Title: Why I Write Horror
Author: David B. Silva
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Why I Write Horror
by David B. Silva
These are some of the snapshots I carry with me:
My father coming up to visit me after first being diagnosed with
leukemia. The visit was a surprise, and he brought a new computer
with him. As he carried it into the house, he said, "This isn't
yours, but I'm going to let you use it." Later that afternoon, he
told me he was dying. We spent the entire weekend playing with
the computer, trying to write crude DOS programs and get it to
do what we wanted. It was as close to him as I ever felt.
Carrying my dog Seth into the veterinarian's office and placing
her on the cold stainless steel table. Her so well behaved, as
always. Me fighting back the tears in front of the doctor. She
had been diagnosed with bone cancer and her limp was so dramatic
that every step had to be excruciating. I couldn't stay to watch
him put to her to sleep. It just hurt too much.
Answering the knock on the door at three-thirty in the morning
and stepping outside, where ashes were floating down out of the
sky like giant snow flakes. The Fountain Fire, which had started
nearby and had burned some 65,000 acres while moving away from
the house, had turned back during the night. I remember the acrid
smell of smoke in the air. The sense of urgency and danger, mixed
with utter silence and an odd, surreal beauty I don't think I'll
ever be able to describe. The house, fortunately, was spared.
Standing in my father's hospital room, watching him as each
breath gradually grew a little shallower. Some so faint I wasn't
sure if he had taken a breath at all. Finding myself counting the
seconds after his last breath, time stretching out further and
further, and then the realization...the moment's passed. It's
over. He's dead. He's never going to take another breath. He's
never going to smile again, to laugh. A piece of the foundation
of my life has just disappeared.
My mother giving me a copy of Ray Bradbury's The Toynbee
Convector for Christmas. It was her last Christmas, and we both
knew it would be her last. The smile on her face, because she
knew I was a Bradbury fan. I asked her to sign it for me. After
she died, I bought another copy for reading. I keep the copy she
gave me safely tucked away, where I can pull it out whenever I
need and remind myself how lucky I am.
Believing in Santa Claus until I was ten years old. Every
Christmas we would go for a long drive through the surrounding
neighborhoods on Christmas Eve to see the decorations. When we
returned home, there would be a fire in the fireplace and
presents under the tree. I like believing in Santa Claus. And the
Grinch, too. Oh, and it was my grandparents who put the presents
out each year.
My father dropping my sister and I and a friend off at the State
movie theater to see a cartoon festival one Saturday morning when
I was eight. It ended up being the wrong theater. Instead of
cartoons, we watched a movie called Terror From The Year 2000. It
was the first movie that ever scared me. For years, I was haunted
by visions of a purple woman mysteriously materializing behind me.
Reading Edgar Allen Poe stories at my grandmother's house at
night in bed when I was a young boy, and how wonderful they were.
The Book Mobile that came by the house once a week when I was a
boy. Looking back on it now, it was a tiny little thing. But it
seemed cavernous at the time. I remember the excitement of
climbing up the steps, the smell that was somehow ancient and new
all at once, the plastic covers, the tall shelves.
My sister sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night as
a teenager to go hang out with her biker boyfriend. She got
caught. Her bedroom window got nailed shut. She was the bad seed.
I was the good son. Of course, as adults, she's far more
responsible and level-headed than myself.
My best friend when I was eleven, sneaking into our house while
we were away and stealing all my marbles. He left a perfect path
of footprints leading directly back to his house. I asked him to
return the marbles and he did. We remained friends, but it was
never quite the same after that. I had something over him and
neither of us like that.
Spending the night alone in the Community Center in preparation
for a huge arts and crafts sale the next day. I was there to make
sure nothing was stolen during the night. It was cold and dark
and eerie. There were Christmas ornaments everywhere. Little
gingerbread houses with gum drop roofs. Miniature rocking chairs
with Mrs. Santa in place. Ceramic statues of little elves.
