I was goofing around my home office a while back, not engaged in much, when my son wandered in. Now picture a paper factory that has exploded, listen for the sounds of technology in various degrees of nervous collapse accompanied by my profanity (a few well placed swear words grease the grinding gears of life, thank you very much), and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what exactly goes on in my home office.
Anyway, after being nosey in the manner of kids (especially him) my boy looked at me and asked, “Daddy, why do you always write about spooky stuff.”
That question wasn’t exactly surprising or shocking — the kid has asked me worse, let me assure you. I’ve heard that question before at various stages of my life. What I’ve never done is attempt to answer it. So, in the spirit of blogging when I should be working on my novel, welcome one and all to my answer.
A little context first. What my son was referring to is that I write a lot of horror stories. I’ve always been attracted to the horror genre in all of its forms. I guess it all started with Swamp Thing.
When I was younger than my boy, the only place to see a movie in my hometown was a rather dilapidated drive-in called the Cinema 7. I’ve no clue what the 7 in the name was all about. This was a mom and pop place and it sure didn’t have seven screens. It had one big screen that my younger mind remembers as being roughly the size of a football field (no where near the vicinity of that size. Ah, nostalgia).
Nope. This wasn’t a fancy place. It was about twelve miles past the turnoff for fancy. The popcorn always tasted stale, the hot dogs were too tough, and the pizza slices were always cold and greasy. The audio quality of what you watched was always crappy, and sometimes the AM band you dialed it up on had some kind of local religious program that cut in and out. What you saw on the screen wasn’t in much better shape— the images could jump and be flickery, almost as if the film was in danger of breaking.
Despite all of those things, maybe even because of those things, the Cinema 7 remains the finest place I’ve ever seen a movie at. That old drive-in, on its last legs during the early eighties, was a magical place. As a little boy, I was responding to something I didn’t fully understand then: the drive-in was a place for stories. Even then, I needed stories.
I’ve read accounts by other writers and creative types about when the thing first hit them. Stephen King describes it as a “dowsing rod moment” in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre, and he explains it better than I can. Let’s just say that it came to me when I first saw Swamp Thing at the Cinema 7.
Now swampy was a loose adaption of a DC comic that had a pretty phenomenal run when it was being penned by Alan Moore. By loose, I mean loose as a goose. This movie is a B grade epic that mixes monster movies, late seventies horror films, and superheroes up into a sweet smoothie of weird. It looks like it cost about one hundred bucks to make, and the producers may have stole the money from one of their grandmother’s wallet.Oh yeah, it was also directed by some guy you might have heard of named Wes Craven. He made up that melty wiseass with the clawed glove.
Swampy is a veritable cornucopia of B genre pictures cliches. It’s got the mad doctor who wants to conquer the world and his bizarre looking henchmen, it’s got guys flailing at each other in rubber suits, it’s got the token black sidekick and it’s got pointless random nudity. Seriously, all it needed was a midget and …
For reasons that can never be explained because some things are best left unknown, my impressionable mind just latched right onto what I was following on screen. Suddenly I wanted slimy monsters, buxom and plucky Hawksian heroines who nevertheless manage to fall down, vaguely foreign actors who were once in better movies and who overact, and just all kinds of silliness that I had only been dimly aware of before.
It wasn’t long before this interest was being carried across the board— in what I watched, read, thought, and eventually in what I wrote.
My mother was the first person who ever asked me the why question. She was a woman of literary pretensions, high taste, and her own entertainment junk food diet was minimal. She never understood why I like what I like and write what I write. Especially the gooshy stuff.
I was close to my mom, and as a kid it really bothered me. I felt like I was disappointing her somehow. She never confirmed outright that I was disappointing her, but I would sometimes catch her watching me watch some Bela Lugosi shlocker on Commander USA’s Groovy Movies and I would know. Mother would also do the long suffering sighing thing a lot, usually right before picking up her dog eared copy of The Great Gatsby. Yeah, those were dead giveaways.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that at times the motivational factor in doing anything creative is often beyond our understanding. It doesn’t mean that it’s mysterious, or you’re in touch with some higher cosmic plane, as some ar-teest types would have you believe, people who wallow in their own importance.
All of us who write, draw, paint, point a camera at something, make music, whatever your taste, have had to deal with those kinds of people before. The real question isn’t why you write what you write or do what you do. The real question is why some people are are such pompous, conceited and elitist asshats (especially in an industry that publishes 50 Shades of Grey….like on purpose, even).
Express yourself how you want to express yourself, and be happy with what you have to be happy with. That’s not much of an answer but it’s the best I got, kiddies