Why I Love Horror

Why I Love Horror

“Why do you love horror?”


Better yet: “Why do you write horror?”


This last is a question that I hear often – even more often than most horror writers, probably, given that I’m a guy who doesn’t look like he’s planning on how to make a wallet out of your face-skin, have no terrifying scars or eyes that have “Will Kill For Food” written across them, and (most of all) that I am a deeply religious person who teaches Sunday School in between writing about monsters.


Yet despite these incontrovertible facts, I’ve not only read and watch horror, I actually make my living writing stories that make people cringe and shudder.


So… that question makes sense. Why do I write – and read, and watch, and just plain love – horror?


My answer: I write horror because horror is the genre of morality, and the language of hope.


When was the last time you read an involved discussion of good vs. evil in a piece of literary fiction? How often do you find a discussion of the possibility of something infinitely greater than ourselves, and of our relationship to such a thing, in a science fiction epic? Not just a strawman discussion, either, but an honest-to-goodness throw-down over questions that have plagued us as a species since the first moments we learned to speak: Where do we come from? Why are we here? What, if anything, happens after?


Horror is uniquely positioned to ask these questions. And not just that, but to discuss them on a deep level that both assumes their importance and (just as critical!) states that those huge, radically important questions actually have answers.


In other words, horror matters. Which is also why it is so polarizing, because things that matter… well, people care about them. That means they get angry if you disagree about the importance of those things, or think you are caring about the wrong things (or even about the right things in a wrong way). Things that matter are things close to the heart. Things close to the heart are, by nature, the ones that can hurt us.


And the things that hurt us… well, of course, they’re the things we most fear. And, more often than not, they’re also the things we most love.


There’s the dichotomy of horror: it is a genre that finds its footings in blood and fear – and some horror positively wallows in those things – but which, ultimately, is a kind of storytelling that defines goodness for the reader.* Horror tells us stories of morality: of the dangers of walking dark paths; and, ultimately, it reminds us that we live in a world of hope.


Some will read this and scoff. “But I read [insert name of book/story/movie/whatever here], and it was just blood, blood, blood!” Or, “What about every movie that came out of the 1980s? Just one kill after another, with the occasional pause for teens to get it on and show some skin!” Or even, “How can you claim that something like Hereditary (one of the darkest movie scripts ever written) is hopeful?”


But here’s the thing: horror, in order to actually be horror, must cause fear in the reader. It has to evoke a sense that what we are seeing or reading or hearing is deeply, unsettlingly wrong. But “wrong” (and its far darker offspring, “horrifying”) does not exist in a vacuum. “Wrong” is something that cannot be understood or even noticed unless we first understand – at least a little – that thing called “right.”


Horror stories, by nature, exist to show us the opposite of the way “things should be,” and so implies that there is a way things should be. A place where killers do not come for the innocent, where people can tuck their children in bed and be secure in the knowledge that no ghost or demon will come to steal them away (or, even worse, possess them).


There is a rightness in the universe. There is a thing we call “good,” and competent horror stories show us that good by demonstrating what happens in its absence.


Competent horror tears out the hearts of its readers. It throws those hearts in a ditch, the readers’ silent screams echoing in the authors’ ears as they bury their bloody treasures deep in the earth, one shovelful at a time. Violence, loss, fear… each adds more dirt to the grave, each further cuts the hearts off from the rest of the “right” universe. Yes, competent horror does that.


Competent horror buries your heart. It kicks you and knocks you down. Then it leaves you gasping, dying, alone. The story is a moral one, for – again – it must be moral to matter. A sense of what is “right” must exist for the “wrong” to matter at all, let alone for it to terrify us. But competent horror only exists to assert this fact: there is what is “right,” and there is also that thing called “wrong.” Then, its basic lesson taught, it leaves.


But great horror does more. It cuts out the reader’s heart (oft-times more cruelly and painfully than simply “competent” horror), and buries it deep (oft-times even deeper than “the good stuff” does). But – and here is the difference between competence and greatness – great horror adds one more step:


Great horror remains to see what will happen next. For the great horror stories know that the burial is not the end. For in horror, the burial does not signal the end of the story. After all, one of horror’s great lessons is that the monster, once vanquished and buried deep, will eventually rise again to terrorize and maim.


But if the monster does this… then why not us?


Great horror stories tear us apart and bury our still-beating hearts. And then it waits, knowing that given time, given encouragement, given (dare I say it?) a bit of grace… we can rise again. Our hearts will not only beat, but beat all the stronger because of what they have been through.


A decent horror story destroys us. A great one then helps us through the painful process of resurrection, and leave us with souls stronger than they were before.


Horror talks about ghosts and goblins, madmen and monsters, freaks and fiends. But what it actually does is this: it gives us the language to understand what we are seeing when we witness evil, it gives us the tools we need to confront that evil, and it reminds us that in the end – if we are smart enough, brave enough, true enough, good enough – we will triumph.


