Over the holidays, I had some time to reflect on the events that led me to become a horror writer. As a boy, what I was allowed to watch was strictly regulated. My parents were of the mindset that anything made before 1970 was fine, but modern films needed to be scrutinized. Because of that, I grew up with an appreciation of the old classics: Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein, I loved them all. Abbot and Costello were also boyhood favorites of mine. Any and all combination of the above ingredients in a film was a-ok in my book. I also loved The Twilight Zone reruns. My imagination has always been a refuge for me, whether through books, movies, shows, or games. Since black and white classics were all I was allowed to watch, I poured myself into them as much as I could.
Then, when I was in the fourth grade, a friend of mine named Tim lent me Stephen King’s It. I was an avid reader already, but just holding the beat-up paperback in my hand felt like a daunting challenge. My fingers could barely wrap around the bulk of It. I very well may have handed the book right back if I could have grasped the type of story it held, but I had no idea. I wasn’t ready to have all of my favorite old time monsters brought to life individually, or to face my worst inner horror as expressed through the family life of stuttering Bill. My own little brother had died just two years before I read “It“, and the scenes about his parents becoming ghosts of themselves and basically forgetting about Bill hit home a lot harder than my ten year old brain could properly digest.
I read the first page somewhat innocent and, like the characters in the story, by the end I was profoundly changed. I had gotten in way over my head. I wasn’t at all prepared for it. I felt like I barely survived, and I loved every terrifying minute of it. I’m currently reading the story again, and if there ever was a better book to read as a nine year old and then later on in your mid-thirties, I can’t think of it. I also really love the new film. They knocked it out of the park, in my opinion. As good as the film is, though, nothing compares to the novel. Books will always be able to take you places that other forms of media just can’t get to.
As a boy, reading was my drug of choice. In a lot of ways, it still is. Imagination is a refuge, a great escape. Good stories give our minds a small vacation from whatever stresses are out of our control in the real world. One of the biggest motivators for me as an author is to share the joy of reading that I have had for most of my life. No matter how picture-perfect modern movies can get when it comes to special effects, there are still a number of places that written fiction can reach which are beyond the grasp of film and TV. I appreciate that as a reader, and try to capitalize on it as much as possible as a writer.
Although there are a number of zombie-POV shows out now (looking at you, I Zombie and Santa Clarita Diet). I’m confident that they don’t hold a candle to understanding what a zombie POV really entails (which is a primary concern in my novel President Zombie). Written fiction is the only medium that can provide the level of intimacy and empathy that fans really crave. There is no computer program or effect that can translate the level of proximity to the characters that written stories allow. Some things, you just have to read to get yourself there. No modern solution can circumvent the process. Sure, there are audiobooks to bridge the gap between the desire to be entertained and the discipline to read one word after another. They get close to the place of full understanding, but I am a firm believer in the idea that only by reading words to yourself can you tap into the level of participation that all storytellers hope to engage in. There is something about written fiction (and fact) which hits closer, and harder, than any movie or show could hope to.
I’m glad I didn’t know what I was in for when I started reading It. I’m also grateful that I didn’t chicken out and stop reading when things got intense. Sometimes we need to be traumatized a little so that our minds can expand. I wish I remembered my friend Tim’s last name, so that I could reach out and thank him for giving me so many nightmares, so many years ago.