Striking (to me) comparisons

Posted: February 15, 2011 in Anthologies

I’ve been on a bit of a reading jag lately. These things happen, as from time to time I need to fill up the tank. I’m a big fan of anthologies and single-author short fiction collections in particular. Something about the bite-sized nature makes them easier to digest.
I finished (and reviewed) Chuck Wendig’s Irregular Creatures the other day, and then that evening both started and finished Eight Pounds: Eight Tales of Crime, Horror, & Suspense by Chris F. Holm. While I haven’t done a review for it yet, I enjoyed it greatly. The story “The Big Score” is entirely my kind of crime story, with a Maine lobsterman caught up in the mysterious disappearance of one of his neighbors. If you like your mysteries with a bit of working-class layman detective, I can’t recommend this story highly enough. Well worth getting the whole collection for that alone, though there are several other gems as well.

But what struck me after reading these two collections back to back – one urban fantasy/horror, the other crime/horror (though there is only one supernatural story in Eight Pounds) – is that I find crime stories to be much more disturbing than monsters.

Now, this should in no way be meant to slander the monsters. I still love my supernatural boogedy boogedy. In fact, I’m more prone to write a supernatural horror story than any other kind. Give me a good ol’ ghost story, or a deal with the devil, or shadows that grab you from the closet, you name it, and I’m cackling like a kid high on Pixie Stix.

But human monsters? Jesus, but they are just so much more frightening!

Stands to reason, I guess. It’s easy to dismiss the monster under the bed. Seen any stories in the news about a kid eaten by a werewolf? How about that zombie plague that broke out in Dallas? No? Exactly.

Meanwhile we have kids shooting their mom to death with the family gun because they don’t want to do chores. We have a guy holding his own daughter prisoner for 17 years, fathering children with her, and then abusing the children, and then when the guy goes to prison, he’s killed and beheaded by fellow inmates.

You see a man stitched together out of mismatched human parts, it’s pretty much your own damn fault if you don’t run. But those unsolved murders could be the guy who is filling your prescriptions, or delivering your mail. And you just won’t know until things go all sideways.

When I used to write screenplays with a friend of mine in high school and college, the rule we stuck to was no human psycho killers. My partner’s reasoning was that he didn’t want to put that out there, to foster that distrust of our fellow man. And I clearly see where he was coming from. Do I adhere to the same principles now? Not so much.

But it does make me wonder about the obligation of authors. Which is better: reflect the damaged society we live in, or reinforce positive behavior with more positive models? As a horror writer, it seems the answer is clear. What is unclear, and what I will be thinking about for the next few days, is how do I approach this consciously each time I write?

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