Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Hand that Reads #02: "I Am What I Write"

by J.W. Schnarr

Just let me start by saying if you write horror, you will definitely know where I'm coming from.

I was at work the other day when a co-worker approached me and said something that made me laugh:
"So...you're kind of a creep, eh?"

After I stopped laughing, it occurred to me she might actually be serious. "What do you mean?"

At this point she explained how my Facebook page had been looked up and that she had googled my name when she discovered that I had written a novel. This, of course, lead to a whole swath of fun information being dug up about my books and my writing, stuff that she hadn't known before.
Her assumption was that as a horror writer, I must be into some dark shit indeed. And that is the reputation you get writing this stuff. Horror writers are dark, scary people (no offense to Mr. Wrath James White or my pal Vince Churchill). But I'll let you in on a little secret:
I write horror because things disturb me, not necessarily because I am disturbed (the jury is still out).

Now, anyone who has read any of my work knows that I spend most of my time trying to figure out relationships. If there wasn't so much blood and heartache involved, I might be a passable harlequin romance writer. This is one of the big puzzles for me, trying to see how people react when under duress. A girl may love a boy with all her heart, but will the feeling of his brains leaking onto her bare forearm be too much to handle when she's holding him in his last moments of life? Will it be enough for her to drop him and run screaming?

See what I mean? Relationships.

I'm also disturbed by things like mental Illness, a subject that was front and centre in my first novel, Alice & Dorothy. I've always felt that something like schizophrenia is a tremendous gift to a horror writer, as it allows you to bring monsters into the real world without destroying your sense of reality. The idea of a crippling mental illness is something I find particularly scary because sometimes your last refuge is inside your own head. If you one day retreat there only to find cockroaches chewing through the Polaroids of your life...well, you're screwed.

I fear heights and spiders outright, and am flat out disgusted by most insects. I HATE flies. Each of these things bring with them their own set of traumas, and they are things I incorporate into my work. For example, in a story called Sunlight and Shadows, written with the awesome John Sunseri, I have conjoined twins who essentially form a big fleshy spider terrorizing a haunted lighthouse. John and I basically brought my fear of spiders into a tale about the bond between twins and a complicated relationship between these monsters and their father, an old lighthouse keeper who blames them for the death of his wife.

Now don't get me wrong. I can totally see where the assumption is made that horror writers are creeps. Sometimes I free associate things that are supposed to be funny and end up just awkward. In fact, that happens a lot. But I think a lot of people would be surprised to find their horror writing friends are actually confused, uncertain, and disturbed by a lot more things than they might expect. Writing comes naturally, and painting our stories with the things that haunt us is just one way of working them out.

Then again, maybe it's just me, and I am a creep.

("J.W. Schnarr is a writer from Claresholm, AB. He works as a reporter/photographer by day and a horror writer/publisher by night. He is the author of "Things Falling Apart" and Alice & Dorothy.  JW can be reached at here)