Why I Write Horror
By Thomas M. Malafarina
I am often asked to explain why I choose to write horror fiction. I mean, it’s not the most popular form of fiction and I can attest it’s not the most financially lucrative genre in the world either. So why write horror? Usually, this question if asked in person is followed by an expression on the questioner’s face similar to that, which one might have, upon stepping on something foul on a sidewalk such as a slug, a worm, a dead squirrel or perhaps the contents from the backside of a less than considerate dog.
Looks of revulsion aside, the question is actually a fair one; one which I might be inclined to ask myself if I were the inquirer and not the inquiree. Thinking logically, why in the world would anyone want to write horror fiction stories; especially those terror filled stories which tend to lean toward the gruesome and emotionally disturbing variety that I write? Seriously, what’s the motivation?
I suppose the simplest answer is, I write stories about what I like. I’m sure that doesn’t help make anyone exactly feel warm and fuzzy. You see, I’m a life-long fan of the horror genre and as such writing horror fiction is something, which comes as naturally to me as breathing. (Ok, maybe breathing is not a good example, since breathing is an involuntary function - luckily for me, as I would likely absent-mindedly forget to breathe otherwise.) But I digress. That being said, I have been a fan of all things horror-related for as long as I can remember, which means at 59 years old… well that’s a long time.
Regarding the type of horror I strive for in my own writing, I generally prefer to write a strong story that features monsters, demons, ghosts or other such fantasy creatures based completely in the world of imagination. I enjoy taking regular, every day sorts of characters and put them completely impossible situations; things which in a normal world could never happen.
For the most part, I tend to stay away from human on human violence such as serial killers. There are plenty of other authors out there who regularly travel down that literary road. It’s just not one I prefer on most occasions. This is not to speak negatively about such work; it's just not what I choose to write. That being said, I should point out the hypocrisy in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. You see, I am a major fan of cop TV shows, detective novels and murder mysteries, so I do enjoy the genre immensely, but as a consumer not as a writer. Anyway, there is plenty of murder and mayhem of the human variety in those works, without my adding to the mix. And if I really want to have the crap scared out of me I just tune into the evening news. People genuinely frighten me. Keep in mind, the only qualification to be a member of the human race is a pulse.
But regarding human violence, as long as I am coming clean, I should point out that in my first short story collection published by Sunbury Press called "13 Nasty Endings" I actually did write a short story entitled "Retribution" involving a man driven mad by grief and who subjected his victim (a really bad character) to unmentionable tortures. I had originally had twelve stories ready for the book then my publisher, Lawrence Knorr, had an idea for the title and I needed to come up with an additional story to make it thirteen. I had written "Retribution" as an experiment simply to put the idea down on paper. I once thought it might make a good novel but decided a short story would be bad enough. I was extremely reluctant to submit it as it was not one of my typical works, but I did so nonetheless and it became the last and thirteenth story in the collection. (Unlucky 13?) It still makes me uncomfortable to read it. As I said... not really my thing.
I should also mention that my personal horror movie collection is chocked full of slasher, mangler, hacker, ax murder and other similar types of movies as well; some of them quite well-known and popular while others might be considered more obscure. And yes, I do watch them too; I watch all types of horror and sci-fi movies. In doing so, I’ve been fortunate to see some really great classic horror films and unfortunately I've also had to endure some real bottom-of-the-barrel virtually un-watch-able crappola as well. If I had a dollar for every time in my life I’ve watched a horror movie and said, "I would have written that much better" (or at least much differently), I would probably be able to afford pay someone else to type all of my manuscripts. But I digress. (yet again). So, as my collection of bad horror movies grew, so did my frustration with pitiful story lines.
In fact, it was that very overabundance of bad horror movies, which motivated me to stop talking about writing horror stories and actually take the leap into writing. For example, my first novel "99 Souls" started out as a screenplay back in like 2005 or 2006. I had an idea for a really scary and horrible scene and so I wrote it down. Then it evolved into several scenes, then to a complete story. Since I had never written a screenplay before I had it spilling over with detailed descriptions and set directions, I quickly learned it did not quite fit the design of a typical screenplay.(Apparently, film directors like to give direction rather than take them – hence the name director). As such, I decided the story would have a better life as a novel so in 2009 I rewrote it and it eventually became my first published book. It also ended up being my maiden voyage onto the tumultuous seas of serious horror writing.
