Halloween & Horror

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Halloween & Horror

Originally sent in my monthly newsletter. Subscribe to my Wandering Words here.

It’s my birthday! 

Every year on my birthday, I buy myself two Boston Creme donuts and devour them with a gluttonous indulgence. First, I lick off the chocolate icing. Yes, it gets all over my face. Then, I nibble the naked donut around the edges until there’s only a thin layer of pastry between me and the cream. Finally, I inhale the donut in no more than three bites, audibly moaning when I finally taste the gooey inside.

It’s a disgusting ritual. Never watch me eat my birthday donut. Look away. LOOK AWAY.

Also, I apologize to the woman in the green minivan who watched me lick chocolate off my fingers in the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts last year. I have no idea how long she was there or how much she saw, but we made aggressive eye contact and didn’t break it even when I inverted the donut bag and stuck it in my mouth so I could slurp up the residual chocolate.

Happy Birthday to me.

Halloween is my favorite holiday because right before I put on my costume and ring strangers’ doors for shitty, bulk-bagged candy, I get to celebrate my birthday. My parents used to throw these extravagant parties for me when I was little. They’d deck out the house in fake spider webs, skeletons, and cackling pumpkins, have us play silly party games for prizes, and make us solve a mystery by finding clues spread out around the house.

I’ve carried this tradition into my adulthood, throwing yearly costume parties with a twist. I look forward to seeing my friends in their themed attire, playing ridiculous party games, and getting that spooky chill as the night ends.

But the keyword “spooky” not scary, because believe it or not, this October Scorpio hates being scared.

“But you’re a horror writer!” 

I imagine you screamed that at your phone or computer as you read this. I screamed it too. In fact, I did scream in frustration and disbelief when my thesis professor emailed me my first critique and told me I wasn’t just writing dystopian SciFi, but horror (and she would know because she’s a horror writer herself).

For a while, I was deeply unconvinced. I couldn’t embrace horror because horrific things make me anxious, disturbed, and the itchy kind of uncomfortable where you jump at every benign noise. If I watch a scary movie, it stays with me…forever. Like, it’s been 15 years since I saw The Ring, but I still wake up from nightmares of that demon-girl rising from the well. I once watched the third Saw movie (against my better judgment) and that disembowelment scene still bursts into my mind on the sunniest of mornings.

Horror sticks with me, to me, especially at night. I’ve been plagued by visceral nightmares since I was a kid, and bedtime is still a bargain between the sleep I need and the Russian Roulette of terror I know awaits.

So, I balked at the identity my thesis professor offered; I was no horror writer. Horror writers are these grizzled survivors who don’t blink when someone saws off their arm, jumps out of a closet, or spins their head in a circle and laughs. Horror writers wear all black, live in bedrooms draped with velvet, and share a bunch of gothic memes about how they’re exactly like the Joker and enjoy smothering themselves in children’s tears and puppy entrails. I don’t like puppy entrails and I don’t like the Joker. Plus, literally everything scares me, and I wear a lot of pastel pink. Can I really be part of this club?

Well, it turns out my fear is exactly what makes me a good horror writer. I know fear. I’ve been trapped in the dark and realized something’s not right, something’s coming, or something is already here because the door’s unlocked, and there’s a drip in the bathroom, and the room just inhaled, but I’m turning too slow, too slow, with molasses arms and stapled feet, and–

And nothing is there. Because it’s not all about the blood. Horror isn’t just body parts and kill shots and dead, demon children ripping the faces off a new couple who moved into their cursed mansion. It’s also about unrelenting grief and loss, psychological trauma, broken relationships, depression, existential crisis, guilt, shame, and the weight of responsibility against unforgiving odds. I write about that stuff a lot. Actually, I think I’ve always written a little bit of horror. 

The last bit of advice I received about being a horror writer finally made it all click: as a self-described scardey cat, it’s cathartic to be the one scaring instead of the one scared. When I write horror, I’m putting evil on a tight leash, but you can be sure it’s bright pink and covered in glitter.

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