We have Timothy Black, who once had a bowler hat made of angry weasels, here today, sharing a lengthly, but very interesting, post with the full title of "How some folks view scenes and get squigged out while others can eat their Cheerios."
I want a pony.
Made of pie.
That screams when I eat it.
Quick, what's the first thing that pops into your mind (other than an overwhelming urge to contact the local authorities)? Did you read the above and snicker because you thought of a cartoonish equine related to Gumby running around screaming while greedy little children chase it laughing? Did you flash to a hyper-realistic mutated horse that reminds you of all the horrors of real animal cruelty interbred with terrible genetic engineering, despite the absurd situation set up by the second line? Which way was it meant? Only context can tell us.
But even with the framework, sometimes it is the initial idea itself that cannot shake loose from your brain. Some folks are just going to get this Tromaville crime-against-reality monster running around in their heads, neighing for the release of death from its torturous existence. Was that what I meant? Nope. But it is one possible outcome, and once I become aware of it I'm left with either keeping my demented ramblings quiet or cackling madly as I spread the warped image around while watching to see who shudders. So do I spread the plague of my imagination around in its pure form or do I try and tone it down to different levels of comfort?
The question has occurred many times to me in life, most recently when the publisher released my new steampunk werewolf novel, GEARTEETH. It's a gritty alternative-history tale set in the dying days of the Old West, where the outbreak of the lycanthrope virus dooms most of humanity and the rest flee to the skies. To me this was all a rather logical progression, assuming Nikola Tesla's genius had full funding and a bit of fantasy science tossed into the mix. In many ways as I plotted out the history of the ravaged land I found my plotlines were only logical extensions of my starting premise, a thought carried to completion. In fact, I was more concerned about getting the science and history correct along with creating characters that lived and breathed than I was with making my readers scream and hide under the covers. Imagine my surprise then when the book earned itself a horror tag with its plot of werewolves, mad medical experimentation, and torsos tortured to be used as processing facilities. After writing the preceding sentence you'd think I'd be aware of the effect it might have on other folks of less demented dispositions. But instead I just tried to be descriptive as I crafted what seemed to me to be an intuitive series of events given the people involved. That's the nature of the beast: the creator oftentimes does not know the precise effect their works will have on the viewer.
Miss Nina asked if I'd like to tackle the whole “horror in steampunk” issue, but I'm woefully under-qualified to make even a basic postulate of the idea. Is the setting by its nature a benign world of manners and fantastic technology shrouded in gears and steam, or does it have room for the people who view a rusting scrapyard as the womb of horror and disquiet? The definition of 'steampunk' is fluid, dependent largely on the person asked; the same can be said of horror. Situations and critters some find comical will have other people hiding under the covers and complaining the gun they've got isn't big enough, will never be big enough, to blast the terror stalking them in the face.
I'm actually rather flattered that some people are disturbed by my work, although I couldn't tell you where the nightmare begins and ends for each person. Edgar Allan Poe once said that he didn't understand what all of the hubbub about his mysteries was about: it was plainly obvious to him what the ending would be of each story. It's the old problem of 'you can't see the forest for the trees,' especially when you're forcing the damn thing to grow. The stitching on a Frankenstein-monster of an artistic work is always visible to the guy who remembers the troubles getting the blasted oversized arm to fit and work as envisioned; he never even contemplates the reaction of a frightened villager getting crushed under the behemoth's fist during the inevitable rampage.
The nightmare fuel of some is by its nature a comforting thought to others. I can happily sit down and watch Aliens with my morning bowl of cereal, admiring the sleek killing power of the alien along with its unique and elegant design, the genre-defining interaction of guns and space marines and Vasquez (family fave), and just generally enjoying the explosions as fireworks. Other people cannot tolerate the movie I regard as an old friend, yet they can endure the sight of simple medical procedures that would squick me out. Yes, my secret weakness is reality itself. Cartoonish over-the-top violence and buckets of blood don't freak me out; no, that nightmare realm is reserved for things like scabs, old bandages, and other unsavory but completely indispensable medical accoutrements and body processes. The even weirder part is that such things don't bother me in the least when it's me suffering the indignities of necessity; it's when I see someone else's stitches and scabs that my brain wiggles like a prude at a pride parade. Contrast that with my wife, who used to work with and handle dead bodies on a regular basis, and grins when she can't discuss a thing about her studies with me. Yet at the same time pedestrian social crudeness that I can endure with only a disapproving headshake makes her see blood-red.
So the question often becomes: is what you're seeing/reading/experiencing cool or horrifying? Or is it just boring to you? Some folks can shrug off the most traumatic of events but lose their minds over minutiae other people regard as trivial. The very issue of what we consider important ties into the concept of 'what is horror' in that every single one of us has varying taste and predilections. The key for any creator though is to be content that they evoked a reaction at all from their audience, rather than a yawn and a 'meh.' Whether it's inspiring or terrifying, laugh-out-loud silly or pained revelation, horror or wonder, an author should just be damn proud that they managed to touch a chord within their readers.
And with that, I'm off to go get a bowl of Cheerios, which I promise only contains dehydrated mass-produced oat circles in milk. There's no horrific monsters lurking within the depths of the bowl, no portal to some nightmare cow level where infectious fragments of victims from Bessie's rampage against the injustices of the world bob to the surface masquerading as bits of cereal, waiting for you to consume it and begin the growth of a bovine monster within your stomach that will burst forth and bring about the Cowpocalypse.
Just oats and milk.
Timothy can be found at his website and twitter. Gearteeth is available on Amazon and there's a sample chapter here. There's also a few novellas for reading too.
Want to read more than the first chapter? Timothy is very kindly offering two e-copies of Gearteeth. Any major file type available, we can sort that out if you win. Good luck!
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