The speaker in Stephen Crane’s poem “In the Desert” observes a creature as it eats its own heart and asks if it is good. The answer is that it is bitter:
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter
“And because it is my heart.”
Since it’s Women in Horror Month and it’s close to Valentine’s Day, I’m taking this guest post opportunity to share a piece of my heart. It’s dark and bloody, but I figure fellow horror fans might not mind that too much.
It’s also full of feelings.
Dark fiction bursts with them too: fear, dread, despair, hope, determination, rage, hate, sorrow—love. Let’s stop there and take a bite.
Whenever I read about horror writers in mainstream media I brace for the nearly inevitable expression of gushing surprise over how pleasant or warm or nice they are in person. How normal. I get it. It’s a hook and the strategy makes for a relatively easy transition into, “Wherever do you, fellow upstanding citizen of the sunny places, get all those weird and scary ideas from?”
Both moments highlight gaps between those of us who love horror and those who don’t.
Trying to explain the allure of the genre can be a Herculean task. There’s catharsis, aesthetics, philosophies, and even Schadenfreude to talk about, but appeals to intellect can only go so far. At some point it comes back to emotion. Does the darkness call to you or not? What does it say?
I expect we all have our own answers, just as we have our own fears. And this is one of the reasons I love horror. It can be intimate—personal and visceral. It can be shared and social. Evoking fear and its relatives requires imagination and empathy.
This probably isn’t anything new, but it’s there in my heart. I love that there are so many flavors of darkness. I like the savor of old favorites and I adore learning new tastes. One way to get satisfaction is to welcome different voices and perspectives. Reading Women in Horror Month events and posts gives me opportunities to find more of them. The rest of the year I follow the buzz and read my way through my towering to-be-read pile.
I will read almost anything because I like challenging texts. I will watch most things, though I’ll admit that my comfort zone is considerably smaller in that area. So, really, I’m likely not the best source for the cutting edge. There are plenty of author lists, websites, collections, and publications to comb for better guidance.
I’ll focus on the kind of horror I like to write instead. The short version is this: while I can appreciate the power and perspective of ice and distance, my favorite approach to horror is through warmth. If I can keep the tone friendly, easy, maybe funny or playful or even a little sweet, the story can get in close. And once it’s there, it has a chance to slice deep. I like to play with old-school eeriness and I explore emotions. I write about love a lot because love can wreck you like nothing else. It can open you up, hollow you out, and leave you howling—still you may starve for more. It’s the space where a lot of my fears live.
That’s the shape of my heart and this is my Valentine’s card to the genre, its fans, and its curators—my cheesy pink and sparkly “I choo-choo-choose you.”
Some people interpret “In the Desert” as being about acceptance. It’s an enticing reading of the text so I’ll take the comfort it offers. In a strange way it reassures us we’re not alone.
So please bring on the heart in dark fiction. Love it because it is beautiful and because it is ours.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Wendy Hammer teaches literature and composition at a community college in Indiana. She has stories in Urban Fantasy Magazine, the horror anthology Suspended in Dusk, and elsewhere. The first of a trilogy of dark urban fantasy novellas, The Thin (Cross Cutting Book 1), was released in August of 2015. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably binge watching horror movies. You can find her at her website Starts With W…
or on Twitter at @Wendyhammer13.