There are stories where evil appears to win. But great horror shows us that the battle goes on. In my own books, the “good guy” doesn’t necessarily make it to the final page. In fact, some important stories demand an unhappy ending. My novel Twisted, for example, is a ghost story… but it is also a story about child abuse, and the horrifying effects it has on the evil and innocent alike. Such stories cannot finish with “they all lived happily ever after.” Evil always leaves scars in its wake, and to ignore that fact is to do a disservice to those of us who have lived through darkness, and learned to survive and even thrive in spite of those scars. Some stories must end “badly,” if only so we may know how to avoid becoming the monsters they have described.


Besides, even in stories where evil appears to triumph, the reality is anything but. Because the moment after “the end” happens, the reader proves those two words to be a lie. The reader closes the book. The reader turns off the Kindle. The story is done, but the reader… the reader does not end. For the reader has survived. The reader will continue and, hopefully, continue forward stronger.


All horror shows us the darkness we are capable of. Great horror reminds us of the miraculous creatures we already are.


And that is why I write – and read, and will always love – horror.

* Or viewer, or whatever. I’m a screenwriter and author, so I deal with people reading, listening, and watching, but for ease of use purposes I’m just going to refer to “readers” from here on in. After all, you’re reading this right now, so it seems apropos.


This article first appeared on the website of RA for All.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice, Writing Advice
Storytelling on Social Media – a Parable of Tanks and Rollerskates

Storytelling on Social Media – a Parable of Tanks and Rollerskates

What to write about… what to write about…

This is the question I face when writing this article, or starting a book, or anything else. What do I write about? What do I DO?

So I thought I’d write about that process – and about something that so few of us think about: the power of our words. As writers, we all kinda-sorta-maybe know that. We know that words matter, but many (most? all?) of us think about them in terms of, “I have a story. The story matters. People will like it. People will buy it and I will have a pool of golden duccats that would be the envy of Scrooge McDuck.”

To be sure, I think most people do have that kind of story in them. The trick is finding it, bringing it out, putting it down, and getting the word out (and those are a whole SERIES of blog posts/articles/book, so I won’t try here).

My dad once said (wisely) that talking about important things on social media is like trying to teach rocket science using bumper stickers. To which I would add: with the only difference that we would all agree that the latter is insane.

But not the former. We talk about “important” things all the time, never minding that they a) usually AREN’T that important in the grand scheme of things (and if you think they are, I’d invite you to tell me what you Tweeted last Tuesday), and b) the most important things merit our greatest care and attention.

I’m not telling people here to stop social media. I’m not encouraging silence. I’m saying that we live in a time where communication is possible on a greater scale than would have been imaginable even twenty years ago. I’m saying that this means words are flying around constantly.

And words, I am fond of saying, are the single greatest inhibitor of communication ever invented.

Before words, it was easy. You either hated or feared a person – in which case you ran away and/or beat them with your club made of T-rex femur – or you loved them, in which case you ran TOWARD them and shared your T-rex meat and/or went to the nearest cave to make sweet caveperson love.

Now, though… so many words. So much complicatednessosity. Even that last word is needlessly complicateder than it has to be. But I’m leaving it. BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT.

Ultimately, we created words that allowed us to exercise the single greatest power in human history: the power to tell stories. That’s the thing that differentiates us from every other creature, because there’s no other creature capable of telling Beowulf, or creating a sonnet, or writing out blueprints or mathematical equations (which are how science tells ITS most important stories).

We are creatures of stories, you and I. We meet, we converse, we share… and, fundamentally, we spend much of our time misunderstanding.

That’s one of the pitfalls of being a writer: you become convinced that not only are you telling a good story, but that the people for whom you write are hearing the same story you intended to write. This is rarely the case, though, because we all bring ourselves to the stories we hear. The audience is as much a part of the finished product as is the “original” storyteller.

This is even more pronounced on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. A smiley-face or heart means something vastly different to me than it does to you. Sure, they mean “happy” or “love,” but those words themselves are two upon which oceans of writers have expended infinite words, so obviously there’s a lot of wiggle room there.

“Don’t just write a short story. Start out with an epic, because you gotta build to a short story.” I said that once in jest/not-jest, and there’s truth in it. Writing something short that matters, that’s punchy and interesting… it’s hard. Not least of all because, again, the chances of the audience reading the interesting, cool, deep thing you tried to write is infinitesimally small. They’re going to read the words, but their lives loom larger when the picture is smaller. They’ll bring more of themselves to a short story than they would to a novel, because the author of a short story necessarily leaves more blanks for the audience to fill in. An eight-book epic spanning twenty years of a family’s lives, well, that’s something where the author gets to put a pretty sturdy cage around what he intends, and keep prying audience members from messing with it too much. But a twenty-page short story? A five-hundred word flash fiction piece? Those are really written by the author, interpreted by the audience, and the interpretation disseminated to the masses.

So what, then, a Tweet? A line under an Instagram picture.

Again, this isn’t to condemn those forums. This isn’t to tell people to stay away. But as a writer, I’ve seen far too many times where I thought I was telling one story, and ended up telling one completely differently. I take great care now not just to tell the story, but to make it as close to impossible for the reader to misinterpret it as I can… and I still only succeed a fraction of the time.

Our words are magical. Our words are lovely. They are the brightest of suns. But they also burn, they cut, they corrode. So powerful, and it behooves us to use them wisely and well. Our society has little place or use for hermits; we interact with each other and expect others to contribute to our lives just as we contribute to theirs. But we must remember: we are creatures not of concepts, but of stories. Every word we say, or write, or type, is part of a story that goes into the world, and changes it a bit. We bear every bit as much of a responsibility to do our best to change the world in a good way with every word as we do the responsibility of leaving a world behind that has food and air and water for our kids. But though most of us wouldn’t blow up a dirty bomb in a mall amongst thousands of strangers, we think far too little of lobbing potentially dangerous words into the atmosphere of social media. Then we shrug and say, “Hey, I’m being honest,” or, “Hey, that needed to be said,” or “Hey, I’ve always stood up for what I believed,” without ever asking the more important questions: how does that honesty benefit the world? Did it “need” to be said, or did I just really really wanna say it? And in standing up for what I believed, did I help others, did I harm them, or did I care less about that than I did about just getting something off my chest?

The world is magical. It’s so full of stories, so full of words. We talk, we smile, we laugh, we play. I love all those things – they make me smile myself, and (selfishly) I enjoy stealing others’ stories so I can reshape them in my own image.

But we also stand up and tell people things “for their own good” without getting to know them. We condemn groups as a whole without regard for whether that will actually change their minds or lead to any kind of change. We spit into the wind, because we are ANGRY, DAMMIT, and then are shocked when the wind changes and the person who gets the most spittle on their cheek is not the intended victim, but we ourselves.

Words are important – and there are definitely those that must be said. But we have to be careful. We have to think.

We are storytellers. That is what it is to be human: to experience things, then to take those experiences and boil them down into stories we can tell to (hopefully) make our future experiences and the future experiences of others into something more meaningful and pleasing. But as storytellers, as the most powerful of creatures, we also bear the tremendous responsibility of using that power wisely. If Superman went out and murdered someone – even just once – we would toss him out as our superhero. I’m not talking “I got into some kryptonite and did something over which I had no control,” I’m talking about a day where Supes just gets tired of it all, throws up his hands, and heat visions his frickin’ neighbor who constantly plays house mixes with full bass to death. At that point, we are done with him. He is no longer not a hero, he is forever unredeemable.

But we can lose control. We can post in the moment, because IT MUST BE SAID IT MUST BE SAID NOW IT MUST BE SAID THIS WAY BECAUSE I FEEL IT MUST BE SO.

I am a storyteller. I am a human. So are you, those of you who read this. So let us tell good stories. Let us tell kind ones. Sometimes kindness is painful (ask any child who just had a tetanus shot or got a cavity filled what he or she thought of it). But kindness is never unthinking, or motivated by my feelings of the moment – it is motivated by plans that will benefit someone’s future.

The best stories are these. Whenever someone asks me to write an article or a guest post, and I always try to think of something useful to write. There’s story tips, there’s craft how-tos. I can talk about making a relatable villain, or dealing with suspension of disbelief for a zombie story. All that’s important, but all it boils down to at its base is the fact that the story that matters deserves a well-crafted vehicle.

So craft your own vehicles well. And remember that Twitter is just as much a storytelling venue as is Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Remember perhaps as well that when we use social media as a vehicle for our stories, it’s not a rollerskate; as often as not it’s a tank with a single devastating shot. Let us take care to shoot only things we’ve really thought about, and really aimed for; collateral damage is horrid in war, but for some reason it deserves no notice when I’m posting on “my” wall – a wall of “mine” that is bought and paid for and designed and maintained by other people without any input on my part, which is the strangest definition of “mine” I have ever heard.

And maybe we should sometimes not shoot at all. Perhaps we should get out of the tank, and take a walk. That’s how we actually meet people with whom we’d like to share our T-rex meat and make sweet caveperson love.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice, MbC Must-read

Hope is a Dream, a Time Asleep…

After my recent retirement announcement, a few people have stated that my situation is discouraging, given that they have always hoped to make writing a career and here’s a guy (me) who HAD it as a career, but couldn’t hold onto it. A few have lost hope in their own talent, their own futures. Here’s what I said to one of them, and what I now say to ALL who feel this way:


Don’t lose that hope. This kind of “turn” hits almost every writer out there, successful or not. Some of them have banked enough millions that it just doesn’t matter – who, for instance, believes that Dan “DaVinci Code” Brown is going to have a writing career in ten years… or that he’ll even notice the money not flowing in any more. The rest of them, when they have downturns, work as pizza guys or notary publics or any of a thousand other things. And that’s okay, too!


Don’t hope to be a pro writer and to have all be roses and sunshine forever. You want to be a pro, then WORK YOUR ASS OFF FOR THAT. Then, when it happens (and I have no doubt you WILL make it happen), just know that this life, this creative world… it’s all based on dreams. And the one thing that every dream has in common: they all end eventually. And that’s not a bad thing, because “real life” is what supports and informs the dream, and what makes it worth going to again and again. And the dreams are scary, fun, thrilling, horrible, ugly, beautiful, hateful, and lovely… which means they are, in fact, just one more facet OF that real life.


