1. She was looking forward to spending the evening with her friends who were home from college for the holidays. She didn’t know he was home until he stepped out of the dark corner and pressed both barrels against her forehead. ‘Today, you die,’ he said quietly, and pulled the trigger.
2. She knew when he drove through that last traffic light in town that he wasn’t taking her to dinner. The lights from town grew dim and empty fields loomed ahead. Without warning, he stopped the car, pulled her out and dragged her into the brush. ‘I feel like hitting something,’ he told her and began punching her face with his fists.
3. The still night was marred by the escalating argument outside her bedroom window, the view one of the apartment complex’s parking lots. She snuck a peek through the blinds and saw two young women engaged in a confrontation. One of them suddenly pulled a revolver from her pocket and shot the other in the face.
Previews of crime documentaries? Trailers for soon-to-be-released blockbuster movies? Not at all. They are all memories. Mine.
In the first event, the potential shooter was a relative living with us for a time, the gun jammed and I ran outside. Not paying attention to where I was going as I should have been, I was almost run over by another family member pulling into the driveway on their return from the grocer. Two close calls in the space of five minutes--it was not the best day I’ve ever had. This particular family member was subsequently asked to find another place to hang his hat.
In the second, after being beaten so severely I lost of couple of teeth, and both my eyes were swollen completely shut, I was driven back to the center of town and pushed out of the car onto the sidewalk. A car full of soldiers witnessed my ejection from the car, pulled over and asked if they could assist me by contacting the police or taking me home. I asked them to call my mom and to wait with me until she came to pick me up. I never reported the incident to the police. If you had ever met the three-man police force in our little town, you would understand why. My ‘date’ was the out-of-town cousin of one of my best friends. Needless to say, our friendship ended shortly after.
The last incident? I had never seen the woman before who was killed, but the woman who pulled the trigger was a neighbor. We had often done our laundry together in the evenings--safety in numbers and all, and spoke quite frequently about various personal matters, all of which were quite lukewarm in nature. The case was never prosecuted, even though there were numerous witnesses besides myself. Go figure.
I have been writing sci-fi stories since I was in grade school. After becoming a victim of, and witnessing, such horrific violence in my early 20’s however, my creative taste took a turn to the dark side. I took courses on criminology at a local junior college. I did extensive research on forensic science and criminal law. I became a life-long devotee of television crime documentaries. By the time I was in my mid-30‘s, it all began to find its way into my writing and my sci-fi tales became ones of noir and graphic horror. Over the next almost 30 years, there were several situations when I was again placed in harm’s way (although none as potentially deadly as those from my youth) and I continued to study and research violent crimes. At 61, noir and dark horror make up the majority of what I read and write.
I saw it as a natural pairing since noir is grittily realistic, unrelentingly gloomy, and usually fatal. Similarly, horror’s goal is to create fear, often using graphic violence. What would draw me, as a female writer, to such traditionally male genres? Am I obsessively studying crime and violence and creating stories of terror and madness to confront the demons from years past to help me understand what occurred to, and around, me? Are my daily compulsions (i.e., checking for my keys twice before leaving anywhere, turning lights on and off four times in all rooms before leaving home, etc.) the direct result of my life experiences, or were these traits always simmering just below the surface waiting for the opportune time to reveal themselves?
It’s the chicken or the egg thing.
I have no clue.
Something I do frequently ponder though is whether readers realize what an intensely personal process writing is. For me, at least, there is no such thing as what’s past is past. When I begin to write, it’s all there, front and center. I do not consciously base my characters on specific people I have known, but I can point out the familiar traits in each and every one that I’ve written. At times, the task of writing a short story can be an extremely painful process when the memories are flooding in. I welcome them all. They are what give my work their strength and their powerful kick of reality.
Horror and noir have always been very popular genres, safe excursions into the places where we are most frightened. We are permitted to accompany a serial killer on the hunt for his or her next victim and we may experience it from both the perspective of the predator and the prey. We are allowed to view an attack by a bloodthirsty werewolf through its demonic eyes, while simultaneously watching the world around us grow progressively dim as our life force slowly ebbs away. We can do all these things without any personal risk. The story ends, we put the book back on the shelf, and we’re off to the safety of our own beds, where dreams of new cars and trips up the corporate ladder patiently await.
Not so for the writer though. For us, the risks are quite palpable and enduring. With each new character, each new setting, and each new plotline, something dark from deep inside the recesses of our minds makes its way to the surface where it will take hold and remain.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
published 2 April 2011