It’s a still-sunny October early evening here at the ranch in southeastern Arizona, temperature in the high 70s. I’ve just been outside lighting the coals to barbecue some hamburgers—a summer activity in some places, but summer lingers here. The charcoal I’m using is called El Diablo Brand—the Devil—and there’s a picture on the bag of a smiling devil’s head. I’m looking at that, and I’m thinking about you…
You’re hurrying toward a dark street corner, your heels clicking on the sidewalk, when you hear another click, around the corner, that might be a switchblade knife opening…
You’re sitting on your bed, quivering, pillow scrunched in your lap, knowing with absolute certainty that if you dare to swing your legs over the side, the thing hiding in the darkness beneath the bed will grab you and pull you under…
You’re passing through a doorway in a dank old mansion, brushing aside thick cobwebs with your arm (but not all of it, some trails behind, drawing a damp line across your cheek, with the familiarity of a lover’s caress). Inside the room, you reach a place where the temperature seems to drop sixty degrees all at once. You start to shiver, and not just because you can feel someone’s gaze fixed on you in the empty room…
You’re huddled with three others in an empty suburban house in an empty suburban neighborhood. Outside, the living dead test the doors, the windows, because they can sense human flesh inside. And one of the people you’re locked in with starts to moan, and she’s been looking awfully pale…
Of course, you wouldn’t want to be in any of these situations, in real life.
But you don’t mind reading about them.
If you’re like some of us, you love reading about them, and watching movies and TV shows about them.
And others of us are glad you do, because we love writing about them. I’m one of those.
I’ve written a lot of books. Forty-six novels. Somewhere north of 130 comic books and graphic novels. I’ve written or contributed to six or seven nonfiction books, and I’ve written probably a couple of dozen short stories. These are the published works I’m counting, not the ones sitting in a drawer (or, more likely, a folder on the trusty MacBook).
Of those published works, not all of them are horror. But the vast majority of them are, or at least have horrific elements. Some of the books focusing on crime and mystery are scary not because of their supernatural aspects, but because they’re about the terrible things that human beings do to each other—and if you delve very deeply into that topic, you’ll see that those things are often far more terrifying than anything a zombie or a vampire or a ghost can do.
I’ve never been sure why I write the scary stuff. I can make some guesses, though. In the introduction to a collection of my short horror fiction called Nine Frights, I wrote this:
The way I see it, we have two options in life. We can ignore the terrors that surround us, although that ignoring can turn to internalizing—so that if that adaptive ignorance ever fails, if the terrors are forced into our faces, they’ll take us down that much faster.
Or we can look into the abyss. We can consider the terrors of life in other ways—through fiction, for instance—and maybe come out of it better able to cope with the real-life ones when we meet them down the road.
We still adapt. We accept. But not without occasionally reminding ourselves of some of the things that can go wrong. Not without remembering that we just don’t know what’s behind that next door.
Maybe that approaches an answer. Then again, maybe not. For the last 30+ years I’ve worked as a writer, a bookseller, and a publisher. I’m a co-owner of a bookstore called Mysterious Galaxy (San Diego and Redondo Beach, CA, or http://mystgalaxy.com) that specializes in mystery and suspense, science fiction and fantasy, and horror and urban fantasy. Yes, the scary stuff. I’ve been the editor-in-chief of IDW Publishing, a company often credited for bringing horror back into comic book prominence with such titles as 30 Days of Night. Heck, I’ve written four 30 Days of Night novels, three of them with Steve Niles, the original writer on the comics, and the fourth one solo. A few weeks ago I was a guest of honor at a horror convention called KillerCon. I count among my best friends and acquaintances many of the people who write horror fiction.
I’m somewhat immersed in the stuff, you could say.
And yet, I don’t really know why I write it. Or why any of us reads it. I can make guesses—see above. But that’s all they are.
All I know is that at Halloween, more people than ever are glued to horror movies, flipping the pages of horror books, eating jack-o-lantern cookies, and handing out candy to ghosts and vampires (and this year, no doubt, record numbers of zombies).
Those things will eat your brains—but on this one day, they’ll settle for a Snickers bar.
It’s not surprising that at this time of year, we’re more accepting of the supernatural. The ancient Celts who celebrated Samhain believed that on that day, the veil between the dead and the living blurred and ghosts could return to Earth. Christianity co-opted the holiday and commercialism further sanitized it; but its origins are all about magic and spirits and things we modern folk find spooky and strange.
For some of us, it’s the high point of the year.
If you’re curious about my work, let me suggest a few options. For teen readers (and the many adults who love teen fiction), my newest release is Dark Vengeance, Volume 1, which contains the full-length novels Summer and Fall. Volume 2, out in May 2012, contains the follow-up novels Winter and Spring. It’s the 4-part story of Kerry Profitt, who finds herself caught up in a centuries-old war between witches.
The Slab is a horror novel for adults, originally published in a heavily illustrated trade paperback edition, but now also available (sans illustrations, and much cheaper) in various e-book formats. The most recent review compares it to one of “those books that had a roller-coaster fun heart, with a
huge cast of characters, that kept you turning each page under the covers long after your parents told you to go to sleep.”
Nine Frights is the short horror fiction collection mentioned above. Currently, it’s available only as an e-book, in various formats. Some of the stories in it have been published previously, and some are original to this collection. The most recent review of it says “…each and every one of the stories in Nine Frights, as upsetting and as dark as most of them are, leave the reader with a positive perception of human nature, a glimmer of hope, or at least an understanding of why choices were made.” All of my work is listed at my website, http://jeffmariotte.com. And you can find me on Facebook, too.
But regardless of whether you read one of my books, or somebody else’s, I hope you enjoy something spooky. Just leave a light on. And lock the door.
You never know what’s waiting out there in the dark…
Jeff, thank you for joining us today!