Live. Live your best, and you will find your dream, whatever it is. And then, having found it, you may realize that your dream is not the perfect thing you thought it would be, and that real life – the waking world – is also a pretty neat place.


And, having experienced both, you will be all the wiser, all the stronger, all the better for it. Having experienced both, you will be able to enjoy either, and excel within the bounds of whichever reality in which you find yourself.


Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

Our Wonderful Obsession With Horror

What is it about horror? We’ve had it as part of our lives since… well, forever. I mean that literally. Look at the first recorded art — cave paintings. They weren’t about that one time when Cavedude got a shiny rock from Mrs. Cavedude, or about the time they had a nice romantic night away from the Cavekids, or that one time when he had a really good day where nothing much happened and there was no fire from the sky or T-rexes eating his foot or anything like that.

No, they were about Death. And yes, I meant it with a capital “D.”

They glorified animals (man among them) killing and being killed. Blood was central, and copious.

Many of the animals also feature incredibly large genitalia, which is kinda horrific for different reasons — but I digress.

Point is: we are born with a seed of horror inside. Born in blood, our first sounds screams of terror — ironically, as we leave the darkness and first experience the light. Horror is our first emotion on this earth, and the roots of that terror never quite die. We grow, and fear the night… because, at first, we don’t even have the required knowledge to know this terrifying, lonely time will ever end.

Then we learn the night does end, but now we wonder what it hides.

We grow, and fear of the dark — of what lurks within its shadowed depths — transforms to fear of the “rational” world: what if I lose my job? What if she leaves me? What if I someday die?

The last is silly, since death is sure to come to all of us. But still, many of us have that reality as a central — terrifying — theme in our lives.

What if?

What if?

What if?

Horror flogs us through life. Terror beats with every pulse of our doomed hearts. And what do we do about it?

We watch Insidious. We read Pet Sematary. We view art and media that can only be viewed as disturbing, terrifying.


We spend our lives hiding from the darkness, turning on the light before we take that first step into the basement (and who among us hasn’t had that fear, if only for a moment, that THIS will be the time something is down there, that THIS will be the moment we feel the claws and are dragged down to devil-only-knows where?).

And then, after turning on all the lights, putting the cops on speed dial, and carefully laying a golf club and some holy water next to our bed (just in case!), what do we do? We flock with friends to a darkened theater, to experience just what we so carefully avoided.

People of contradictions, people who yearn for light, for hope… but who also find themselves sometimes — strangely — at home in the dark.

And there, I think, lies the answer: we are people. People of hope, of despair, of light, of dark, of joy… and horror.

Every one of us has an innate fear of doing wrong, seeking wrong, being somehow… wrong. And horror feeds those thoughts, those concerns. Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.

But what all horror does — at least, when it’s doing its job — is it holds up a mirror. Not to our evil, not to the terrors that hound us through our nights and lives. No, it holds up a mirror to our whole selves. To the entirety of our humanity. To our hopes, to the fears that can dash them.

And, in the very best cases, to the redemption that we all seek.

I’m not talking about redemption in the religious sense — or at least, not necessarily. Though any careful readers of many of the masters — King and Koontz in particular — will note how often their plots climax in the infinite moment where people realize there is a greater power, or where God Himself all but steps down from his throne to save the main characters: to vicariously save all of us.

No, what I mean when I say horror is about redemption is something more basic. Less nuanced, but perhaps as critical as any strictly religious belief or dogma. The word “redeem” has its roots in Latin — “imere” which means “to purchase.” And all horror is about the purchases we make in life — for good or for ill.

When we make bad choices in a horror novel or movie, we tend to purchase an equally — or more — bad ending. The masked man hacks us in two. The cunning killer eats our face. The prophetess (that link to God again!) touches us and makes us dwindle away to nothing.

And when we make good choices we tend to purchase survival, a future. We earn a state of grace — which itself has interesting roots: it means grace, kindness, respect.

Respect. Respect for ourselves. Respect for the world — not taming it, but being carefully aware that there is more to the universe than us, that there is more to life than life itself. We know there is danger, we respect its power. But therein lies that grace: respect is something we grant to an equal, not to a superior. Respect is something that nods to the value of another thing, but does not scrape or beg or plead.

We read horror to be reminded that there are choices. That there are other choices being made at the same time, and some of those will lead to our harm. That our further choices determine how we are affected. And that, if we make the best possible choices, we will achieve a state of harmony, a sense of balance.

A way to cope with our own humanity.

We are born to blood, but yes, we are also sent directly into the light at that same moment. That first breath is to scream, but that first breath is also to live. There is an equality, a duality, an opposition present in every moment of life.

There is love… but people grow apart.

There is help… but people also make war upon one another.

There is hope… but the monsters do lurk. And have their own dark hopes for us.

And so we read horror. These sensibilities pervade the best horror, and manage to teach us neither of false perfection nor of base damnation. They show us both.

And then let us make a choice.

So why? Why do we love horror so much?

The answer, in sum, is simple: we love horror because the greatest horrors are us. And we need to be reminded of that fact from time to time so that we may also become more.

The best horror drives us into the Pit. It cuts away all that we think we are and leaves only what is the essence of our soul behind.

