It is a beautiful Saturday here in Baltimore, and I am seated at my writing desk, my door and windows open to birdsong and a breeze and my hands wrapped around my umpteenth cup of coffee.
Lee got up early this morning and headed off for a day of fishing, leaving me with a rare empty-house Saturday to write. I have spent the morning finishing the short story inspired by the mailman who took a crap in someone’s yard. The afternoon stretches before me, lazy and free. Tonight, my mother and I will go have a few drinks at the family pub. We say this is in honor of Mother’s Day, but we do it every weekend unless one of us is busy.
So that is tonight. But right now, I am still sitting at my desk although I am done, for now, with the story. I’m still here because I am having a conversation with Jack Nicholson. He’s wearing his “A Few Good Men” stoic uniform finery, and he’s pretty pissed at me.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I tell him. “Its just, really, you know … weird that you’re here.”
He scowls. “Deep down, in that place you don’t talk about at parties,” he says, “you want me on that wall.” When I don’t respond, he bellows “You NEED me on that wall!”
I still have nothing to say, because he’s right.
Before you send out the men in the white coats, let me explain. I have dabbled in many kinds of writing over the course of my life. Sometimes, as I write, my mind personifies the style in which I’m writing. When I do my humor thing, I hear my words in Janeane Garafolo’s voice. When I’m in horror mode, Jack comes out to play.
That would make sense, if it was Jack from “The Shining,” red-eyed and wildly tapping “redrum redrum redrum” at his typewriter. But no, I get the “Few Good Men” Jack. The one who has to remind me that although he might freak the shit out of me, he knows that deep down I want him on that wall.
That really is kind of how I feel when I end a writing session where I’ve been inside the head of a disturbed character, even if only a little while. I am drained, although not in a bad way. It is like a mental version of that jelly-legged, pleasantly aching feeling you get just after a good workout at the gym. I am amazed and perhaps just a little weirded out by what I’ve discovered living in my brain.
Writing horror is opening up the doors to some of your buried fears. It is letting the monsters under your bed out to play. In some cases, it is squeezing yourself into the cracked and oozing fissures of the brain of someone – your invented someone – who is about to do or who has done something awful. It is a wild ride.
It is Jack the Colonel, who knows that his existence disturbs you, but that you sleep a lot better when you just let him do his thing and don’t ask any questions.
I always thought my writing would be funny stories and poignant vignettes, down-on-his-or-her-luck-plucky-hero/ine-makes-good type stuff. And sometimes, it is. But over the last six months I’ve discovered a whole other side to my writing. It is darker and looser and grosser and weirder. It is the stuff that happens behind closed doors, the things you don’t talk about at parties.
You know, like Jack said.
You’re right, Colonel. The part of me that reads other horror writers to give myself the shivers is amazed and a little disturbed to see you coming out of me. I might even try to deny you or pretend that I wish you would go away. But when it comes right down to it, I love that you are here.
I want you on that wall. I need you on that wall.
Carry on. I won’t ask any questions.