Sunday, March 31, 2013

How I Spent my Vacation

Greetings and Salutations y'all...

So for the last 6 weeks or so I've been doing a bunch of guest blogging on other sites in order to promote Infernal Machines. I'm very grateful to all the people who've lent their support, whether it was through reading and reviewing the book or simply leting me come by and shoot the shit for a while. For those of you who were unaware of the tour, here's a link to the sites that took part in the tour.

As a means of wrapping the whole thing up, I'm going to be spending the next few days posting some of the material from the tour, starting with the folowing essay. Oh, and Happy Easter everybody - Will

A lot of people who read my stuff end up asking me why I write Horror. It’s a question that’s asked of Horror writers more than most genres, when you run into somebody who pens, let’s say Westerns, or Sci-Fi the question is usually “Where do you get your ideas?”

But for Horror it’s more often than not the Why, rather than the How. I think a lot of the time this question is a politely worded variation on What the hell is wrong with your brain? While I can’t answer for other writers, the answer in my case is: I don’t know, but this might have something to do with it…

When I was a kid, on holidays my Mom and Dad would pack me and my little brother into their 1983 Buick Roadmaster station wagon — you’re probably imagining one with wood paneling and that weird roof rack thingie that served no ostensible purpose whatsoever, and you’re totally right — and drive us the 7 or so hours from Long island to New Rochelle to our Aunt Abbey’s house. I say house, but manse is probably closer to it. It was one of these sprawling 200 year old numbers with a basement that looked like a set piece straight out of one of the Saw flicks.

No matter which holiday it was there would be several traditions we would perform each time we went. For example, the dinner served was always turkey, no matter what. Easter — turkey. Christmas — turkey. Thanksgiving — well, you get the picture. A lot of families get together and gossip about each other, and I guess we were no different, but I’ve noticed looking back it wasn’t quite gossiping so much as it was story-telling. The difference may be marginal, or a matter of semantics, but here it is, anyway:

The stories were usually the same, and they involved the people who were already there, usually they were the butt of some joke or other due to either too much alcohol, or having had some sort of emotional outburst, and the stories got better the more times they were told due to various embellishments or tweaks, which I now think of as “edits”. Whoever told each story over and over had a way of refining them over the years until they had the oratory command of a field general and the timing of a stand-up comic.

Of all the story-tellers in my family, the most gifted was my Uncle Robert. He was also the one who got me to love Horror without ever once taking me to a movie or even telling me a ghost story, that I can remember.

There’s other stuff, too — if I’m going to look back and try to find whatever drove me into my life’s work, I’ve got to be at least somewhat fair about it. I saw Salem’s Lot when I was 5 years old, and to say that it had an effect on me is like saying Georgia O’ Keefe might have had an interest in flowers that looked kind of like vaginas. I used to tape crucifixes to my windows and sleep with a stuffed snake wrapped around my neck as some sort of fang shield. I broke into abandoned buildings in my neighborhood and searched for “Evidence of the Paranormal”. (What that evidence might have looked like, who’s to say, but I always envisioned some crudely spray-painted message, like: “Vampyres Here!” with a downward slanting arrow pointing to an otherwise hidden root cellar.)

I watched movies like Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was probably way too young to process them in a healthy way, but I loved every minute of them. I dug the classics, too — everything from the 1950’s BEM movies like This Island Earth and The Angry Red Planet to the Atomic Age cautionary tales like Them. I watched the Howard Hawkes version of The Thing at least a dozen times before John Carpenter’s masterful remake even existed. I dug, even at a young age, the moody surreal tension in Fritz Lang’s M, and don’t even get me started on the Universal Pictures classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

You’ll notice I’m just talking about movies here, and not books. That’s because I saw all this crazy shit when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. Which leads us to the question why would I have started watching horror flicks — at least that many horror flicks — when I was that young? Again, we’ve got to go back to my Uncle Robert, and that fucking basement.
Man, I loved that guy. He passed away about 3 days before my 22nd birthday. I was still in the Marine Corps at the time, and I didn’t hear about it until the whole thing was over and he was buried. I never got a chance to tell him how much he meant to me…

The basement was scary enough without any of his help. The house was built on a tract of land right next to a power plant, and there was a rail station less than a quarter mile away, so it always seemed like that basement was breathing. There was a central hallway painted an institutional green with crimson trim, and it hadn’t been cleaned up since god only knows when. The house itself had been built some time at the turn of the 20th Century. There may have been 6 rooms, or 8 — three or four on either side of the Hallway from Hell. To my 4 year-old eyes, it looked about as long as a fucking football field.

This was the other holiday tradition — exploring Aunt Abbey’s basement — it was like a rite of passage for us kids to go down there, usually at some fabricated request the first few times and then as we got older, just because.

The bloody axe is the one that I remember, even if it was the tamest by later standards. This was when we were still so young that Uncle Robert had to escort us down there. I don’t know how much time he spent thinking up new ways to scare the shit out of us, and maybe the axe was the 1st stunt he ever pulled. I don’t remember a single thing I got for Christmas when I was that young the way I remember that axe.

Robert was leading us — me, my little brother and my cousin Michael — down Bram Stoker’s favorite hallway, opening up each doorway like one of those chicks on The Price is Right, saying in a low, sing-song voice “Nope, it’s not he-ere…”

Each room proved to be empty until the very last one, and I saw that axe. Laying in a single strip of muted lamplight, covered in blood, Uncle Robert screaming at all of us “Run!!!” and I don’t even think my feet hit a single step on the way back up the stairs, I swear all of us kids fucking levitated our way out of the basement by sheer force of will only to see our parents actually chuckling at our expense in the living room.

A few minutes later, Robert calmed down our hysterics by showing us the ketchup bottle, and my Mom and Dad confirming that it was in fact, a prank. Okay, so you might be thinking that’s kind of a fucked up prank to pull on a bunch of kids, but from then on every time we went to Aunt Abbey’s house the trip to the basement was as integral a part of the whole thing as the turkey dinner.
The reason I write the stories I do is because my family taught me that, sometimes, love means scaring the shit out of little kids and then having a good laugh about it afterwards.

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