After completing "99 Souls" the novel, I started shopping it around to publishers for about a year or so, and in my spare time wrote a number of short stories as well as started on my second novel "Burn Phone". Then lo and behold in 2010, a small publisher from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Sunbury Press liked "99 Souls" and wanted to see some of my short stories. They liked them and suggested publishing a collection. Then when I pitched "Burn Phone" I was blown away to have them offer me a 3-book contract. Within several months, we published "99 Souls" followed by "13 Nasty Endings" then "Burn Phone".
After that, I was hooked (and still am). I started writing like a maniac. I currently have eleven books published through Sunbury Press including; "99 Souls", "13 Nasty Endings", "Burn Phone", "Eye Contact", "Gallery Of Horror", "Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 1” and Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 2”, “Fallen Stones” , “Ghost Shadows”, “Undead Living” and my latest “Dead Kill Book 1: The Ridge Of Death”. In addition, I have a collection of bizarre single panel cartoons called "Yes I Smelled It Too: Cartoons For The Slightly Off-Center". I’m currently finalizing another short story collection for Sunbury and working on the second book in the “Dead Kill” series. Oh yeah. I'm hooked big time alright.
Another reason I love to write horror is that I discovered something interesting and exciting about the writing process itself. Instead of wasting my time watching bad horror movies, my stories have become my own personal movies of my mind. When I am writing a story, I'm attending a movie screening inside my head. Often three quarters of the way through a novel or short story, I have no idea how it will end. When I am writing, it's just like watching a horror movie for the first time, with me being as eager to learn the ending as any of my readers might be. And the cool thing about it is, unlike a bad movie where you are stuck with a crappy ending, if I write something I don't like I can just rewrite it until it is what I like. I realize that sound a bit strange if not self serving, but that's how it works for me. I write for my own entertainment, assuming if I enjoy it being my own worst critic, then maybe someone else will enjoy it as well.
I am also a musician and artist so when I am writing a story, I am painting my scenes with words, and if I do a good job, then the reader should be able to see the scene played out in his mind, exactly as I meant for it to be visualized. If I do an exceptional job, the reader might even be able to imagine a horrifying musical score to appropriately accompany the scene. Ok, maybe that’s asking for too much with the whole music score idea, but a vivid imagination is a wonderful thing, which in my opinion knows no bounds.
This sort of descriptiveness and mood setting is extremely important for horror fiction because as an author, I’m asking a lot of my reader. Think about it for a minute. I’m expecting the reader to buy into a completely impossible set of scenarios. Unlike other forms of fiction, most of what I write is not only fiction but is impossible fiction; something, which the reader knows from the beginning, can absolutely never happen. Accepting this is quite a major commitment to expect from a reader, because before they can truly enjoy the story, they must first changed their rational, logical mindset to one capable of accepting the possibility of the impossible; if only for the time they are reading the work.
It’s like when someone starts telling you a joke about a priest, a hooker and a gorilla walking into a bar. If you’re not willing to accept the possibility of those three unlikely companions entering a drinking establishment together, in other words if you can’t accept the premise of the joke, then there is probably no point in listening to the rest of it. Likewise, with horror fiction, if you’re not willing to buy in to the premise and also be willing to free yourself from the confines of reality and jump headlong into the abyss of terrifying darkness, then what's the point? Again, if I do my job well, the reader should be able to easily leave the world of day-to-day reality and comfortable (or uncomfortably as the case may be) step into my special realm of unimaginable terror.
One way I can tell if I've earned my keep is when someone tells me they were disturbed for hours or even days after reading one of my stories. Or even better than that is when they tell me, they had nightmares about something of mine they’ve read. Then I truly know not only was I successful, but they did their part as well and bought into my premise. And that means, for a short while two complete strangers were able to share and enjoy experience of horror fiction together. What a great symbiotic relationship!
My website carries my horror fiction slogan, "Embrace The Fear". That’s a credo, which I feel is useful in explaining how I like my readers to approach one of my stories. When you are ready my work, don’t fight it, don’t hold back and don't allow reality to get in your way. Instead, let go, relax and enjoy the roller coaster ride of terror, which I have provided for you.
And that, my friends is another reason why I write horror fiction. When it works it can be an amazing experience, and I do my best to make it work every time. Sometimes I hit a home run, sometimes a single. But regardless of the level of success, I don’t want you to ever be disappointed. My goal is to stir emotion. It might be terror, it might be frustration or it might even end up being anger. Regardless of what sort of emotion I manage to stir within the reader I don’t want it to be complacency. I would rather have a reader furious or disgusted with something I’ve written then to have him say “It was ok.”
Many people think that buying a book is the greatest gift a reader can give to an author, but in my opinion this couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel the greatest gifts a reader can give are his time and his emotional commitment to the work. Nothing is more valuable than our time and if I spend a year writing a novel I want to make the reader feel the time he gave up to read that novel was time well spent.
