WHY I WRITE HORROR by Israel Finn
I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I remember when I was about seven and sitting on the floor with my best buddy, Mark Benningfield. Our trusty GI Joes were there between us, their expressions remaining calm and resolute even in the face of certain death. I recall Mark asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and out of the clear blue, without even thinking about it, I heard myself say I wanted to be a writer. Which is pretty strange, since I know now that I couldn’t possibly have known then just exactly what it was that a writer even did. Sometimes I’m still not sure I know. But there it was, out in the open, and I couldn’t take it back. Plus, I was seven for chrissakes. I mean, really, I think most boys that age would have answered Mark’s question with, “I’m gonna be a fireman,” or “I wanna be an astronaut,” or “I gotta go pee.”
But Mark (God love him), he didn’t even bat an eye. Granted, ol’ Joe was in a peck of trouble and Mark had his hands full at the time. But I’ll always remember his reaction to what I said, which was really no reaction at all. That in itself made me think that being a writer could be a real thing. It was a golden moment.
I started writing around nine or ten, but my efforts were half-hearted. Then my dad made me read an Edgar Rice Burroughs book as punishment for something or other. At first I hated it. I still had vague dreams of becoming a “big time” writer, but I hadn’t yet learned that I had to become a reader first. So I struggled through that thick entanglement of words as if clawing my way through a briar patch. It was torture…
And then it wasn’t. Before I knew it, I was in the story. I was Tarzan of the Apes, a naked savage leaping in wild, fearless abandon from tree limb to tree limb hundreds of feet above the jungle floor. Another golden moment, one which set me on a path. To me there is nothing– and I mean nothing—like losing yourself in a good book. It makes me sad for those who never discovered that world, who say things like, “I don’t see how you can just sit there for hours at a time and do nothing.” Nothing, they say. Poor ignorant souls.
After that, I read everything I could get my hands on. I wrote short stories like my ass was on fire and finished my first novel at the age of twelve. It wasn’t very good—in fact, it sucked big time—but I didn’t know that and it never occurred to me to care. I was just writing for the pure joy of it.
And so began my life-long love affair with books. I was weaned on authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells. Books were always strewn everywhere about the big white house in the Midwest where I grew up. Though I loved literary works (Dickens and Twain, for instance), my main fascination leaned toward the fantastic and the macabre, probably because I was so heavily exposed to it. I was obsessed with it. Still am. Later I discovered Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, F. Paul Wilson, Dan Simmons, Ramsey Campbell, and (God help us one and all) Stephen Edwin King, as well as several others, and the die was indelibly cast.
I’ve taken a few detours along the way, as we all do in life. But I’ve kept telling stories the whole time. I‘ve also developed a philosophy of “Live and let live” and I believe people should be allowed to do anything they damn well please, as long as they’re not hurting someone else.
I’ve led a pretty crazy life and done some really foolish things, mostly just to be able to say I did them (though along the way I’ve always tried to treat people the same way I wanted to be treated, with kindness and empathy) and I was lucky enough to come out on the other side in one piece. And, I hope, a little wiser. I’ve known some who weren’t so fortunate. But I think we do the things we do in life because we’re the protagonists of our own stories, and we want what we create to be as remarkable as can be.
I guess what I’m saying is that we all have something to say, something to give. I think that’s why we’re here. Some of us say it by planting a garden, others say it by painting a picture or singing a song. Me, I write. I’m compelled to write about extraordinary circumstances but, moreover, I’m driven to write about people. To me, the circumstance isn’t nearly as interesting as a character’s reaction to it. They have to feel. They have to get hungry and pissed. They have to sweat and stink, bleed and breathe, and fucking fight for their place in this world. They must live. Otherwise it’s just bullshit. It’s like Stephen King said: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” And Mark Twain said that everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.
It’s that dark side I wonder about. It’s why I write about it. Because it’s what brought me here, and you should always dance with the one who brung ya.