watch horror movies when I was little (seeing The Shining at five years old does something to a person), gave me a book of classic horror stories for my seventh birthday (it included The Telltale Heart, my introduction to Poe) and hardly blinked when I was devouring Stephen King by fourth grade. Of course all this found its way into my writing, even the one page stories I scrawled into the composition book my folks gave me. Doubtless any psychologist would have had a field day with that book, but that’s how my brain worked. How it still works. I had and have a fascination with the strange, the unusual, the eerie. Things that twist the way we see the world, that suggest that reality is deeper and darker and more dangerous than we know.
This is what intrigues me, speaks to me, and hence what produces my sharpest writing. Even my mainstream stories have creepy elements to them (I mentioned Ebb and Flow in my last post, which doesn’t involve anything supernatural, but does involve the death and funeral of a baby), and my creepier stories are the ones that have found the most success. My novel Haunted … well, the title speaks for itself. There are several kinds of hauntings involved, psychological as well as paranormal, but all of them have a level of creepiness to them.
When I was first considering pursuing writing as a career at the tender age of nine, my dad told me I shouldn’t write horror. That I would be pigeon-holed, and no one would ever take me seriously. I’ve spent a long time apologizing for what I write, and I still find myself trying to legitimize my work. Like writing dark science fiction and ghost stories is less valuable than writing mainstream, “literary” fiction.
It’s sadly not an uncommon viewpoint, but it can and should be fought. What makes writing, any writing, effective is how it connects to the reader, how it speaks to our common human experience. And the dark, the eerie, the creepy, is part of our common human experience. We all have nightmares. We all go through childhood afraid of what we do not yet understand, and go through adulthood afraid of the corruption of what we know and rely on. And we all die, in a myriad of ways, and none of us know what lies beyond our last breath, the last beat of our hearts. (I say this as a devout Catholic with a masters degree in theology. I believe in the resurrection and eternal union with God, but damned if I know what that actually looks like.) Facing the things that make us afraid and exploring their depths is a valuable experience. It’s not for everyone, but few things are. That doesn’t make it any less a legitimate form of literature.
I’d encourage anyone who wants to write to write what speaks to you, because you’re depriving both yourself and your audience by limiting yourself to what you think you should be writing, or what they should be reading. Writing what speaks to you is what gives your writing authenticity, which is the only test of legitimacy that matters.