Fiction and fear

What are you most afraid of? Spiders? Dogs? Death? Loneliness?

Chances are, whatever your fear is, it’s been dramatized. Horror stories are about laying bare our fears. Think of some of the most notable horror stories and at their root you can find a fear.

jaws_dts_hires–Bram Stoker’s Dracula is about the fear of sex and sexuality, a direct reflection of the repressed Victorian era

–Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise have both been interpreted as a fear of becoming a parent

Jaws is not only about a fear of sharks, but it touches on a primal fear of our vulnerability to deadly creatures that lurk in the deep

One thing that always frightened me is mental illness, especially the kind that leads to delusions. I know this type of mental illness has a physiological underpinning, but it still disturbs me on a core level. I incorporated my own fear into my new novella, House of Flies.

House of Flies

The plot: 19-year-old Alec Pearson, recently orphaned, lives in a huge house and has all the money he could need. Then he starts seeing flies. These aren’t ordinary flies; they carry with them dark visions. He tries to fight the flies but he fears he’s losing his mind. Finally he takes a drastic step to rid himself of the madness around him.

I used a common horror trope—insects, specifically flies—as a way to dramatize Alec’s plight. Insects creep most people out, so it’s a built in special effect. The whole point of the story, though, was to discover how suppressing emotions—grief in this instance—can push you to the brink of madness.

Writers are lucky. We have a vehicle to explore our fears, examine them, and work through them in a way that not only benefits us, but hopefully entertain others. If you have the chance, check out House of Flies.

Fun with skulls

I’m not a macabre person by nature, but I like skulls. I’m not talking about actual human skulls, but representations: drawings, T-shirts, liquor bottles, candles, etc. Sure, it’s a cliche by now, but it’s still fun.

skull-art-prints-by-Gerrard-King

(Image courtesy of Gerrard King)

Where did my affinity for skulls start? Who knows? Maybe from the image of Hamlet holding up poor Yorick’s skull and talking to it. I always got a kick out of that when I was a kid. (Here’s a picture of Doctor Who‘s David Tennant as the moody Dane.)

Tennant Hamlet Yorick

Obviously I’m not alone. Skulls are everywhere in pop culture, and not just American culture. For instance, the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) holiday is a festival that recognizes the dead, and similar traditions can be found throughout the world. Though the Mexicans seem to have perfected the imagery.

400px-Catrinas_2

My own theory: these representations of skulls are a safe way for us to reference our own mortality. We can observe it at arms’ length, poke fun at it, while still acknowledging it. Sure, some people choose to avoid anything that will remind them of death, while others seem to revel in it. For most of us, we can acknowledge it, have a laugh, and then move on.

And now I’m happy to be adding a skull to the pop-culture pantheon. My soon-to-be-released novella, House of Flies, will feature a skull on the cover. House of Flies follows Alec as he battles a fly infestation that drives him to the brink of insanity. It’s a psychological horror story about suppressed grief and the avoidance of death, hence the skull. I can’t describe how cool I thought this imagery was when my designer first showed it to me.

House of Flies

It turns out that there have been more than a few skull-themed covers. The website Science Fiction Ruminations has compiled a collection of skull covers from the recent era. Here are a few funky examples — check out the site for more.

Philip K. dick

Robert Heinlein

Harlan Ellison