Today I am welcoming Jeremy Hepler to share why he loves horror. Native to the Texas Panhandle, Jeremy now lives with his wife Tricia and son Noah in a small rural community in the heart of Texas. A member of the HWA, he has had twenty-four short stories published in anthologies, periodicals, and online. His debut novel, The Boulevard Monster was published by Bloodshot Books in April 2017. Other than writing suspense and horror novels, he loves to read, garden, draw, and repurpose old furniture. For more information, hit him up on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.
I ask authors and contributors to tell me “Why I Love Horror” because it gives you, the library worker, a glimpse into the very different reasons of why people like horror. You can see all of these features using the Why I Love Horror tag later, but right now, you can read Jeremy's entry into the conversation.
Why I Read and Write Horror by Jeremy Hepler
My love for reading horror started when I was eleven years old.
Since no one was a reader in my home, I grew up with limited access to reading materials other than ones provided by the public school system. When I was in the sixth grade, my reading teacher Mrs. Close had us read "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson as our first assignment for the year. I had never heard of Shirley Jackson or the story and had no idea what was coming. I remember the moment I realized they were about to stone Tessie Hutchinson like it was yesterday. I was blindsided. Shocked. Intrigued. Excited. I had never read a story with such a traumatic, unsettling ending. Up until then a majority of the stories I'd read in school were happy-ending, good-prevails, cookie cutter stories, stories I found most of which didn't relate enough to my world, to the chaos and tension that was my home life. Personal experience had taught me that sometimes situations in life end badly. Sometimes you get the short end of the stick whether or not you deserve it. Sometimes the world seems to want to hurt you. Sometimes people want to scare you. Sometimes the bad guy wins. "The Lottery" connected with me on those darker, visceral levels. It was the first story I read where I felt like the characters lived in the same world I did—a twisted, troubled world—and I wanted more.
As I grew into a young adult, I consistently chased the high I received from reading "The Lottery." I hunted for other pieces of dark literature and soon discovered the works of Stephen King ("Carrie"), Jack Ketchum ("The Girl Next Door"), Dean Koontz ("Watchers"), Anne Rivers Siddons ("The House Next Door"), Peter Straub ("Ghost Story"), Thomas Harris ("Silence of the Lambs"), Joyce Carol Oates ("Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?"), etc. Their works and countless others showed me that there was a whole community of people out there who not only understood that horror is a universal emotion that comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms (werewolves, serial killers, diseases, ghosts, hallucinations, aliens, and on and on), but that is also normal and good to express and explore it. Many people like my mom spend their entire lives trying to hide themselves and the ones they love from the horrors of the world, telling only half truths. They find solace in denial. But I found solace and felt more content knowing I wasn't alone, knowing that these authors understood my fears and that it was okay to talk about them. Over time, I also began to see the bigger picture many of these horror authors painted. They not only showed me it was okay to discuss fear and explore horror, but better yet, they showed me the benefits of feeling and then facing it. They showed me that you have to feel fear in order to defeat it, and that confronting it manifests hope and builds courage—two of the greatest enduring heroic human traits. And even if outright defeating fear proves impossible in some instances, persistence in battling it and helping others battle it never is.
Around the same time I read "The Lottery" (and first started reading many of Edgar Allen Poe's works thanks to Mrs. Close) I was spending many nights home alone, and one Wednesday night, I stumbled across "Unsolved Mysteries" hosted by Robert Stack. It both frightened and intrigued me, and would later influence my writing horror in a similar way as Shirley Jackson's tale had. Every Wednesday after that first night I would heat up a TV dinner, turn off all the lights, and watch "Unsolved Mysteries" alone in the dark. Whether it was a ghost story, or an on-the-loose murderer story, or a kid-disappearance story, once the show was over I would pace around the house, terrified, making sure all the doors and windows were locked. With my limited knowledge of logistics, I just knew the murderer was close by. Or that the ghost would haunt me next. Or that I'd be the next kid taken, my mom coming home to an empty house. An unsolved mystery. At the time, I didn't know if it was the adrenaline rush of the fear itself, or the high that came the next morning when I woke to find I'd lived through the fear, but I became addicted. Like many of the author's stories I'd been reading taught, a part of me knew that I needed to acknowledge fear in order to progress as a person.
When I began crafting my own stories in my late teens, I usually wrote for others first. I wanted to impact readers, relate to them, to make them feel the fear, anxiety, or intrigue that "The Lottery" and "Unsolved Mysteries" had me feel. I wanted to connect with people who needed to know that someone else saw the imperfect, unfair, horrific world the way that they did. I wanted to entertain people who loved the adrenaline rush of being scared or those who simply wanted to escape into someone else's world for a while. I wanted to give people hope and courage the way others had me. But as time passed, I realized my best writing comes when I write for myself first. I realized that as my fears evolve and shift over time, I can use my writing (and reading of other's works) to express, explore, and deal with them. For example, as a husband and father now, one of my deepest general fears has morphed from fear of my own horrific torture or demise, to fear of the same fate befalling my son or wife. And that fear is the core fear reflected in my debut novel, "The Boulevard Monster," where my protagonist Seth Fowler must prove he will go anywhere, face anything, sacrifice everything including his own moral standard, to save and protect his loved ones from a ruthless, bloodthirsty villain. His realized fears were my imagined fears. His hopes were my imagined hopes. Though some would consider it backwards, spending six months with Seth, learning and telling his story, gave me a greater sense of hope that if I ever face a seemingly insurmountable obstacle or evil that I will be courageous enough to do what I have to in order to protect those I love.