Jeffrey Wilson has worked as an actor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a jet pilot, a diving instructor, a Naval Officer, and a Vascular and Trauma Surgeon. He also served two tours in Iraq as a combat surgeon with both the Marines and with a Joint Special Operations Task Force. In addition to his debut novel, The Traiteur’s Ring, which was released in 2011, Wilson has written dozens of short stories, including “Calling Home,” which was published in BuzzyMag and “The Writer,” which was included in the Warped Words 2011: 90 Minutes to Live anthology. Jeffrey and his wife, Wendy, are Virginia natives who, with children Emma, Jack, and Connor, call Southwest Florida home.Wilson's latest novel, The Donors is garnering rave reviews. You can click here to see for yourself. In fact, Barnes and Nobel recently agreed to carry the novel in its physical stores. This is big news for small press, paperback horror in general as well as a huge endorsement of Wilson's novel. We will hear more from Wilson's publisher, Journal Stone a bit later in the month. But for now, Wilson shared the attached guest post where he writes about why he loves horror as a writer and a reader.
I will be back tomorrow with my review of The Donors.
My Love of Horror By Jeffrey Wilson Author of THE DONORS And THE TRAITEUR’S RING
Write what you know and love, or so the saying goes. As a reader, I grew up with a love of great horror stories and that most assuredly affected who I became as a writer. I devoured books by King, and Koontz, and Straub. As a kid, I scared myself to death reading Edgar Allan Poe by flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. More recently I am a fan of Joe Hill and Benjamin Kane Ethridge, of Brett J. Talley and Joe Nassise. I have read other genres and still do-- I like science and politically based thrillers-- but my real love is horror, especially supernatural horror (I am not a fan of slasher type horror) or chilling psychological thriller type Horror.
Like most Horror readers, I enjoy the thrill ride of a chilling tale. I genuinely love the adrenaline rush of being scared. Horror stories are like a rollercoaster ride and to an extent, horror readers are thrill seekers. You know that nothing bad will actually happen to you on that rollercoaster, but man, the terror of the two hundred foot drop is still a rush. Also like a great roller coaster, a great horror story will hurl you screaming down that drop, and then take you through some gentle turns and climb you back up the next hill, letting you recover a bit before hurling you down again. So, most definitely I enjoy the scare, but it is way more than that for me. I believe that Horror stories allow readers to experience characters’ lives in a way that no other genre really can. And it is the character driven stories that I am drawn to. My list of authors probably makes that pretty clear.
What I want in my fiction is a story that brings the characters alive in ways that make them so real that I feel at the end as if I have known them my whole life. Stephen King’s incredible imagination and the amazing situations he writes about make his stories good, but it is his character development that makes them great. I have often joked to friends that King could write a five hundred page book about a guy reading the phone book, and I would probably enjoy it, because only King and a handful of others could make that yellow page skimming dude so real that he might be sitting next to me. I want that same character rather than plot driven style in my other fiction genres, too, but it seems easier to achieve in Horror. Why is that?
We see the most in real people when they are at their most vulnerable, I think. I have had enough life experience to know that to be true. The macho guy at the gym reveals less about himself doing another set of curls then he does when gun fire at the grocery store leads him to trample over a little old lady on his way out the door, screaming like a little girl. The quiet girl from the library, steps in front of the escaped tiger and is mauled to death, because she couldn’t help butsave the four year old frozen in fear in the animal’s path. You see what I mean? Extreme situations reveal things about people that they probably don’t even know about themselves. Horror stories, whether supernatural like King or based on the horrifying side of man like Richard Godwin and Thomas Harris, put ordinary people in extraordinary situations and let us see the core of those people and their relationships. It is revealed in their actions, their dialogue, and their inner narrative and it shows who they are and who they become as they respond to the situations the writer puts them in. Read the older, original Robert Ludlum books and you see the same thing. Ludlum was a master at writing ordinary people into his thrillers and would surprise both the character and the reader in the way those people, driven by survival instinct, find abilities in themselves that allow them to overcome. So it is enjoyable to see this inner core of the characters revealed in other genres, but in horror, and most especially horror with supernatural elements, it is important for another reason.
In Bag of Bones, King showed us a character we liked and then showed us his very soul in the grief after the loss of his wife. We know how much he loved her and we felt his loss deeply, because King made him so real. Then he introduces uncomfortable questions about secrets she may have had, and we again feel the fear and pain right along King’s protagonist as he re-evaluates their love, their marriage, and his life with her. And so he becomes more real still. Now that the character is at least as real as the guy who sits beside us at work, King takes us on a terrifying journey with him, introducing horror elements of ghosts and unresolved murders, all the while building the human side of his character as we learn more about him and his dead wife and as he finds new enemies and allies they add another layer to the story. We can’t help but believe in the horror elements, because we already believe so much in the characters. The realism of the characters and the story makes the horror elements intensely more frightening-- after all, it is happening now to people we know!
If a horror story jumps right in from page one with some way out premise of lizard-like creatures who exist in two parallel worlds, but in our world they use healthcare workers by controlling their desires so they will harvest organs from living donors, literally torturing them to death so the lizard men can feed on the fear and pain-- well, that plot seems so beyond reality that most readers will have a hard time diving in with fully opened minds. But if the book starts with compelling characters who over the first few chapters become very real, and more importantly are characters the reader is drawn to empathetically (which makes them still more real), then when the supernatural part of the tale evolves the reader accepts the fantastic elements much more readily. Make the main character a bright and loving five year old, recovering from injuries that pull at your heartstrings. Make him brave and wise beyond his years and give him a child-like innocence that we all see in our own kids, but with the brave heart of the righteous people we want our kids to become. Dare the reader not to love that little kid. Now he is real. And if the characters have come to life, then the things that happen to them, no matter how out there, must be real-- because the little boy the writer made us fall in love with is by now very real, after all. Now we not only accept the crazy lizard-men story, because to not do so means we can no longer believe in the little boy, but we have a real emotional response to them-- not just for the strange and terrifying things they are doing, but because they are scaring the little boy we now care about so much. We hate those damn lizard men, and we want our little hero to be safe.
As a reader, that is what I love about horror. I love the way those stories can make the characters so real and emotional for us. As a writer, I find bringing the characters to life the biggest challenge, but once you do, it makes selling your crazy imagination, your stories of demons and supernatural powers, of ghosts and evil forces, so much easier to sell to your reader. I love writing horror, because once you build those characters you can unleash your imagination without limits. The mystery writer has to make the story and the plot believable. I have only to make my characters come alive and I can write the most unbelievable plots with authority and realism. It allows me to unchain myself from convention and history and reality and I become limited only by my ability to push my imagination to new limits.
So, as a writer, I find a real freedom in horror fiction. I have tried my hand before at more traditional genres, but there is always this nagging little voice in my head whispering questions like “That’s cool, but what if the hero is already dead, but just doesn’t know it?” or “wouldn’t it be cool if that Navy SEAL could actually kill with a single thought or heal his team mates with just a touch? How neat would that be?” Those whispers unleash my imagination and allow me to create things that are new and fresh—and, to me at least, way more exciting. They let me build worlds that challenge my characters in terrifying ways and my reader’s ability to hear those whispers with me.
And of course, if I do my job well, it gives us all one hell of a thrilling ride.