And then shows that that soul, that most basic identity, is enough to climb back to the light again.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

Faith and Obscenely Large Pickles

I think it’s okay to be afraid of certain things. Like tsunamis, or terrorists, or those people who buy giant pickles at amusement parks.

But it seems like fear is overpowering so many of us these days. I went for a ride in a car the other day. It wasn’t my car; I didn’t even know the fellah (“fellah” is a cool word) who gave me a ride. I was out of gas, and he took me from the gas station (where I paid enough money for a gas can to balance the federal deficit) back to my car.

My wife was practically in tears by the time I got back. Worried about me. And this is from a woman who regularly does daring things like watching horror movies and homeschooling. You know, fearless.

So when did fear become such a part of our lives? When did things become bad enough that we had to worry about taking a five block ride with a stranger? Who DOES make those pickles, and how do they find such big cucumbers?

These are the questions that drive men mad. I think they make women fidgety, too, but I can’t be sure about that. ‘Cause I’m a dude.

Anywho, I wonder sometimes if there is a way to combat the fear that lives around us all the time. I think part of the problem is that to be less afraid, we have to invite more people to help us. Of course, if we let them help us, that almost always leaves them in a position to hurt us, too. And it’s hard to let someone into a position where they might hurt us if we’re scared of them. And we get scared of them because we have no good experiences to balance our bad fears. Viscious cycle. Sort of like the “Hellspin” setting on my washing machine.

What’s the answer, then? How to overcome the fear? How to let people in?

Faith, I guess. Faith that people are better than we fear. Faith to get back up after someone knocks us down. Faith that someday all the giant pickles in the world will be extinct like the dodo bird and MC Hammer’s career.

I like the idea of having faith in people. It makes me all fuzzy inside. But the good kind of fuzzy. Teddy bear fuzzy, not “Hey how long has this pizza been in the fridge?” fuzzy. I like the idea of believing in people, and believing in their infinite ability to be good.

But how can I do that? you ask. How can I believe in the goodness of people when the news is so full of stories of people being evil to one another? SOMEONE has to make those evil pickles, right?

That’s the ten billion dollar question. I don’t know the answer. I suppose the best we can do is be like kids. Not the part where they wet their pants, or where they pick their noses and eat it. No, I’m talking about the ability to be in the moment. Ask what they’re afraid of, and you’ll probably get some answer like “spiders” or “the dark” or “big pickles.” But only when they’re IN the dark, or when they’re NEAR a spider, or when they SEE a big pickle. Ask what they’re afraid of when they’re playing in the sandbox, and you’ll likely get either a “Huh?” or get invited to leave by two husky kids with earpieces and whose toy plastic shovels have decidedly sharp edges.

Kids are afraid, sure. But most of them don’t let the fear cripple them the way adults do. Deal with the fear, then move on. (Or, in the case of my daughter, get someone ELSE to deal with her fear so she can move on that much quicker… I’m not sure if this means she is a great delegator or the spawn of the Evil One, and I’m not sure I want to.)

I think next time I get hurt, I’m going to try to take it like a kid. Meaning that instead of holding onto the thing that hurts me, adding it to my fear like some kind of psychic boulder that I’ll then have to carry around for eternity, I’m going to knock that boulder into sand and play. I’m going to do my darndest to forget the hurt and get to the fun. I’m going to toss away thoughts of big pickles and focus instead on the churros of life.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this, other than to say that churros are really good, even if a bit overpriced. And also, let’s be more childlike in our deeds. Let’s pick our noses and eat it. Let’s poop in our pants and not be embarrassed about it.

Let’s make friends as though nothing bad has ever happened to us.

Let’s play like there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Let’s love like only people worthy of that love exist.

Let’s not let fear take us out of the sandbox.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

Life Lesson Learned from Death

It’s been quite a week.

The chronic pain ramped up. A lot. Like, curled up in pain and trying not to scream a number of times because it would freak out the kids.

Then I got sick.

Then the mental health stuff decided: Hey, looks like a party! I wasn’t invited! Time to crash that be-yatch!

It ended well, because I’m still here. And no, I don’t mean that as an expression or an exaggeration. There were a few times where my wife had the phone in hand, ready to call the men in white coats to take me away to keep me from doing harm to myself. Three things prevented it:

1) My wife. She is my first reason for sticking around. Sometimes I know she feels bad because she feels like I’m miserable and she must be doing a bad job because if she was doing a BETTER job I wouldn’t be so sad. Which (when I’m rational) I try to tell her isn’t the case. It’s the opposite: she keeps me alive. Literally. She’s a light in the dark, and one of the things I hold to when nothing else seems worth it.

If you are someone who cares for or cares about a person suffering from major depressive disorder/suicidal urges, don’t EVER blame yourself. It’s a disease. It’s like saying, “Boy, I must really be radioactive since he/she got lymphoma and still isn’t better!” Indeed, you are the equivalent of all those nifty drugs that keep the patient alive. Sometimes it’s just not enough. But do you stop taking them? Don’t be dumb. You keep us alive.


