Every month I have lunch with a small group of writers. We sit in nice easy chairs and a couch eating burgers or salmon or stew and talk about all manner things from current events and politics to memories of our past to our latest writing projects. Two of my friends remember the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and how bad it was in the days before the Polio and other vaccines became available.
Of course, we talk a lot about writing, from the specifics of particular projects to the abstract conversations about what we write and why we write it. At the latest lunch, we were discussing projects and I mentioned that as a writer of “popcorn horror,” I was working on a novelette set in Denver in 1925.
My popcorn horror descriptor drew a laugh, but I was serious. I’ve been writing fiction for 35 years (more actually when I count my unsuccessful “trunk novels”) and I’ve taken a pragmatic look at myself and my work. I’m not striving to write the Great American Novel, whatever that pipe dream is; I write stories that are scary (I hope) and fun. They’re not to everyone’s taste. I know people who hate the very idea of horror fiction. Many years ago at an outdoor reception, a young man introduced me to his mother, telling her that I was the school’s PR guy and a “horror writer.” Instantly the latter comment opened an acerbic and, as I recall, loud can of worms. “How could I write about horror when the world is such an awful place?” I wish I could say my response was rapier keen, but, alas, it wasn’t. I simply responded with some insipid comment and walked away.
Everyone has issues and I’ve discovered that horror fiction — even my kind of popcorn horror — can ignite incendiary and spiteful responses when I tread on someone’s issue or gore their pet bull. I can say in all honesty, those childish, over-the-top reactions amuse me and make writing all the more fun.
And that’s the crux of my thesis on popcorn horror. It’s fun to write. Sometimes, when I’m on a roll or just lucky, I scare myself. Believe me, if a horror writer can scare himself or herself, s/he can scare the hell out of the reader. It’s nice to make their skin crawl, but if I can make my readers experience a bit of incontinence while reading late at night, all the better.