Buy the Books Here
About the Author
Thomas M. Malafarina is a horror fiction author from the South Heidelberg Twp area of Berks County, Pennsylvania. He was born July 23, 1955 in Ashland, Schuylkill County, PA where he lived until moving to Berks County in 1979.
Many of Thomas's stories take place in his native Schuylkill County and also in Berks County settings. Thomas's books are published by Sunbury Press of Camp Hill, PA.
Thomas's novels include "99 Souls", "Burn Phone" and "Eye Contact", and "Fallen Stones". His short story collection are "13 Nasty Endings", "Gallery of Horror", "Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 1", "Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 2" and "Ghost Shadows". He also has a collection of single-panel cartoons called "Yes I Smelled It Too". In addition, Thomas's stories appear in many anthologies currently on sale on Amazon.
Thomas has had a life-long love of the horror and monster genre in all its form of books, movies and art. Annually, Thomas creates works of horror art, props and scenery, which he donates to a local non-profit Halloween Barn Of Terror.
Thomas lives just outside of Wernersville, PA with his wife JoAnne. They have three grown children and three grandchildren.
What To Do To Become A WriterBy Thomas M. Malafarina
One of the questions I am asked most often by people contemplating becoming authors, is "What should I do to get into writing?" The first thing I ask them is to clarify exactly what they mean by "get into writing." I ask this question to determine if they want to know what they have to do to get their thoughts down on the paper, or what they need to do to get published or perhaps what they must do in order to be able to earn a decent living as a writer. These are three separate questions all requiring individual, specific answers.
For the purpose of this blog, I’ll assume someone wants to know what he has to do to get his thoughts down on paper; the actual act of writing. I can't really tell anyone how best to become a published author other than to keep trying and take the advice and criticism you receive in your growing mountain-sized collection of rejection slips. (I save my rejection slips - some are very entertaining).
In addition, if someone wants to know how to make money writing, he probably should be asking someone else. The sad truth is at this time in my writing career, I make very little money through my writing endeavors, certainly not enough to pay my bills. Hopefully someday this will change but for now, nope. I work full-time as a Senior Manufacturing Engineer for a major corporation. That is why I have a house, two cars and why I’m not starving to death. My income from writing wouldn't pay bus fare. I hope that statement doesn't sound cynical or bitter because I certainly don’t want to project that sentiment. It is simply a fact. Does that frustrate me and make me want to quit writing? Never in a million years
That being said, writing horror fiction does provide me with something that my bill paying normal day job does not; and that is an outlet for my wild and often uncontrollable imagination. I write because I absolutely love to write. It is the same reason I create artwork, draw cartoons, write music and play in a blues band. I have to get these ideas out or I might go crazy. (Some might argue I may have already arrived at that particular destination.)
What I plan to talk about in this blog, is about the truths I’ve learned about the writing process itself. As most creative people will tell you; whether the form of creative expression is art, music, writing or whatever, they do not create just because they want to; they do so because they have to. The ideas have to come out. Your main goal in writing should be to get your creative juices flowing and get your ideas out and on paper. And if done properly the often-arduous task of writing can be a much less painful experience.
The old adage, which is often criticized as being trite and cliché, but one I find true to form is "Writers Write". If you want to be a writer than don't spend days, weeks, months and years thinking and over-thinking, planning and over-planning. In the immortal words of Nike, just do it!
Here is how I approach the writing of either a novel or a short story. Think of your upcoming work initially in terms of a movie trailer. When you watch a trailer you learn a little bit about the gist of the movie; the title, the general subject matter and a few enticing scenes to wet your appetite. You learn just enough to tease you and give you and idea of whether or not you want to pay good money to see the film. You don't learn every detail of every scene of the movie and especially not the ending. You know when you arrive in the theater to see the film you will not have any idea what might happen next, as you wind your way along the story line.
When I sit down to write a short story or a book the same thing is true. Most times, I have an idea of what the title might be and what the basic premise of the story will be. On rare occasions, I may do a minimal outline of the first few chapters to get me started. By the way, nine time out of ten, if I do happen to create an outline I usually end up abandoning it early on in every work. Most of the time when I am in the middle of a story, I have absolutely no idea how it will end. For me, writing a book is as wonderful an experience as going to a movie or reading someone else's book for the first time. I am as excited with anticipation as the person who someday will be reading my book. That is what makes it so much fun.