2) I managed to crawl out of bed and talk to someone. Just a little thing: a girl who wanted to be a writer wanted to talk to me because she had it in her head that I knew what I was doing. I could barely stand up, but I talked to her for about half an hour. I told her flat out what was going on, and that my ability to give good advice might not be at its all-time high. She took that in stride.

Lessons learned: people are willing to be there for you. And helping others is a huge help. I forgot myself for a few minutes. The pain – physical and mental – didn’t go away. But it shifted from front and center to… well, at least a bit toward the middle.

3) A belief system. I believe in God, I believe my family loves me, I believe I love my family, I believe things will get better. And even when those beliefs turn from active realities to just words that have nothing more than the basest meaning… sometimes I can cling to the memory of when they DID mean something. Sometimes it’s okay to lie to yourself. Because the lies you tell are the truth that matters.

4) Friends and family. Small kindnesses matter. If you have an email to send that just says, “Thought of you, you are a cool dude!” then SEND THAT MUTHA! You never know when it is going to someone hurting, someone struggling. Someone looking – sometimes desperately – for a reason to stick around. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to drip with depth and meaning. Just “Hey, been a while. Hope you’re okay!” (You can even spell “you’re” wrong, that’s okay.)

Reach out. Be kind. Avoid the toxic crap that clutters so much of our online communications. Next time you think about clicking “publish” on a political post where you are going to point out some person’s douchiness in a fit of righteous rage, or are going to sarcastically show how dumb someone is on a social issue because you are the Champion of Right… don’t. Instead, find a post from someone you like. Drop into the conversation. Post something like, “You are a rockstar,” or “Your posts make me happy,” or…

“I think you are great. I love you.”

We all have bad days. Some worse than others.

We all need light. Some brighter than others.

We can all be the good. We can all be the light.

And I thank all those who have done just that.

Because I am still here.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com

The Miracle in a Baby’s Hand

People ask me sometimes how a horror writer can believe – and write – about things like Good and Evil, God and Devil. Here’s an example:

Yesterday my wife was cooking lunch for the kids. She opened the oven door, and my infant son – less than a year old, just learning to pull himself up things – came around the kitchen corner. He’d been playing “tag” with his VERY good older brothers and sisters.

He saw the oven.

He pulled himself up onto the inside of the oven door. Both hands planted on a 500-degree surface.

I saw it all, and panicked. I could only scream.

He was in my wife’s blind spot, so she didn’t know what was happening for a long moment. Long enough for his scream to finally get through. Both hands on the inside of the oven door. Him shrieking, me shrieking.

She yanked him away. Doused his hands in water from the sink. Filled a bowl. I forced his little hands in the bowl, him shrieking all the while. We screamed at the children to get in the car get in the car we’re going to the hospital get in the car NOW!

We started to the car.

He stopped crying.

We dared look at his hands.

There was not a mark. They weren’t even red.

The people who were marked the worst by the event were the kids – who felt terrible for letting him get away from them – and my wife and I, who had SEEN what happened, and KNEW what the outcome should be.

Do I believe in God?


Do I believe He steps in from time to time?


Do I believe in miracles?


This isn’t to say I believe life is meant to be happy in all ways – or even most. It’s a trial, it’s a test. But sometimes…


We are blessed to See.

This isn’t meant to convince anyone. I respect those who believe differently, who choose to look at a different world than mine.

But this IS my world.

A world of small, unmarked hands. A baby who sleeps content.

A world of miracles.
People ask me sometimes how a horror writer can believe – and write – about things like Good and Evil, God and Devil. Here’s an example:

Yesterday my wife was cooking lunch for the kids. She opened the oven door, and my infant son – less than a year old, just learning to pull himself up things – came around the kitchen corner. He’d been playing “tag” with his VERY good older brothers and sisters.

He saw the oven.

He pulled himself up onto the inside of the oven door. Both hands planted on a 500-degree surface.

I saw it all, and panicked. I could only scream.

He was in my wife’s blind spot, so she didn’t know what was happening for a long moment. Long enough for his scream to finally get through. Both hands on the inside of the oven door. Him shrieking, me shrieking.

She yanked him away. Doused his hands in water from the sink. Filled a bowl. I forced his little hands in the bowl, him shrieking all the while. We screamed at the children to get in the car get in the car we’re going to the hospital get in the car NOW!

We started to the car.

He stopped crying.

We dared look at his hands.

There was not a mark. They weren’t even red.

The people who were marked the worst by the event were the kids – who felt terrible for letting him get away from them – and my wife and I, who had SEEN what happened, and KNEW what the outcome should be.

Do I believe in God?


Do I believe He steps in from time to time?


Do I believe in miracles?


This isn’t to say I believe life is meant to be happy in all ways – or even most. It’s a trial, it’s a test. But sometimes…


We are blessed to See.

This isn’t meant to convince anyone. I respect those who believe differently, who choose to look at a different world than mine.

But this IS my world.

A world of small, unmarked hands. A baby who sleeps content.

A world of miracles.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

Thoughts on a Suicide

I saw a man kill himself last night.

No, this is not a joke, and no, I will not provide details other than that it was incredibly tragic. And it led me to a thought or two.

