Creating by Candlelight - Part 1

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The appeal of dark storytelling is timeless, luring an untold number of writers, artists, and directors into its embrace, tantalizing them to journey into their own macabre thoughts and desires. Follow along with Steven Surman as he explores the motivations behind the dark works of an assortment of creators, ranging from those who dabble in prose, comic books, and film. What is it that’s so seductive about the dark?

Creating by Candlelight: Dark Storytelling’s Allure in the Arts and Entertainment (Part 1)

A desk lamp provides Gavin Hurley with nothing when he’s at work. Only flickering candlelight is capable of supplying the light he needs while crafting his stories. Watched by Michael Myers from behind the glass of a framed Halloween poster and surrounded by the soft sound of eerie music, Mr. Hurley is at home with the right conditions he needs to realize the true nature of his craft.

Mr. Hurley believes deeply in the dark genres of storytelling. Aside from the classic voices in haunted literature like Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and H.P. Lovecraft, he believes that contemporary voices like Edward Lee, Richard Laymon, and Ramsey Campbell keep the genre rich and alive. And one day, he hopes to join their ranks. Having originally earned a B.A. in philosophy from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, the New Jersey native from Manahawkin had greater ambitions. Mr. Hurley’s passion for horror literature led him to Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. He’s now pursuing a M.F.A. in writing there; exploring his literary tastes as much as possible within the confines of the degree he’s pursuing.

Haunted Literature

When Mr. Hurley is not working on material for school or supporting himself as a retail manager, he’s spending time in the isolation of his office, evoking his fascination with the horrific. "I find horror to be the most powerful expression of art. The message is delivered so aggressively that it inevitably sinks in," he said. He’s been spending a great deal of time editing his first novel, Piety, in between school and work. The book shows that he’s not afraid to deal with the most stygian of elements, as it deals with religious devotion attacked by demonic influence. He’s also written two screenplays and a handful of short stories.

Mr. Hurley’s devotion is multi-faceted. He believes that the darker side of art reveals the lighter side of life more clearly. One of the key attributes that the macabre offers is freedom from taboos, as it employs the very same unthinkable concepts to make a statement. "There is openness. The gothic writer does not worry about overt sexual descriptions just as the horror writer does not worry about the grotesque—the shocks and scares make the art more memorable."

The immediate feeling that a horror tale should summon up is to initially give "the reader a scare." But it’s unlikely a reader is going to gouge their nails into their chair or bolt up screaming. The power of a spooky story is that it leaves a lingering sense of wonder—scared questioning—a "sustained fright" as Mr. Hurley puts it.

Simon Wood, however, does not count himself as a devout horror writer. He simply goes straight for the thrill of a tale; no matter was mode of genre he uses. Originally from Great Britain, he now lives in El Sobrante, CA—having a flattering résumé of thriller stories to his credit. The author of Dragged into Darkness, Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, and Paying the Piper, Mr. Wood has a large enough portfolio to understand genre. "I grew up loving genre fiction—pulp, crime, horror, and private investigator novels. That’s where I wanted to be."

Though Dragged into Darkness is a collection of short stories that focuses on dark forces and their effects on human lives, his novels are thrillers which Mr. Wood describes as "cause and effect"—people inviting very real dangers into their lives, such as workplace crime in Working Stiffs.

Because he has sampled different variations of genres in his reading and writing, he’s not afraid to generalize the different dark genres of storytelling. He believes it centers on the rush of adrenaline that is given and not so much the route by which it’s delivered. "I’m a believer in the generalization. I want to thrill readers and I have a number of ways of doing that. If the reader is frightened, they will be thrilled."

Aside from the factor of sheer thrill, he, like Mr. Hurley, believes that deeper exploration of frightening elements opens the mind, saying that if, "you ignite someone’s imagination, you’re going to ignite their emotions." Because this is where Mr. Wood finds enjoyment and passion in his writing, he thinks fondly of the dark genres. "Genre is my home. Writers should not only write what they know, but what they love."

While Mr. Wood recognizes and embraces genre, Nate Kenyon is not so quick to pay the label much mind. Living in Massachusetts, the author’s first novel, Bloodstone, is horror fiction that has received notable recognition. It’s received the Preditors and Editors Best Horror Novel of 2006 and was a Bram Stoker Award finalist. But he’s not eager to put a label on himself, as he feels that, "genre is simply a way for us to put a stamp on something, but it’s never meant much more to me than that." His writing gravitates to the darker aspects of nature, and that’s what he feels akin to discuss. "I don’t sit down and say ‘let’s write horror.’ I’m just more interested in the dark side of life."

Mr. Kenyon believes the raw fear factor is important, but he is open to how a reader finds it. "It’s sort of like the difference between mountain biking and visiting a graveyard at midnight. The blood’s pumping, but for different reasons," he said.

But it’s not all about being frightened. To write chilling stories isn’t worth much if that’s all that’s accomplish. Believing the same creed of Mr. Hurley and Mr. Wood, dark tales should allow us to explore deeper levels of our own minds. "It allows readers to exorcise demons without being in any real danger," Mr. Kenyon said.

His inspirations vary. He cites writers from Mary Shelley to Clive Barker, but Stephen King is someone that he has deep faith in. "I devoured all of his work when I was a teen," he said, reflecting on the groundbreaking advances he beliefs King gave to the field of dark literature.

He also cites Shirley Jackson’s story, "The Lottery." It doesn’t need monsters or gallons of blood to startle its audience—only the sharp use of narrative misdirection. Mr. Kenyon even considers the Bible a corner stone of dark literature. "There’s some scary stuff that goes down in that book," he said.

To be continued tomorrow...

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