I am quite certain some people may consider this a strange way to write, but it works for me. It allows me to relax; to open my mind to any possibility, and then just cut loose and let the thoughts flow freely. Sometimes when I write I not only don’t have an outline, but I may not even have an idea or a plan. Sometimes I just start writing something; anything and see what evolves. If I write something that doesn't work, I simply file it for use somewhere else, some time in the future. This freedom is what makes the rest of the writing process, the stuff I hate, bearable.
This brings us to the next phase in the writing process. This is where I tell you to make sure you really want to write something before you dive into this literary swimming pool. Anyone can write a book, and with today's technology, anyone can self-publish a book, but that doesn’t guarantee what you have written is any good. Remember, just because your mother or your wife or girlfriend tells you your work is "amazing" or "brilliant" doesn't mean it really is. You may not want to read the next section if you already think you’re God's gift to literature.
Believe me, if you want to write a good top quality piece of work as opposed to a piece of something else, you had better be prepared to work your butt off, writing and rewriting, editing and re-editing, proofing and re-proofing. By the time one of my books is finished, I probably have rewritten it more times, than I care to mention. When my book is ready to hit the shelves I’m usually sick to death of the thing. I consider this one of the necessary evils of good writing. Writing the book and getting the story down on paper is the fun part. The next phase is where the real work occurs and this is the place, where the real writers are separated from the wannabees.
An author friend of mine and a great inspiration, John Paul Allen, once told me to use the following rule of thumb when writing. After you think a book is all ready to go to a publisher, you should set it aside for a month and write something else, doing all you can to forget the original work. Then a month later you can come back and re-read the work like it was a new book and do so aloud so I can hear how it sounds and how it flows, then re-edit it as necessary at least once again.
I’ve taken his advice on all of my books and do so in order to eliminate any holes in any of my stories. When writing a novel, I tend to work on a chapter at a time and often when I am a few chapters in, I will go back, start at the beginning, and look for flaws, typos or holes, while working on the newer chapters. I absolutely hate holes in stories. And even with all of this work and rework, I am always astonished at how much I miss when my stories get into the hands of the editors.
By the way, even after multiple re-writes you usually have to usually go through it at least once again when the galley proof is printed. This is the really frustrating part. You’re holding the finished product in your hand like a new-born baby and you have to pick it to pieces. Imagine holding your own child and criticizing every little detail about him or her. Her eyes are too small, his nose is shaped funny, her ears stick out and so forth. But that is what you have to do. The buck stops with you. You are the one who gets the final look at the work after all the editors are finished with it.
And speaking of editors, if you see yourself as the type of author who is above taking the advice of your editors I’d suggest you forget about serious writing and practice saying "Do you want fries with that?" I say God bless editors. They make us humble writers look good. Most editors love working with me because I don't see them as an adversary or necessary evil but as a partner in producing the best work, I possibly can. I am not an English major, an intellectual or a scholar; I am a regular guy with a over-active and dark imagination who loves writing horror.So, you can see why I feel editors are such an important asset to me; I rely on their knowledge of the language to fix my many screw-ups. I also rely on them to be another set of eyes to find any flaws in my story line before it goes out to the public.
What I am trying to say is if you want to write and be a good writer, you really, really have to want to write. It is a lot of work, a lot of time, a major commitment and often provides little or no monetary reward. You have to have a thick skin and be able to take criticism, not to mention rejection.
So here is some important advice which you probably won't want to hear since you may believe you were born to write and any other job would obviously stand in the way of the world benefiting from your outstanding talent. The first thing you should do to be a successful writer is to make sure you have a good job to pay your bills. This job might be related to writing, it might not; that isn't the point. The point is earn a living and pay your bills. If you do this then you can afford pursue your writing passion as a sideline. If it fails, you won't starve and if it succeeds well, that more money in the bank. Some people have criticized me for saying this, but so be it.
If you are a creative person with a need to get your ideas out and on paper, you’ll find the time to write somehow, not because you want to but because you have to. And you’ll have to learn to be willing to work to constantly improve your writing and to do whatever it takes to not only produce good quality work, but to promote yourself to the public in any way possible as well. You’ll likely have to work harder at your writing sideline than your full-time gig, but if it’s what you truly want then you will do it willingly.
If this doesn't describe you, then perhaps you should consider doing something other than writing. Because in my personal experience; writing is more often then not a labor of love, with little or no financial payback.
So now in answer to the question "What should I do to become a writer?" Although this may seem ridiculously simple, the answer is... write. Write something down, anything. And even if you don't like what you have written save it somewhere, it might come in handy someday. Stop thinking about writing. Stop planning what you may someday write. Stop worrying about whether it will be good or bad. Just write already!
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