When my story began with the main character decapitating his therapist, I knew I’d gone too far…
I enjoy reading and writing horror. However, the last 15 or so years have ushered in a genre called torture porn. After acknowledging the brilliance of the initial Saw, I noticed audiences going back for more and more extreme forms of shock theater. That’s when I bowed out.
Yes, my first novel was about zombies. I’ll admit that I had two other books in the works at the time I decided to go forward with Dead Assets. One was a crime noir, while the other was a Faustian tale with a twist. Having done more than a decade of writing mostly erotica, I decided horror would be a great place for me to be expected to go too far. And I relished in the freedom of that.
Freaking people out or making them shift in their seats with wide eyes is actually easy for me to do. I enjoyed watching a reader’s face twist in a mask of mixed fascination and disgust.
However, having to study the despicable likes and get into the head of real-life serial killers like Carl Panzram tends to wear on me. I found myself trying to humanize and empathize with a man who was a pure personification of evil.
To that, I recall two Oscar-winning performances and what the actors had to say about their characters. Forrest Whitaker found himself dreaming like the monstrous Idi Amin and had to take time off after filming on The Last King of Scotland wrapped. Anthony Hopkins told an interviewer that he did not want to get too deeply into the head of Hannibal Lecter. He realized that, though the career-defining role was brilliant, the fictitious psychiatrist who enjoyed eating human flesh was, for lack of better terms, crazy.
I only wish Heath Ledger was still around to talk about how he created his version of the Joker for The Dark Knight. However, he didn’t make it.
Habitual line-stepping is a good thing–its what we writers tend to do. However, it’s good to know the limits and set boundaries. It’s not that the taking of a head is anything new in literature or film. Trying to justify a character’s amorous reminiscence thereof is a step too far for me. I’d rather concentrate on other ways to make readers squirm and be amazed…