When I prepare to write a review of a story or movie, it goes something like this: I scribble some notes, on a tablet or in the margin of the book. Usually, I use these notes to prompt larger points. More ideas flow as I write. It’s highly exhilarating; I just started writing reviews for a blog, but I love it. At the same time, it doesn’t seem particularly hard. Indeed, it’s easy to discuss how I feel about something I’ve read. Sometimes, it’s easy to analyze it on a deeper level, especially if I apply a handy academic paradigm. Paradigms make all analysis easier. I went through four years of liberal arts schooling and two years of an English Master’s program; I know how to break things down and analyze them. My point? I find it relatively stress-free and enjoyable.
Why, then, is fiction so difficult for me? Why is it that when I sit in front of a computer screen with a mind to write a story, one of two things happens: a.) Nothing flows, or b.) Something flows, but soon after I write it, it sounds so contrived that I feel blinded by my own triteness and have to close the screen, for fear that those insidiously ugly words will somehow envelope me and define me. I started a memoir about my life. I can write about that with some difficulty, but not as much difficulty. When I try to create pure fiction, however, I stumble and falter.
If fiction is hard, horror fiction is the hardest for me. It’s a cruel reality – that which I most love to read most eludes me when I try to sit down and create it myself. There were times in my life – not with horror texts, but with poems I loved – that I would sit down and copy a poem into a notebook, just to feel the melody of the words flow through my fingertips. I wanted to feel them as if they were my own. I have this great desire to produce something profound, something of importance – or, at least, something scary – but when I sit down to do it, I writhe and twist and ultimately give up.
I read an article about Elise Lam, whose body was found in a water tank at Los Angeles’s Cecil Hotel. The footage of her riding the elevator the day before it happens is haunting. She walks slowly from one side of the elevator to another. Walks out. Walks in again. Peeks out. Walks around some more. And so forth. Sources say the death was accidental and attribute it to Lam’s bi-polar disorder, but a lively imagination could do myriad other things, I believe, with that story, with that elevator footage. Especially since the Cecil Hotel’s been associated with a series of murders and other mysterious goings-on.
Of course I questioned turning the tragic death of a young woman into a horror story. I understand the dangerous and inexplicably weird paths Bi-Polar disorder can take a person down. If nothing else, the disease has provided me with a bevy of stories for my own memoir, which is convenient considering the growing popularity of mental health memoirs. And I know no two cases are alike, but I had to wonder: with all the medications she was allegedly on, what delusion, what hallucination would lead one to strip down on the roof of a hotel and accidentally drown in a water tank? I puzzled over this all night when I heard the story. And I resolved to write a story about it, for myself, just to see if I liked the product. It would be one of those “open to interpretation” pieces like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, in which you don’t know if the phantoms are real, or a by-product of the person’s psyche.
But today I was sitting in my office, unable to focus on anything of much use, so I opened the document that I started a couple months ago when I heard the story. It’s about a paragraph and a half. And as I read it, I hated every word that I read. Mind you, I don’t experience this problem at all when I write reviews or essays. Sometimes I can be harshly critical, but other times I think “I rather like my voice,” or “my, those are some well-constructed sentences.” But when I read my fiction stuff, it all sounds like crap. In a haste, I deleted the whole document. Why was I angry? Was I angry at myself, for my inability to create? Was I angry at the powers that be, for giving me this blockage? Or was I angry at my own critical eye, which, paradoxically, strangles me before I can begin to breath. When Word asked me if I wanted to save changes, I said no. So the document isn’t officially deleted. Sylvia Plath tried to turn every draft into a complete poem. It would be lazy – and needlessly dramatic – to delete my own work. And still, I may yet do it.
If you’d asked me some time ago, I may have been hard pressed to call Stephen King a genius. My lens was too narrow. Sophocles, sure. And of course Mark Twain. And maybe even Joad Didion. But not Stephen King. But, as I think of it, for as hard as it is for me to produce any fiction – let alone horror fiction, let alone horror fiction that makes millions upon millions of dollars – I suppose he sort of is a genius. In The Bazaar of Bad Dreams he writes about the story’s evolution before he delves into each story. And he just has a mind for the macabre. He sees stories in every element of life. I’ll be honest: I’ve prayed for this ability. It seems, sadly, that God has yet to grant it. However, I’ve lived long enough to know that the seemingly impossible can become, sometimes miraculously, sometimes with grit and effort, possible. So, while I’m waiting for my muse, maybe I better write some terrible fiction, bask in how ugly it sounds, and run like hell with it.