The question a lot of horror authors get is, “Why do you have to write such terrible things?” And my answer is usually, “Um, ah, well, it’s entertaining?”
But that’s not really why. I’ve been thinking about what drives me to write horror, and what inspired my series Rust. I could cite a lot of books and shows that I’ve loved (Uzumaki, Twin Peaks, The Ruins) but my love of horror goes all the way back to childhood.
And where’d that begin? The lazy answer would be, “My Dad let me watch Alien when I was six” (true) or “I read Pet Semetary when I was eight” (true) but that doesn’t get to the core of why I write horror. Why I want to scare people. Why I want to scare myself. What truly scares me.
So here are some images from my childhood that’ve never left:
I was on holiday with my parents in Queensland, staying with a family friend. I was maybe six years old. While browsing a bookshelf in a hallway I was startled by the image of a green claw reaching out of a rain-clogged drain. That was the original edition of IT.
On that same holiday, I watched a Saturday morning cartoon where a villain sprayed a city with a chemical that turned everyone into screaming, rooted plants. It kept me awake that night.
On my father’s bookshelf, while browsing for science fiction, I was transfixed by a howling face unwinding on an old cover of Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan.
Finally, in my kid’s edition of Sleeping Beauty, there’s an illustration of the forest of thorns. A man hangs dead, skeletonised. Thorns twine through his eyehole.
The term “body horror” wasn’t in my lexicon when I was six, but those few core images were the beginning of a life-long fascination. I sought it out in books, films, comics. Themes of disfigurement, contortion, manipulation, and transformation were more fascinating and more terrifying than ghosts, werewolves or bug-eyes monsters. It wasn’t about pain – even as an adult that makes me squeamish.
As I write this, I realise it could come across as a “how I became a serial killer” confession. Not at all. I don’t like this stuff. James Patterson doesn’t like kidnapping or murder (I hope). Joe Hill doesn’t hurting children (I hope). These themes scared the shit out of me. They still do. But sometimes you can’t stop worrying at a loose, painful tooth. You understand what scares you better by drilling down to the core.
In all that drilling, I had an awful realization. The people in these shows/comics/books were fiction, but they had a basis in fact. They could be me. That you could escape a mummy/werewolf/Freddie Krueger, but you couldn’t escape a contagion, or a forest of thorns growing instantly around you, or a dimensional portal unzipping your body.
The helplessness that came with that realisation shook something loose in me. Monsters were known. The unknown, on the other hand, and the inevitable, the idea that you could see some sorts of horror coming and be unable to run, to hide, because it’s all-encompassing…
That freaks me out.
So when I set out to write Rust, those old themes boiled up. The manipulation of memories & bodies. The rain that reaches from horizon to horizon. Creatures laying eggs inside you. The blister-sickness. The things in the Pentacost Convent. Peter & Kimberly’s terrible evolution. Worms in eyes. Inevitability.
In many ways, I’m writing Rust so I can terrify child-me all over again. It might be the most honest series I’ve ever attempted. It’s a direct line into all the things that make me want to pull the covers over my head at night. And maybe it’s also a way to exorcise those fears. If they’re on the page, they can’t keep me awake. If I pass them on to you, I’m left free.
Maybe that’s why so many readers are enjoying Rust. To all who’ve already given it a shot, thank you. I hope you’re losing sleep like boy-Ruz lost sleep.
…and yes, I’m working on Rust 4 right now. Will it be done this year? Who knows. But it’ll be creepy as hell when it arrives.