By Peter N. Dudar
It’s funny how much time one can spend examining a particular subject, only to discover we still haven’t expressed all we have to say about it. It’s as if some subjects in your head just won’t die, nor will they remain silent for very long. Some subjects can haunt you over and over again. Some subjects linger, and grow stronger over time rather than fester away quietly as they should.
I hadn’t meant to turn the subject of the ghost story into a metaphor, but there’s a reason it fits so nicely. It resonates in the human spirit. That is to say, in spite of all the scientific progress we’ve made over the last century we’re still nowhere near to understanding the process of death and what becomes of the human soul if and when it moves on. The good news is that what we lack in understanding, we make up for with wildly imaginative literature. Within the realm of subgenres in horror fiction (and cinema), it’s the ghost story that commends the greatest reverence and delivers the deepest frights. And with good reason. Tropes like vampires, zombies, and serial killers all tend to play out like dark soap operas. All three of the latter revolve around antagonists with a singular mission: to kill the protagonist.
I’m oversimplifying, and I suspect my colleagues who make their living penning out zombie tomes and sparkly vampire tales will protest by claiming their works are different because they try to shift the conflict their monsters create. After all, a vampire in a weird high school love triangle certainly is different than, oh, Count Dracula trying to woo Mina Harker away from her betrothed Jonathan. Or the zombies of THE WALKING DEAD are somehow magically different than hive-mentality animals as they stalk and eat the living (or are magically different than, say, the protesters rioting in the streets of America in an era where we should have outgrown racism and police fascism). And serial killers? They’re losing ground in a nation where gun violence reigns supreme and we’re plagued with an epidemic of children accidentally shooting each other thanks to careless gun-owning parents. We’re at a crossroads, politically and socially speaking, where the romanticism we’ve had with violence and murder is rapidly declining. We’re finally making a stand against misogyny and rape culture, and the archetype of the “damsel in distress” has fallen victim to the rise of 21st Century Feminism. If you tried to create a knife-wielding madman nowadays, he’d be eviscerated to nothing more than a phallus-waving “mama’s boy” with erectile dysfunction and issues from being bullied in his formative years.
It’s scary writing horror nowadays.
But the ghost story…ah, the Supernatural element that continually defies explanation and still reduces us to goose-pimpled fraidy-cats once we turn out the lights. My new book, WHERE SPIDERS FEAR TO SPIN is weeks away from publication, and after writing horror for nearly twenty years, I’m still learning new tricks and shining my flashlight in new pockets of darkness in the landscape of horror. As writers, we all tend to do this because we never stop learning or discovering who we are, or how we feel, or what life and existence actually means.
Last year I lost my father. He died from heart complications after a bout with pneumonia, but he’d also had health problems from a life of excessive smoking and overeating. My father was one of my biggest fans in my writing career, and his loss has had a tremendous impact upon me. Saying goodbye to a parent is a part of the tapestry of life. How we grieve and the manner we choose to cope is also part of that tapestry. It changes us and it changes our perspective on life. And the journey we take can go into some very dark places, like depression and questioning our concepts of religion and God. I’m not the same human being I was before my father died. That’s a fact, and one I have yet to come to terms with.
Part Two of my blog post will appear on Wednesday June 3, 2015 here on Southern Writers Magazine's blog, Suite T.
Peter N. Dudar is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of A Requiem For Dead Flies, Dolly and Other Stories, The Angel of Death, and Blood Cult of the Booby Farmers. His short fiction can be found in numerous anthologies and online fiction sites. He currently lives in Lisbon Falls, Maine, where he continues to write fiction, a film review column for CinemaKnifeFight.com, and his own personal blog, "Dead By Friday", on WordPress. Dudar is a member of the New England Horror Writers, and hosts a writers group called The Tuesday Mayhem Society. His latest book, Where Spiders Fear To Spin, will be released on June 1st through Books and Boos Press.