I’ve been placed in Amazon’s horror category for some time now. Type in Eric Lahti horror into Amazon’s search engine and all of my books pop up. Go ahead and try it. Feel free to buy them while you’re there. I’m not 100% certain how I wound up that genre but I’ve decided it’s probably best to just embrace it and move forward. While I’ll never consider myself a horror author in the gore splattering around or haunted place realm (although I have written a ghost story: The Protectors), I guess I do have some bit of horror elements in my books. Maybe it’s just the paranormal aspects or maybe the genre isn’t as narrow as I had previously thought. Some horror books are cheap schlocky thrills while others are more ponderous; slowly building to that conclusion that doesn’t really hit you until you shut off all the lights or you’re lying in a jungle bleeding to death.
Of all the horror books I’ve read (not a huge amount, I admit) very few stick with me. Some of Stephen King’s works and some of the canon from Lovecraft are notable examples. The funny thing about H.P. Lovecraft is I like his ideas but have trouble actually reading his work. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve read any of Lovecraft’s books, so maybe I need to try it again and see what shakes loose. The last Stephen King book I read was From A Buick 8; hardly a representative example of the horror genre but a fun read nonetheless. In fact, From A Buick 8 spans a lot of genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Speculative fiction are genres that it at least kind of fits into.
Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much. It had its scary parts, but it wasn’t a gory splatter-fest; it was musings and ponderings and it didn’t give you all the answers. If that’s horror I’m happy to be included in the genre.
One of the scariest scenes in any movie is this one
You don’t see much of anything, just the Xenomorph (that’s what the cool kids call the aliens) rising from the water, Newt turns and screams. Boom. That’s it. Then, of course, Ripley tapes some guns and a flame thrower together and heads into the nest to kick some Xenomorph ass.
Now, here’s the thing about the traditional horror genre: there’s a creeping sense of hopelessness. Traditional horror with all the running and screaming and getting slaughtered is the emo kid of the movie world. I don’t think you’ll find a whole lot of people who would argue Aliens wasn’t a horror movie, but the characters were far from helpless.
Even Lovecraft’s stories featured protagonists who weren’t helpless. They used magic and arcane knowledge to fight the unnameable horrors of Lovecraft’s blasphemous world. They usually lost and lost horribly, but they weren’t helpless.
Which means horror elements can be used in place of traditional conflicts in literature. Traditional conflict falls into one (or more) of categories:
- Person versus person
- Person versus society
- Person versus self
- Person versus nature
There’s nothing in the rules that says person versus person can’t include a vampire (or a God of Dreams). Person versus nature could easily include our Xenomorphs – although it could be argued that Aliens was nothing more than an analogy for trying to shop during the Christmas season. Person versus nature could also include these guys.
So, once I wrapped my head around the fact that horror doesn’t have to mean teenagers having sex and then getting slaughtered (or given to some strange naked following woman), I realized I think I’m quite cool with being called a horror author. There can be monstrous things going on and heroes (or villains) that combat those things. I like the idea of writing about people who would see this coming at them and decide – in that moment of pants-wetting terror – to stand their ground and fight like madmen (and women).
That’s the fun kind of horror. They may not win, but they’ll at least try. And the scary parts don’t even have to be the main thrust of the story. From A Buick 8 was a horror story, but the thrust of the story about something strange dropping into the midst of a group of people and how the people themselves dealt with it. Person versus nature and – more importantly – person versus self. The horror aspect was a backdrop for the real story. The same could arguably be said of a lot of King’s work. Someday, I hope to be good enough that people will say the same of mine.
Now, this is not to say all conflict must have a horror element to it, let alone a paranormal element. Being tied to a chair and forced to listen to Barbara Streisand songs is certainly conflict – and quite possibly horrifying – but it lacks a paranormal element. Someone between you and your love may or may not be horrifying, and unless that person is a sparkly vampire there’s no paranormal element to it.
But I’ve learned to embrace the paranormal horror elements; they’re fun to write, fun to work with, and I love the idea of interesting things inhabiting our otherwise mundane world. Even more than that, though, I love the idea of people fighting back against the things that aren’t supposed to be beatable. Even when the situation seems absurd.
So, there you have it. I have embraced my horror side. Don’t expect me to write any stories filled with gore, but I fully intend to keep right on tilting the windmills, fighting the unbeatable foes, and standing tall in the face of the nameless horrors. Since I started this post with Colonel Kurtz, it only seems fitting that his words – even though they represent a kind of existential horror – end it.
How do I intend to get characters to fight these things? Well, Henchmen and Arise used a lot of guns, but it’s Chan and Crow in The Clock Man and their methods that I really want to explore. Tune in next time when I discuss the ancient and deadly art of Wuxia.