Slaying Genre: A Monthly Column on Horror, Noir, Fantasy & the Other Red-Headed Step-Children of the Literary World
Some folks are petrified of admitting that they love writing about monsters. Especially literary writers (and yes, literary is a genre like any other, be it thriller or romance). As a teacher of creative writing, I find that some of my students (even in horror and dark fiction courses!) hide their love for the creepy, murderous, and undead from spouses, friends, and more “literarily minded” writers like it’s a dirty little secret. Of course, I have spent valuable class time underscoring the importance of the monster in Western society, quoted Freud’s essays on the uncanny and Jung’s concept of the shadow self until I was blue in the face, but it’s all only theory (though fascinating theory) until one can understand the transformations that monsters can bring, the doors they can open, the power they can bestow.
Everyone needs a “monster epiphany”: a realization of the physical and psychological spaces that monsters enable you to access, creepy corridors in your brain that can’t quite be reached any other way. And so, instead of quoting the fathers of modern psychology or cultural theorists, I turn, close to the eve of Halloween, to my own story of monsters to show just how crucial they can be to writers of all genres (whether you traffic in trolls or dabble in hell-hounds, or even--gasp!--grapple with the next great American novel) who are trying to own who they are and what they do.
When I was home sick from school, my grandmother would tuck me in front of the television, hand me a cup of steaming tea with some whiskey thrown in (Nana was Irish and according to her, alcohol cured nearly everything), and turn on the monsters. With feverish eyes, I devoured classics like Dracula and Frankenstein (or classics-by-then Hammer films starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), and half-dreamt through Psycho, Pet Semetery, and The Night of the Living Dead. When the credits rolled and the evil (mostly) vaniquished, I always, always felt better.
To a little girl who had lived rough, been caught in the cycles of poverty, abuse, and abandonment and was forever afraid of being taken away, of being left behind, knowing and understanding the monsters in these movies became a manageable way for me to deal with the scary things in the world. They were the danger I could see, the danger I could easily banish with holy water, sunlight, a blow to the head, a crafty incantation. Knowing that they could be tamed, killed, and sometimes even appeased, helped me feel empowered, less scared of what lurked in the shadows of my own life.
By the time I was a teenager, monsters became like kin to me: they were the evil, strange, and just plain wrong, figures that could fight the conformist demons in the super-religious immigrant culture that I was trying to break away from. Monsters became my mirror, the metaphor of my dark desires, the true self that I feared giving voice to. They started whispering at the corners of notebooks until soon they screamed on the page in a voice that was never quite human but was always part me, part what I feared, and part what I yearned for. Submitting to these voices, these monsters, letting them speak through me became a way to explore the sinister parts of the human condition and the most powerful parts of myself. When I write monsters, I am truly owning all of my weird, dank, and strange passions, compulsions, desires, and fears.When I write monsters, I am no longer afraid.
What was your monster epiphany and how did it help you own what you write? Let me know in the comments!
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira