I love an author with a sense of humor, so I am more than pleased to be able to host author Damien Kelly on The Caffeinated Diva today! I think I was hooked the moment I read the bio on his site, which I have shared below! Then I discovered that Season of the Macabre was a collection of holiday stories. Scary, creepy, distubing holiday stories. I LOVE!! So read on, learn a bit about the author (including his whistleblowing incident mentioned below), and read his guest post! And then… GO BUY THIS BOOK!!
About the author…
Damien was formerly the elf in charge of Santa’s Naughty List, but when he exposed the now infamous “Cash for Candy Canes” racket at the North Pole, he was chucked. He has since given up telling the truth.
Guest post by Damien Kelly
I know what scares me: Jaws.
Man, that movie scares the living crap out of me, and even thinking about sharks makes my skin crawl. I live on an island. More than that, along the Northwest coast of Ireland, where I am, a warm Gulf Stream makes its way south and small sharks can be fished off the piers of seaside resorts. They’re here, they’re close. And I can’t swim. But even if I could—in fact, I suspect maybe especially if I could—the sheer number of different fear factors in play when you consider the scenario of a shark attack, make for sickening contemplation.
They’re not slowed by the water in the way you are, and they can’t drown like you can, even if you did find an opening through which to swim away. You can be tempted to think that, having read somewhere that a blow to the snout is how you drive a shark off, you’ll just lay fist to the monster’s nose and maybe have a chance of beating it, but there’s that water resistance again, making punching with any kind of force impossible. No matter which rational approach you take towards thinking your way out of the situation, the shark has all the advantages. But that’s not the really scary bit.
The really scary bit is when you realise that, having started thinking about surviving a shark attack, you began from the presumption that you’d even know you were being attacked; that you would know when you’d done something, or went somewhere, that obviously left you open to danger, and you’d be somehow vigilant to the threat.
The bit in Jaws that’s truly terrifying is not the terrible destruction visited upon the three heroes in their little boat at the end of the movie, with Robert Shaw’s bloody death framed, close up, in the carnage of his shattered craft. It’s not even the boiling water of the first attacks, blood and chump fountaining around a screaming face and flailing arms. It’s those smooth, unsuspecting legs, viewed from below and getting ever closer to the camera, and the body above insensate to what’s underneath it.
Not just in the terrible expectation of what is to come, the terror lies in the way in which you can’t work out what the victim has done wrong. There’s nothing she missed or wasn’t supposed to do, no crime she’s committed. She’s not even an individual; stripped naked of any distinguishing identity, she’s you and me, and what makes it so damn scary is that you’re running through the last time you were in the water, doing nothing out of the ordinary, never looking down, nothing to be heard, the huge invisible engine that drives those hideous teeth pushing silently, invisibly upwards, already smelling you, already tasting you, already a part of you in its mouth…
And the best horror lets you finish that for yourself.
To write horror, you have to find your own mechanism of fear. You have to know how you want to be hurt, but also find a way to give everyone the same opportunity to be hurt in their own way. The very best (worst?) horror fills unwritten gaps.
It’s not hard to find generic ideas about what it is that horror does for us: how it reflects the violence and damage in political or community conflicts; how it allows us to bring the supernatural to bear on the inexplicable ways we go about hurting one another, and consign our fears to unscientific mystery; how it gives us a safe space in which to loose our repressed lusts for the most taboo of behaviours; or, if you’re Stephen King, how it prepares us for death. But for every definition, there’s an exception; for every meat a poison.
I don’t write about sharks, though I could probably make a damn fine stab at it, but I do try to capture that sense of horror that happens indiscriminately like the shark attack, or that happens in the face of every rational attempt to forestall it. Like the great H.P. Lovecraft, I relish horror where it’s clear that the intended victim is going to lose, and not because they deserve to. If I had to try to distill what horror does for us into a single idea, it would be that: it tells us we’re going to lose. Compete with, fight, defend against—maybe. But lose.
And I don’t think you can mess with that bit, because for all the various competing definitions of what horror is, I maintain a single concrete definition of what I think it isn’t, despite any evidence to the contrary in the creations of other horror producers: I don’t think horror is about us striking back against our fears and putting them to rest.
That’s adventure, at least to my way of thinking. Killing the zombies, bedding the vampire, exploding the shark, exorcising the ghost: that’s when the horror story loses me, no matter what the medium. It’s not that I don’t appreciate adventure stories, I like adventure, I even like to write it. But for horror, I’m chasing that macabre tension that exists in those dragging moments before the kill, and the great joy of writing short stories is that I can train the focus of my writing on just that period of time, leaving the rest to the reader to weave around it. Because the great thing about defeat is, even when you go the whole way and show it explicitly, it still leaves the door open to future defeats, one of which may very well be the reader’s own. Faced with that prospect, they’ll invariably paint it luridly in the colours of their own fears, hurting themselves in their own individual manner; a pin stuck in a personal pain that I could never hope to pierce by stabbing blindly from the outside. It doesn’t matter whether I’m writing a supernatural story or a psychological chiller, the demons the reader brings with them are just waiting for that loose end to swing from.
Filling those unwritten gaps, their fears rise inexorably from that black deep where the bone white sharks live, and wait.