Many of you know that I suffer from major depressive disorder. There are days where I just want to end it all, where I wonder why God put me on this earth and what possible good I can do for anyone. It’s a terrible disease, and one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

And yet, at the same time… I sometimes think it is a gift. Because I have learned to live without hope, and sometimes that is a great ability. Only people with suicidal tendencies can truly understand hope, I think, because it is the promise of hope – not hope itself, that’s much too much to ask for when you’re looking at a rafter and wondering if it will hold your weight – that gets you through the darkness. The IDEA that one day things may improve. The lie that you whisper that, “One day this will change. One day this will get better. One day I’ll be… happy.”

And of course, it isn’t a lie. Things do change. Things do get better. Happiness is found if you go through enough doors and walk enough miles. You just have to go through some dark patches along the way.
So people who believe that hopelessness is their reality… we can lie to ourselves. We have a disease that keeps us from believing anything good will ever happen, but more often than not we keep on going. Why? Because we hope for hope. We don’t set our sights high, we hope not for feasts but for the scraps that fall from the table.

And that is enough. It has to be. Because if you can sustain yourself long enough on those scraps… again… things change. Things get better. Things become GOOD.

That’s a large part of why I write horror: because it’s a genre that allows me to explore the utmost terror… in order to find the greatest grace. Stories that permit me to continue lying to myself. “It’ll be better. It’ll change. I’ll be happy.” Because even in the horror, even in the darkness… there is light. There is goodness.

There is hope.

I don’t know why the man did what he did last night. My prayers go out to him and to his family and loved ones.

If you hurt. If you are ill. If you look at the rafters and think which one will support your weight… Hold on. Keep lying to yourself. Keep telling yourself that if you just keep moving forward, things WILL change, things WILL get better, you WILL be happy.

Because, as this storyteller will tell you, sometimes the greatest truths can be found when we tell ourselves wonderful lies. Of hope.

God bless. Hug your families. Be good to each other. Never hurt yourselves.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice

What Good is Horror

I hear it all the time: why do you spend your time on horror when there are so many other “good” things you could be writing?
And it’s a legitimate question. A lot of people’s opinions on horror are shaped by the images they see on movie trailers, or confined to the vague idea that horror is something best kept on the back shelves of the book store.
Certainly the average horror novel cover doesn’t do much to dispel that myth, either: disturbing images, creepy figures half-hidden (if we’re lucky) in dark mists… about the only things they all have in common is that 1) they seem a bit less polished than, say, the cover for The Joy Luck Club, and 2) they are designed to elicit fear.
A lot of this is just economic realities: as one of the red-headed stepchildren of publishing, horror has often gotten less-than-prime marketing; has often had to settle for covers that were slipshod or second-rate. Not always, of course, and things are improving a lot as the years go by, but it’s no secret that for decades the covers of horror novels pretty much all involved blood, guts, maybe a bit of flesh peeking out of a torn dress, and a half-seen monster or two.
And even now, when there’s more money and care to be had, a lot of said money goes to things like Hostel Part 42 or Saw 18: The Last Gut-Wrenching. So again, no surprise that people have a concept of horror that often skews toward the obscene.
And the reality is that there is a lot of horror that’s designed (or so it would seem) solely to elicit a gag reflex. Some so-called horror writers think the secret to horror is guts, gore, and gobs of goo. But they’re not really creating horror.
They’re creating pornography: a series of visual or mental images devoid of any emotion other than the minimum required to elicit a physical reaction.
Still, horror – real horror – is different. It’s a special class of literature that serves to remind us that there is evil abroad in the world. That there is terror outside our houses… sometimes even right in our own bedrooms.
But that’s only half the story of horror.
The other half is just as important: because horror, at its best, serves not only to terrorize, but to remind us that we are better than our fear. It drags us to the depths, yes, but then lifts us up again… and in so doing, reminds us that though we have a near-infinite capacity to fail and to fall, so also we have the ability to rise above ourselves. We can survive, we can thrive.
Evil and tragedy are realities, both in life and in fiction. Avoiding them only weakens the stories we tell. I’m not saying we have to dive into the sewers of our darkest impulses for no other reason than because we can, but I do believe that it is only after surviving the darkest hours that we can truly appreciate the brightest days.
A final thought on the brightness that is only possible in horror:
I have a beautiful wife. And by beautiful, I mean stunning. She is so pretty that the first few times I saw her I could barely talk – not a normal occurrence for me.
Now jump to another thought (I promise, it’ll all link up eventually): my gorgeous wife and I lost a child. Years ago. It was – and continues to be – one of the hardest things that either of us have ever gone through. But juxtaposed with that memory, that true horror (one which I dealt with in later novels), is a memory of my wife’s beauty. Because the time I remember her being her most beautiful was not the first time I laid eyes on her, it wasn’t the moment I realized I was in love, it wasn’t our wedding day or the births of our healthy children.
It was in a hospital. There was blood on the sheets, tears in our eyes. Our child was gone. And my wife, through her tears, looked at me… and smiled. She held my hand and said, “It’s all right. It’s all right.”
She was so beautiful.
Horror takes us far beyond what is comfortable. It takes us far below what we feel we can endure. But on the other side of horror, there is light, and beauty, and peace.
And this, my friends, is why I spend my time on horror rather than on “good” stories: because horror leads, in the hands of the best writers, inexorably to the “good” stories. They are one and the same.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice, Writing Advice

Horror and Hope

I am a guy who writes scary stuff. It’s basically all I do. I’m one of the bestselling horror writers on Amazon, and as of this writing one of the scary movies in Redboxes and video stores all over the world has my name after the “screenplay by” part.

