Monday, May 9, 2016

On Teaching Horror in Sin City: Murder, Betrayal, and How to Survive Heartbreak

I’ve been blurbed as “the illegitimate lovechild of Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath” and referred to as “the bubbliest horror writer in the genre,” and this Wednesday, I’m hopping on a plane to head to Las Vegas where I’m going to teach a classroom of writers about how to murder…Wytovich-style.

Talk about dreams coming true…

Note: Take that middle school English teacher who sent me to the guidance counselor for my violent, and possibly overly sexual, vampire story.

To me, horror is, and has always been, about survival. Yeah, that’s right—I don’t care about the size of your machete, or how you use it; I care about what it’s going to take for me to survive you. See, when I write, a storm is raging in my head as I plan motive, vice, and virtue. I play hour-long games of “what-if” and I pull from memories and personal experiences and then juxtapose them with nightmares and fantasies. I push my characters to the brink of heartbreak and insanity, and then I push them some more. I want my work , my horror, to make people think and question themselves and their morals. Where is your line? At what point will you fight? What has to happen for you to walk away? To me, personally and creatively, there is nothing more terrifying than believing in someone/something wholeheartedly only to find out that beneath their/its person suit (thank you, Hannibal) waits a stone-cold monster. Both myself and my characters have danced with darkness and made love to madness, and some of the most truly horrifying scenarios in my work have come from the relationships where someone trusted or loved a little too much.

Vice and Virtue.
Cause and consequence.

At what point do we/our characters snap?
At what point do our/their hearts break?

Stephen King has a quote that says: “Alone. Yes, that's the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn't hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.” And he’s right. As humans, we all want to connect with someone, and often the journey to doing so is full of shattered glass and bullet wounds. Writing about the bad, about the tragic, is cathartic—almost like putting a tourniquet on in an attempt to stop the bleeding. It lets you sort out anger and betrayal, and it helps you understand pain and fear. Writing horror poetry is a visceral, raw experience where you’re honed in on emotion and image, waltzing with the beautiful grotesque.

Vice and Virtue.
Death and survival.

At what point do we spread our legs to passion?
At what point do we shed blood?

In my workshop, I’m asking you to dance the dance with me. We’re going to talk Freud and Bataille. We’re going to write and explore why Edgar Allan Poe only felt that he was truly insane in the moments where his heart was touched. We’re going to look at art, and project ourselves into stories and paintings where we’ll perform psychological autopsies to decipher the sweet spot between our pleasure and our suffering, between the manifestation and exorcism of our emotions.

We’ll create characters with love and motive.
We’ll build monsters and see what happens when they form relationships.
And then at the end…we’ll see who is strong enough to survive.

Vice and Virtue.
Kill or be killed.

Between you and me, though… I always bet on the underdog.
They love to burn the world down.
 

See you in Sin City.
-Stephanie M. Wytovich