Hey guys! Today is my first day hosting a tour for the lovely Tomorrow Comes Media. These tours will always feature unique, interesting authors with prompts from myself so I really hope you read and enjoy them! Today, I’ve invited L. Andrew Cooper to the blog to promote his dark fantasy novel, Burning the Middle Ground. I’ll begin with my question to Andrew followed by his response. Enjoy.
My academic self has taught a few classes centered on this question and addresses it at some length in my book Gothic Realities, but my creative-writer self looks at the questions differently, and might even have different answers. Here, I’ll make the academic shut up (it’s tough) and let the creative writer answer.
At four, the Count was my fave on Sesame Street. At five, when I would wish on a dandelion, I often wished for a widow’s peak hairline (I didn’t know Christopher Lee’s name, but I knew that look). I was eight or nine when a short story I wrote for class gave a classmate nightmares, and I felt… exultant. My own nightmares weren’t fun, but they fascinated me as much as they made me cry and shake. At age ten, I taped popsicle sticks to my fingers, pretending to be Freddy Krueger.
It was a battle with myself, I guess. Some aspect of my psyche didn’t want to deal with this horrific stimuli, but some aspect did, so game on. And that part that did, won. The can-do side. The there-ain’t-no-child-eating-alien-keeping-me-up-for-a-month-ever-again (X-Tro, unfathomably, scared the bejesus out of me) side.
So I conclude the genre is important for children because it provides a threshold upon which to fight our psyche’s battles, most important the battle between what dangers we will recognize and regard as real and dangerous and what dangers we will not. Some people are really scared of vampires and aliens. I’ve negotiated those fears via the movies, and short of actual encounters, they are not insecurities that add significantly to my sum total of worry.
And therein also lies the answer to the question about why the genre is more important generally. It’s not just kids who can negotiate their fears through horror’s tropes, perhaps more easily than through the nightly news or through realist fiction. Burning the Middle Ground uses powers right out of dark fantasy, but it’s really about people manipulating others’ beliefs to gain political power, beliefs about everything from gun control, which featured largely in the book before it again took a front seat in the media, to education. Watching evidence of that on the news makes me feel way sicker than reading one of my gorier scenes of limbs being torn off (or something). The horror genre is, oddly enough, a cushion. The necessary and often predictable violence and gore (suspense is about when, not what) seem less like things happening to real people than spectacular devices that may or may not have other symbolic value. They soften the blow of the real horror, which is that people really treat others like objects, like means to ends, and people really are capable of being manipulated by those who would treat them so.
So horror lets me deal with that kind of horror while using violent conventions of the genre as a cushion that softens the blow. It makes the brutal nastiness of political machinations softer enough, but it still calls attention to the horribleness of this everyday human practice, no matter how hyperbolic the supernatural narrative makes it—and in that way, the horror genre is the purest form of critique.
I talk critique, and a few people start to yawn, because they think the academic took over, but nope, still the creative writer here. Creative writing is great for two reasons: 1) You get to tell fun stories, and 2) You get to point out what sucks and what’s great. My point was about number two, as “critique” here is really about suck/greatness, but I haven’t forgotten one. One’s the real deal. You see, the horror genre provides this territory for negotiating fears, and it’s a territory where pretty much everything is under negotiation: life and death, present and absent, history and future, innocence and guilt. Rod Serling had a name for this place. Cool stories come from there.
What we have to fear and what we don’t is very similar to the question of what is real and what is not. That’s the ultimate negotiation, and that’s ultimately the line that horror gets to do flips across until people exit the story territory and go one way or the other. Horror turns your own negotiations of fear and reality into a heck of a show.
L. Andrew Cooper thinks the smartest people like horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. Early in life, he couldn’t handle the scary stuff–he’d sneak and watch horror films and then keep his parents up all night with his nightmares. In the third grade, he finally convinced his parents to let him read grownup horror novels: he started with Stephen King’s Firestarter, and by grade five, he was doing book reports on The Stand.
When his parents weren’t being kept up late by his nightmares, they worried that his fascination with horror fiction would keep him from experiencing more respectable culture. That all changed when he transitioned from his public high school in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia to uber-respectable Harvard University, where he studied English Literature. From there, he went on to get a Ph.D. in English from Princeton, turning his longstanding engagement with horror into a dissertation. The dissertation became the basis for his first book, Gothic Realities (2010). More recently, his obsession with horror movies turned into a book about one of his favorite directors, Dario Argento (2012). He also co-edited the textbook Monsters (2012), an attempt to infect others with the idea that scary things are worth people’s serious attention.
After living in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California, Andrew now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he teaches at the University of Louisville and chairs the board of the Louisville Film Society, the city’s premiere movie-buff institution. Burning the Middle Ground is his debut novel.
You can find him around the interwebs:
Burning the Middle Ground
Burning the Middle Ground is a dark fantasy about small-town America that transforms readers’ fears about the country’s direction into a haunting tale of religious conspiracy and supernatural mind control. A character-driven sensibility like Stephen King’s and a flair for the bizarre like Bentley Little’s delivers as much appeal for dedicated fans of fantasy and horror as for mainstream readers looking for an exciting ride. Brian McCullough comes home from school and discovers that his ten-year-old sister Fran has murdered their parents. Five years later, a journalist, Ronald Glassner, finds Brian living at the same house in the small town of Kenning, Georgia. Planning a book on the McCullough Tragedy, Ronald stumbles into a struggle between Kenning’s First Church, run by the mysterious Reverend Michael Cox, and the New Church, run by the rebellious Jeanne Harper. At the same time, Kenning’s pets go berserk, and dead bodies, with the eyes and tongues removed from their heads, begin to appear.
So tell me, dear readers, did you spend your childhood trying to scare yourself silly or were you more of a duvet safety kid? Do you believe horror to be an important genre or do you think we could live without it and why? Leave your comments below!