I’ve recently been having a fascinating conversation via e-mail with Twitter-friend and fellow writer CJ Wright — the two of us discussing how we work, our influences, the difficulties writers face today and our aspirations. This is part one with more to follow over the coming weeks.
Chris is the author of a number of self-published novels including Ritual of Blood, Killing Time and Falling Star. You can find out more about Chris and his work by visiting his website.
Gary William Murning: It always strikes me as somewhat strange that horror fiction is, in some circles, so poorly thought of. Some of the finest writers I’ve encountered have, at one time or another, written something of a macabre nature — Edgar Allan Poe, of course, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson and so many more. And, even though I don’t write horror these days, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be the writer I am today had it not been for the influences of, for example, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker et al in my teens and early twenties. In fact, I might never have tried my hand at writing. It was these guys who taught me how to write, and whilst I may have learned one or two bad habits from them, I learned many more that have stood me in pretty good stead. I think King in particular wrote some incredible fiction, in his early years, especially — and his approach to character taught me everything I needed to know about creating real people who jump off the page. Horror fiction has a very special capacity to really stick in the mind and evoke strong feelings; far more effective at engaging with the adolescent mind than good old Tom and Huck!
CJ Wright: I agree; the snobbery of some literary critics against the horror genre does overlook the complexity and skill it takes to create good horror fiction. There is a thought in some people’s minds when they hear the word ‘horror’ that conjures up blood, guts, gore and violence; that is not what horror, true horror, is. Horror is about fear, and the way to create fear is to take the mundane and ordinary, and twist it ever so slightly, so that it takes people out of their comfort zone. In a none-visual medium, such as the written word, it takes skill to get it right.
GWM: That reminds me of something I remember reading Peter Straub say. I can’t recall the exact quotation, but he basically mentioned the scene in one of his novels (Floating Dragon, I think) where a Coca-Cola can goes rolling by in the breeze. He said that, for him, that was how you made horror fiction work — by nailing it to real life in as many ways as possible. And, you know, I think that’s true about all fiction. You need to learn how to work in “the everyday”. Those little things that we all experience time and again and never really notice. I think that’s something I learned from King very early on. Those moments when a character does something and you think, “Wow, I thought I was the only person who did that!” Horror writers need to handle that better than anyone — and, indirectly, I think they probably teach it better than anyone.
Two sample chapters of If I Never can be read here.
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© 2010 Gary William Murning and C J Wright.