So I was in Providence earlier this year (actually after having managed to avoid Providence for 54 years, I was there twice in six months this year, but that’s another story)… Anyway, Providence. I was there for StokerCon this year, and had a great time. I spent mucho time with my good friend Erik T. Johnson, got to meet all sorts of great people, including Victor Lavalle.
One of the people I got to meet was Alan Baxter, an author my publisher, Grey Matter, had just signed. I’m always interested in the authors Tony at Grey Matter signs, so I was eager to meet him. We met. Really nice guy, all the way from Australia. As we chatted, something clicked in my tired, all brain. This was the guy who wrote Crow Shine, a fantastic collection of short stories I’d read probably about a year earlier and had thoroughly enjoyed. Duh. Well, then I really enjoyed meeting Alan.
Grey Matter has published two works of Alan’s now–a novella entitled Manifest Recall and a novel called Devouring Dark. I really, really enjoyed Manifest Recall, which was a powerful mashup of crime fiction and horror. And I’ve started Devouring Dark. Again, really, really well done.
Alan’s a great guy. He’s got a terrific young family, his kid’s as cute as anything and his wife is a powerful, talented artist. So, I wanted all of you (at least the six or so of you who read this) a chance to meet Alan, too.
So, here’s Alan…
Why Do You Write Such Horrible Stuff?
By Alan Baxter
I want to thank John for offering me his digital home for this post. What I’ve got here is actually a new version of the Afterword from my first short fiction collection, Crow Shine. But with the recent release of my new horror novel, Devouring Dark, the subject is apposite, so here we go!
The question is often asked, “Why do you write such horrible stuff?” And it’s weird, because I don’t think I do. I certainly write dark stuff because, in a nutshell, I think it’s more honest. But it’s not simply horrible. It’s necessary. We don’t live in a world with happy endings. Everyone dies, everything breaks, all things ends. Entropy is the only certainty. Now that’s not to say I’m a nihilist. I love life, I think the world and nature and at least a few people are wonderful and beautiful and awe-inspiring. I adore showing my young son the wonders of the world. But there’s already a lot of people writing about that. I explore things darker, because things darker hold my interest more. If I come to a fork in the road and one way is a well-lighted street and the other a dark alley, I’ll take the alley. I apply the same principles to my fiction. If there’s a literary rabbit hole leading underground, I won’t turn back when the light fails. I’ll follow it all the way down, however dark it gets, and I’ll see it through to the end, because I want the honesty of its totality. Horror is the genre of honesty.
Though for me it’s many-layered, not unrelenting blackness. In my fiction there are facets of light and shade. Certainly there are moments of horror, weird shit happening, bad people making nasty choices and good people making bad decisions, but alongside it there’s a fight for good too, and a hope for the light. There’s optimism and realism, though perhaps not in equal measure. G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” This is something I think is absolutely true and incredibly necessary in our stories. But you know what? It’s not entirely true. Because sometimes the dragons win. Sometimes they’re not beaten. And survivors need to live with that truth. Or if the monster is beaten, at what cost? That’s the purpose of dark fiction. To help us live with those truths, to prepare us in some way for the shit that will go down.
Bad things happens to good people for no reason at all every single day. We can interrogate that with our fiction, and we can look for our own optimism in someone else’s tragedy. Now there’s a dichotomy on which to meditate. I write dark fantasy and horror wherein sometimes the dragon prevails, but not always. I write it because there are monsters everywhere, and we must face them, win or lose. Sometimes losing is not the worst thing and sometimes the victories are pyrrhic. In Devouring Dark I explore these ideas in great depth, especially in terms of justice, redemption, and death. Especially death – who deserves it, what does it mean, how can we cope with it?
I love the lens of horror, tightly focussed on the visceral, powerful nature of humanity and life. That most honest delving into the rabbit hole and not flinching. Using fantasy and the supernatural allows us to create and explore the deepest rabbit holes of all. After all, what horrors might await when all the rules are taken away? Or new, impossible to decipher rules take over?
All stories are magic. I think it was Albert Camus who said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” All my stories come from one place or another of personal experience, and Devouring Dark is no exception. In many ways it’s the most personal story I’ve ever written, it was made by tapping directly into a deep well of pain and personal trauma.. There are lines put into the mouths of characters in this book that I took directly from the mouths of loved ones as they lay dying. I don’t think I could possibly be more honest than that with my fiction. I wonder if you’ll recognise any of those sections of dialogue? But personal as this book is, like all my work it’s greatly leavened with imagination and what if, with dread and tension. I don’t believe it’s true that you need to be in pain to make good art. Fuck that. I make my best art when I’m content and happy. But it’s no lie that drawing on pain can inform our art.
I’ve always struggled at a gut level with injustice, unfairness, bigotry, ignorance, lack of agency. I’ve seen way more terminal illness and premature death than I’d like. All these things and more I explore in my stories. I also try to simply tell a good yarn. To spin a tale that will entertain you, discomfort you, confound you, engage or perturb you. Whatever the result, if there’s any emotional resonance in my work for you, then I’m happy. Why do I always write such horrible stuff? Because the world is a horrible place, and horror is the genre of honesty. But there’s light and hope too. When we read dark fiction, it gives us tools and mechanisms to survive the slings and arrows of unjust existence. And it helps us to look for the light and the hope and the wonder, and gravitate towards it.
Alan Baxter is a multi-award-winning British-Australian author who writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural thrillers, rides a motorcycle and loves his dogs. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, and two crazy hounds. His latest book is the horror novel, DEVOURING DARK, which explores death, guilt, and redemption, set against a backdrop of crime and corruption in modern-day London. Read extracts from Alan’s novels and novellas, and find free short stories at his website – http://www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.
Find DEVOURING DARK in paperback or ebook wherever you usually buy books, or order it at your local bookstore or library. Here are a few direct links: