Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Black, white and shades therein

I don't make a secret of my love of horror movies and writing here, but I don't dwell on it, either. I run a day care, and many people assume that just because you appreciate a good decapitation scene in a movie or book that there is something necessarily violent about you. Not true. I like my violence where it is safe: on the screen and in words. I always have.

I remember the first "scary" thing I ever read. Oh, not the title or story or anything, just the author. Alfred Hitchcock. I was in third or fourth grade, and I wanted to challenge myself. I've always been an avid reader, and growing up I was reading stuff pretty advanced for my age. (The stuff meant for my age was insulting to all but the slowest of readers. Kids may need to be introduced carefully to some subjects, but they are not morons.) So I picked up something I knew would be scary, or at least challenging, and I dove in.

When I was done, I was surprised. No slithering corpses had come out from under my bed. No wailing banshees had taken my soul, no murderers slipped into my house and disposed of my family as I slept. Most importantly, I hadn't been scared. It was a book, like any other, and I had read it, enjoyed it, finished it and remained unscathed by the experience. I went looking for scarier books, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke.

I don't remember when I found Stephen King. I don't remember the first book of his I read. I'm not great at details; I mostly go on impressions. I suspect the first Stephen King story I read was "It" and that I fell in love instantly. Stephen King, to me, is not a good horror writer. He is a great writer, and horror happens to be his thing. I love horror, but I love well written horror. Movies are different; even a really bad horror movie is good. It's fun. But with written horror, only the good stuff is worth it. Writing is a craft, and it is one I appreciate, having neither the skill nor the imagination to do it well myself. Those authors who write not for the craft, but for the money, they are mental masturbation. I prefer a partner in the endeavor, if I can get one.

Not to say that a Stephanie Plum book isn't fun once in a while, but I can't stomach one after another. King, however, I can read again and again. It might be that horror, and King, are what fill the hole in my brain. I don't know. I love book of all sorts, and cherish finding a new author with talent, skill and range. Kate Chopin was a delightful find through blog-dom, Carl Sagan from quotes I've seen around. I adore Tolkein as long winded as he is, Poe and especially Lovecraft. But here we come round again to the horror. Perhaps it is as King says, that we all have a sieve and that different stuff gets caught in it for all of us. Horror is my thing. Fantasy might be yours. (Or Romantic novels, although I've never read a good one. It's probably that I haven't read enough to find a quality author.) I think it was Tom Robbins that cracked me up and made me think, and "A Confederacy of Dunces" was a work of, if not genius, something close. But when it comes to getting down and dirty and out of reality for a while I go for a good story with slithery, slimy, cold and creepy things in it. Some may think it's an odd place to keep a sanctuary. To be fair, I also keep a sanctuary in crafty-land, which is as far from the other place as you can get. But my home away from home is where the Bad Things Happen For No Reason. It's a safe place for me because it's not real, not in novels. I don't like the stuff that hits too close to home. But I'm not afraid of a hard ending or an unhappy one. As long as it's pretend. But I digress...

I have come to love Stephen King for another reason: he is flawed. We all are. Every person has a dark side, and how we choose to focus on or away from that part of ourselves is essential to who we are now and who we will become. I exorcise my demons in fiction, and focus on yoga, Buddhism, non-violence and love. But that doesn't mean I don't fuck up, or that I haven't seriously fucked up before, or that I won't again. King has written about his shortcomings, both through his fiction and non-fiction venues. It isn't always easy to read. But then again, neither is some of the stuff I read on my favorite blogs. Life is messy sometimes. King talks about drinking Scope, family interventions, blood-encrusted coke spoons and how "The Shining" came about. He talks about it honestly, as do the people I admire the most. I don't talk about my demons here, which is something I'm a little ashamed of. But then there's that day care thing, and some bits of all of us are best left in the dark. I've never struggled with alcoholism or gang violence or murder, but I haven't floated merrily through on a cloud of rainbow farting unicorns, either. Perhaps it all comes back to balance. King is a wonderful writer and horrible person? No, but he has his shades of gray. We all do. If it were as easy as black and white there wouldn't be anything worth reading in any genre.

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