Monday, May 21, 2012

"Judgment Day in a Dark World: Searching for the Self through Family and Horror" by Patrick Williams

I had a conversation with a student this semester; he is a musician and we were discussing dark narratives and how people perceive the creators of said narratives. For example, how does our reading Stephen King’s texts influence the way we perceive him as a person? In the simplest terms, how many readers think, “This guy has to be a sick fuck to come up with these plots”?

And this discussion got me thinking. . .

Dead Meat was recently published by Permuted Press. In the book, there’s plenty of gore, cursing, and just a flat out brutal exploration of the human psyche and its complexities and inconsistencies. And I wonder, how will my kids view me when they read this book and the others I hope to publish?

My nine year old stepson periodically looks at the cover of Dead Meat, and I can’t help but wonder what goes through his innocent brain. The only thing he knows is that the book is about zombies. He doesn’t understand the depth of the story or the darkness of human nature explored in the book. I’m waiting for the day where I walk into my office and see him lounging in the recliner with Dead Meat open in his lap. Will he cringe at the gore? The cussing? The, as King puts it, “dark fuckery of the human heart”?

And that’s not all. On top of my stepson, my wife broke the news to me, stating, “I just don’t see you as a horror writer.” And she’s right; since we started dating years ago, she’s always known my poetry and my desire to write fantasy. I don’t think I really see myself as a horror writer necessarily, but the gore, the characters, and the plots can be so enticing at times.

Finally, all of the previous episodes were capped by my brother and co-author of Dead Meat, Chris. We’ve been working on a series of novellas, and he’s got a great idea of one that involves pre-teen children. The story will take place in the Dead Meat world, and the thought of hurting these characters that have yet to be written made me cringe. I didn’t know if I could write it, and I’m still not sure.

But I will. I must. This is just another hurdle for writers, another sacrifice made for the sake of the art of storytelling.

There will always be someone who doesn’t care for the genre, and there will always be people who will judge the morals, ethics, and values of authors who write brutal fiction. But in the end, fuck those people; they aren’t the ones who matter. Those who matter are the readers, the fans of the genre, and then those young children, my children, who run to me when they’re scared, when the house is too dark, or when they hear the noises outside.

Will they still run to me when they know I’m capable of scaring them just as much as the world outside? Will they look at Dad differently, knowing that he purposely murders people (in stories), telling their agonizing deaths in great lengths to appease the readers’ hunger? Will my kids think of them as “just stories”?

This reminds me of a Sylvia Plath poem titled “Child”:

Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new

Whose name you meditate --
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

A zombie book is as potent as Plath’s closing images, but the fact that there’s a darkness within me, or at least a perceived darkness, remains. And while I want to show my children the ducks and everything else beautiful about our world, I know that regardless of the situation, they’ll eventually see my “troublous / Wringing of hands” and “this dark / Ceiling,” whether I want them to or not. I can’t protect them from how they’ll eventually see their father/stepfather when it comes to the book and how they interpret it. I can only hope that my role as a loving parental figure will outweigh the perceived darkness residing in me.

In the end, we all make sacrifices. But hopefully, those sacrifices are based on educated and informed decisions. In this case, a case many authors face, we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of telling a story. We willingly take on this dark persona, even if it’s initially nonexistent, to fuel our passions, our desires to create compelling stories.

So when my children grow and eventually read the book, they’ll pose the difficult question: “What made you think of this, Dad?” 

The love of the art, I’ll answer. And that’s the best, most meaningful answer I can give, the only answer that can make a moral out of this story:

Follow your dreams, even if they take down a rabbit hole, through a social and cultural collapse, and into a post-apocalyptic zombie infested world.

1 comment:

  1. I was reading through the collected works of J.L. Borges tonight and stumbled across a reflective passage that reminded me of your ruminations here. From this point on I'll let the master storyteller speak for himself:

    "A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that that patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face."

    *31 October 1960. From the Afterword to _The Maker_ (1960), collected in _Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions_, translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Penguin, 1998. p. 327.

    -Michael Noschka