Monstrous Femme

Turning Real Life Horror Into Horror Fiction

Turning Real Life Horror Into Horror Fiction

“You write horror.”
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. The woman who pointed at me and said those words had uttered them as if she knew, just by looking at me, that not only do I write horror, but I also lived through it.
I had to wonder if the burn scars on my face gave it away.

Despite my initial reaction to correct her, to say that I also write poems about nature and articles about animals, I didn’t. I just smiled and nodded—because she wasn’t wrong. I do write horror.

I write horror because I’ve lived through horror.

Sometimes when people tell me “you look like hell,” I’m tempted to respond with, “That’s because I was just there.” I am not your stereotypical at-home mom wearing dresses, baking pies and blissfully cleaning her house. No, I go out and do things that somehow or another trip me up, get me dirty, cause trouble or disrupt the otherwise clean and decent look I present to the world. There have been many scary experiences I’ve had in life, and while they were all hard to get through, I can take comfort in knowing that at least I can use them to fuel my horror stories.

Life likes to kick me around and throw me in the gutter. It always has. Instead of bemoaning my fate, however, I have learned how to use it as inspiration for my writing. A terrifying experience my sister and I lived through when we shared a house together, of some caller stalking the person who lived in the house before us, inspired me with an idea for what would become my novel, Faded Reflection. Other shorter works of fiction I have written were also inspired by real-life horrors, things I know of all too well.

My childhood didn’t consist of happy playdates and family game nights. It consisted of bruises, bloody noses and red marks on various parts of my body, all courtesy of my father. Whenever my dad got mad, we kids would scramble to safety. If he caught us or found us, we would be hit or spanked for whatever we had done.

My childhood also consisted of hickeys on my neck left by family members molesting me, broken items littering the home after my father once again lost his temper, and a hungry stomach that couldn’t be satisfied because there was always more beer in the fridge than food.

There were also the many painful hospital operations I had to go through because of injuries sustained in the car accident that gave me my burn scars, as well as a mysterious condition I had in my teen years that often left my body ramrod straight for hours on end.

These experiences were my own real-life horrors. And today, as an adult, I somehow use them to write horror fiction.

But it wasn’t always this way.

In the past, I wrote “boring” stories. Stories about life, relationships and love. I wrote fantasy, science fiction and mystery. In a way, I guess I was experimenting to find out which one I liked best.

Ultimately, my favorite was horror—something I understood well because I knew it in real life. The trauma, fear, anxiety and pain that life had thrown at me transformed me into someone who could appreciate horror in ways other people—those safe from such nightmares—could not.

For writers, we transform our trauma into a tool. Sometimes we use it to create negative traits in our antagonists, as I did with the antagonist in Faded Reflection, or we find catharsis from our trauma by writing stories. We let it power our fiction in order to create evil characters and spooky environments.

I have had multiple nightmares and panic attacks because of my trauma. But when I use it in my horror, I take away the hold it has over me.

I am able to write horror because I can relate to it. Some editors have returned my stories saying my horror was “over the top” or “too dark,” and I can only wonder if these editors understand just where I am coming from as a writer who has survived such forms of darkness. Editors who believe that real-life monsters couldn’t possibly exist should know that they do indeed exist, because I have seen them and known them.

And while writing horror may mean facing the monsters of our past, it can also mean standing up to the fear and terror they inflicted upon us. “Writing horror is not for the faint of heart but for those who are willing to explore the darker aspects of human nature and embrace the power of storytelling,” Stuart Connover wrote (from the article “How to Write Horror That Will Keep Your Readers Up at Night”). The same nightmares I put into my stories originated from real-life nightmares I survived. For this reason, I can write about them in my stories with expert ease, having faced them first-hand.

And in a sense, writing about how the bad guy was caught or brought to justice in the end is a relief to me, because that doesn’t usually happen in real life. Like the people who bullied me and never apologized or made amends. People who reacted with horror or taunted me over my burn scars, then went on to live their lives in remorseless bliss. Or the abuser who was never punished for the harm he inflicted on his children. These are the elements I take from real life and pour into my horror stories.

Before I started writing this genre in my teen years, I often worried that being a horror writer meant people would see me in a negative light, as though there was something wrong with me. In some way, I also feared they would take one look at this person with burn scars on her face, see a monster, and not be surprised at all that the monster writes monster stories. But writing horror has nothing to do with how we look on the outside: it has everything to do with what we have survived on the inside.