Mr. Luke Walker suggests that sex and death are as taboo in genre fiction as they are in real life. If you have ever announced that you write of lust or gore only to encounter slack jaws and raised eyebrows, then this article is for you.
Have I got your attention?
I’ve got it now, haven’t I?
So, sex and death: life’s two constants and the two subjects that link everybody in the world. And the two subjects that scare us more than anything else. We make up stories about them; we see them as either dirty secrets or areas we have to joke about in order to either make sense of them or reduce them to a manageable level. They’re two sides of the coin and I don’t see much difference between erotic fiction (Lucy’s area) and horror (mine). Lucy pulls back the bedcovers to show you who’s under there and to take a peek (or a long, hard look if you prefer) at what they’re up to. I, on the other hand, leave the covers where they are to check under the bed and see what’s in the dark, waiting to grab hold of your ankle.
Before we lose our virginity, sex is the big mystery. We hit a certain age and it becomes the main issue in our lives. We talk about it with our mates and we listen to rumours about her doing it with him while we wonder if we’ll ever get to do it. Then when it happens, we wonder if we’re doing it right or if we’re getting something hideously wrong and will be laughed about when the other person talks about it with their friends. After all that’s out of the way, we wonder if we’ll get to do it again. It’s a different mystery than it was beforehand, but the question inside that mystery is still there.
Then there’s death. That’s around us all the time just like sex is even if we don’t realise it or don’t want to think about it. As soon as we’re born, we’re heading to our end. If we’re lucky, that end will be decades down the line and we’ll have all the fun (and mystery) of life to come, but whether we’re lucky enough to have a long life or we’re marked for an early exit, that end is still coming. And there’s not a thing we can do about it. We all die and the world keeps going without us. It doesn’t care when we leave it. It’s too busy carrying on without us. And that’s just rude, isn’t it? How dare it continue from the day or the minute or the second we leave it? But no matter what we do, we die and it’s the job of the horror writer to show the world continuing without us. That’s the real horror of life for most people.
This last part is, I think, the main reason many people dislike horror in the same way they dislike erotica. They can say it’s down to horror and erotica apparently trivialising death and sex respectively. They think the horror writer and the erotica writer decrease the value of hugely important issues for a cheap thrill, and let’s be honest here: some writers do cheapen both just as some filmmakers think a horror film is about nothing more than blood splattering on the screen and some porn is designed to be gross in the same way but with different fluids. Some writers do this but nowhere near all.
Personally, I think a lot of people are either misleading themselves or outright lying to themselves when it comes to their dislike of horror and erotica. It’s down to a fear of sex and death. They can’t handle either and so can’t understand how others can or at least attempt to. They think the horror or erotica writer must have something wrong with their thinking if they want to explore unpleasant and deeply personal themes. They ask the writer why they write such subjects in a way that they don’t think to ask the thriller writer or the literary writer. It’s acceptable to explore humanity or try to excite them with a spy adventure; it’s strange to want to scare people or to arouse them.
Like I said, horror and erotica are two sides of the same coin. It’s the job of the writer of both subjects to treat their story and audience with the deserved respect. If some don’t understand this, that’s down to them.
Their monsters will get them in the end.
Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. Much of his work focuses on contemporary horror and fantasy novels although he has always had a love of a short, sharp shock of horror — a love which started at age nine when he read Poe's The Cask of Amontillado. A number of his short stories have been published online at Dark Fire Fiction. He is thirty-three and lives in Cambridgeshire, England, with his wife, two cats and not enough zombie films. His blog can be found here: http://getthegirlkillthebaddies.blogspot.com/
He still won't go into a wine cellar.