NOTE: This originally appeared on the blog of author Chad Clark.
Do I offend?
One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite John Hughes film. Pretty In Pink. Ducky. Ah the Duckster. The kid I most certainly wanted to be in high school.
But I digress.
This isn’t about the 80s. It isn’t about John Hughes, or even (le sigh) Molly Ringwald. What this is about is offending. Let me can the cryptic and get to the point.
I’m an author of horror. Yeah, I’m one of those. Even better, I’m an author of the dark fantastic who firmly believes it my duty to hold up the mirror to society and remind them that they are, in fact, the true monster. Many of us, within the realm of horror, consider that part and parcel to our task. But beyond being an author, I am an artist…to my core. I have been for a very long time. I have the temperament to go along with it. I am moved by the strangest things, which often leaves me to wonder, “Where did that come from?”
That artistry insists I approach my horror fiction in ways that some might find offensive.
I’m not talking about overt gore, over the top violence, or exploitation. Instead, the fear I peddle comes by way of making the reader question their reality, their faith, their, truth.
To me, that is the darkest of fears.
With that style of fear, comes great challenge. How does one insist such questioning upon a reader without offending them? Especially in a time where most don’t want their beliefs, thoughts, and feelings challenged.
Currently I am writing the third book in The Nameless Sage. This series of books perfectly illustrates this challenge and tasks me with ensuring I do not push the envelope of the reader’s beliefs and truths too far. We spend much of our time, within the universe of this Saga, in Hell. While there, we find out that everything we have been made to believe about man and religion is wrong. Good is evil and evil is good. Paradise was never truly lost, just taken from its rightful owners.
This is all fiction of my creation. Fiction. A single word that so many forget to apply to their entertainment.
In other words, it’s not real. As an artist, I am not trying to convince you that God is a bullet aiming straight at your heart and the Devil will ease your suffering. But why not play with those themes?
The very definition of fiction is:
Literature in the form of prose, especially short stories and novels, that describes imaginary events and people.
Imaginary is key. It means I am not, nor ever have, insisted that the worlds I build are true. The architect of Hell does not come in the guise of a little girl in a pinafore dress and mary janes. God is not planning a holy war in which he will use us mortals as his unwilling soldiers.
I write the books in this series knowing I will offend some people. But I do so while remaining true to my art. I consider art that doesn’t make the beholder question the status quo of the world and themselves to have failed its higher purpose. Yes, art should also entertain – we cannot deny that element of the craft. But to strip away the dimensions of enlightenment and education from what I call the “three Es of art”, is to fail the craft. Even while writing a book that flips the narrative of religion completely upside down, I want readers to wonder, truly wonder, if it is remotely possible there is even a fraction of truth to what they are taking in.
In that process, I offend. But I don’t do so with purpose. I’m not developing these ideas in order to piss off or insult a readers sensibilities or realities. Instead, I challenge. I put forth an idea and ask the reader, “Is this possible?” In the end, it is their choice; do they question their reality? Do they give over fully to the ride and, in the end, come out a changed person? Or do they dive in only so deep, to ensure they exit the dark tunnel intact?
I strongly believe that the best art changes us. By way of critical thinking, deeper emotional connection, and challenging that which we perceive as reality, art becomes a most powerful vehicle. The human condition begs to evolve, to improve, to be challenged. No other genre of fiction offers such transformative powers as does horror. We come out of the experience having a catharsis of both emotional and intellectual nature. We are challenged and we are made better by giving into such challenge.
And yes, in the process I do offend. Should Westboro Baptist Church get hold of any book in The Nameless Saga, they’d be outside of my house picketing and making bold predictions of eternal flames lapping at my flesh. Some consider the words found within those stories to be an assault on their beliefs. Instead, they should think of them as a challenge to their modus operandi. Horror fiction should make you think, make you re-think, and make you think yet again. A good novel of the dark fantastic will stay with you, long after you’ve closed the cover, and challenge you to think and feel with more passion. In the end, you may come out of the experience unchanged…but holding onto your system of beliefs even stronger.
That is why we do what we do.
And so, to bring it back to Ducky…do I offend? No. I challenge.