I specialize in ghosts and goblins. In things that go bump in the night, in demons that steal souls, in madmen whose greatest desire is to maim and to kill.

In my most recent bestselling horror novel, Apparition, I write extensively about filicide – about parents who kill their children. And in my book, the parents who commit such atrocities do so with gusto, with relish, with lust. It is, as many reviewers have said, not only scary, but a deeply disturbing book.

To reiterate: I am a guy who writes scary stuff.

I am also a father who adores his children, a husband who loves his wife to a point that verges at times on worshipfulness. And I am a fairly (I hope) faithful member of my church (I’m LDS – what most folks call a Mormon), a person who believes in good and bad, and in a God who loves us.

This last is particularly interesting. There have been a lot of conversations at church that have gone like this:

Other Church Person: Hi! You must be new here!
Me: Yup! Just moved in.
OCP: Well, glad to have you. What do you do.
Me: I’m a writer.
OCP: How cool! Like, Harry Potter?
Me: Yeah. If Harry bursts into flames and then murders Ron and Hermione.
OCP: Um… huh….

I’m exaggerating a bit. But there are a lot of surprised looks when they realize I wrote that book, or that movie. Because how could someone so normal-seeming, so loving, so God-fearing write stuff like that?

The answer is in the question: it’s precisely because I am those things that horror comes so easily to me. Because horror is by far the most hopeful and Godly (note the capital “g”) of all the genres.

To be sure, there are plenty of horror stories out there that are nothing more than an excuse to go diving in the sewers of the mind. The kind of movies and books that basically make their audiences feel like taking a shower afterward… if not just taking a Brillo to the surface of their brains to get those images out.

But the thing about horror is that because it is, by definition, horrible, it also allows for goodness to bloom. In taking us to the depths of misery it allows us to climb to the heights of heroism.

An example: during history classes in U.S. schools, wars are taught more than anything else. Partly this is because wars determine history more than almost any other factor. Partly it is because wars are intrinsically dramatic and therefor interesting.

And of all the wars taught, there are two that are taught more than any other: WWII and the Civil War. There are a lot of erudite, scholarly reasons that could be given for this. But they are wrong. The simple fact is that in these two wars we saw something rare: a clear “good” guy and an even clearer “bad” guy. There was no way of painting the South as anything but evil, since their primary political platform rested on the backs of African slaves. Similarly, Hitler’s entire philosophy was one of megalomaniacal hatred and genocide. He even had the black moustache preferred by evildoers since caveman times (Snidely Whiplash and Yosemite Sam are actually based on cave paintings found in Mesopotamia).

So the lines were drawn. The evil stood on one side, the good on the other. And these were not genteel, rule-abiding evils. If you ever want a real definition of “horror,” read about what happened at places like Dachau and Buchenwald, imagine what occurred during the Bataan Death March, try to put yourself in the place of the slaves transported from Africa to the Southern Confederacy in the bellies of ships we wouldn’t consider humane for cockroaches today. The horror was real, and it was beyond the imagining of most of us.

But just as important… the horror, the evil, the wickedness failed to conquer. There were perils, there were horrors. Real people were challenged, many lost their lives. Perhaps even worse, those that did not die lived lives marred by mental and physical maimings, by emotional and psychic traumas the true depths of which no one else could understand.

But we went on. Heroes were made, not born. Humanity rose above itself and, in the best of moments, became enough – if only just enough – to combat the evil.

We remember Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents, in no small measure because we see him as the embodiment of the spirit that brought us through a terrible and troubling time in our nation’s history. We remember the WWII G.I.’s as some of the Greatest Generation, because they fought some of the wickedest men the world has ever known… and resisted the urge to become that wickedness themselves.

And what does all this have to do with writing horror?


Horror has power possessed by no other genre. It can take us to the depths. It can then leave us there to rot, which is not my style, or it can then bring us back up… and in so doing show us that salvation is possible even from the profoundest darkness. It can possess a child and put her through terrible privations and suffering… but then rescue her, and in so doing remind us that if there is a Devil, perhaps there is also a God.

There are many kinds of horror. There are those that celebrate evil, and I don’t like those so much. I’m not saying don’t ever read them, I’m not advocating for a book-burning (one of the lessons we’ve learned). I’m just saying I don’t like them.

But I do like the horror that examines evil. And then shows us its weaknesses. Shows us that it can be beaten. And shows us, most importantly, that we are not it. That we are better than it. That we are more than what we fear.

Horror is the failure of hope. But it is only in that final moment when hope fails that we can find faith, and in so doing can rise above our fallen states and find a bit of divinity within ourselves.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice, Writing Advice