Reindeer made of wood and felt and pine needles. Nightmarish.
Walking down a path in the mountains late at night, following
what little moonlight there was, and having someone jump out
behind a tree, completely unexpected, and scream. On the
outside, I barely flinched. Inside, I thought my legs were going
to give out and I couldn't stop my heart from pounding.
Me and three friends being pulled over by cops because they were
looking for someone and we apparently fit the bill. The ordered
us out of the car, had us put our arms on the vehicle and spread
'em, then frisked us and asked for I.D. It was as guilty as I
ever felt for having done nothing.
Becky, who was an excellent diver, trying a dive off the diving
board at summer camp and coming down on her face. For weeks
after, she walked around looking something like the Elephant Man,
her nose swollen and twisted to one side, huge black-and-blue
stripes beneath each eye. I wish I had a camera.
A boy in sixth grade running out into the street to get a
baseball and getting clobbered by a car. We all gathered around
to watch as he walked in circles, his eyes glassy, repeating over
and over, "I just wanted to get the ball. I just wanted to get
Old Airport Road, where one night two young teenage lovers went
barreling down the dead end until they slammed into the embankment
and totaled their car. I was ten. My sister was nine. My father
heard the sirens. He scooped us up, put us in the car and followed
the ambulance to the accident. I remember there were shards of
broken glass everywhere. The air was sharp with the smell of oil
and gasoline. We watched as the two teenagers were strapped into
gurneys and each stuffed into an ambulance. Their faces were a
bloody mess. The girl was groaning nonstop. I don't know if they
made it or not.
The night I left the front yard when I wasn't supposed to, so I
could show a visiting neighbor where my school was. Most
particularly, I remember the whipping I got when my father
finally tracked us down several hours later.
The first time I ever shoplifted something. I was eight or nine,
and I had gone to the store to pick up some bread for my mother.
While I was there, I slipped a candy bar into my pocket. Not
being terribly proficient at it, I think a bit of the candy bar
was sticking out. When I went to the check out counter, the
cashier suggested we get some "fresher" bread. I followed him
back to the bread shelves, where he casually asked what was in my
pocket, and before I knew it, I was in his office and he was
calling the police. I don't think he actually called them. I
think he was just trying to scare me, which believe me, he did.
He ended up giving me a lecture and telling me to have my mother
come see him next time we came to the store. I never told my
mother. And I hated it every time I had to go anywhere near that
The dogs barking one night, and me blindly following them out
into the woods to see what the fuss was all about. We stopped in
front of a stand of manzanita, maybe two or three feet away, and
suddenly a coyote let out a howl from the other side. The dogs
started barking again, and there was some rustling around in the
dark. I didn't stay to see what it was all about.
The babysitter, an older woman who cared for us during the day
while our parents worked, washing my mouth out with soap. I don't
remember what I said, but I do remember that it was the only time
I had ever had my mouth washed out with soap.
Taking a walk down the long driveway out to my mail box one
afternoon, and finding a cow's heart and intestines dumped in a
pool of blood in the middle of the road. Apparently, someone had
stolen a local cow during the night and slaughtered it in my
driveway, which was hidden just off the main road. Or aliens had
visited the area. I guess I'll never know for sure.
Working on the roof of a house with my father and grandfather.
This was a new house, the family's "dream house," that would
eventually take two full years to build. We were cutting and
laying wood shakes. Off to the side, I caught a glimpse of my
father climbing down the ladder. I peered over the edge and asked
him what was up. "I'm going to the hospital," he said. "I cut my
finger off." He hadn't said anything when it had happened. He
hadn't yelled or screamed or cried. He had picked up his finger,
and climbed down the ladder, fully prepared to drive himself to
the hospital. My grandfather ended up doing the driving. I stayed
behind and continued working on the roof, absolutely amazed at my
father's calm reaction to such a horrifying event. I was fifteen.
I still got excited about slivers.
Cutting wood for winter one August afternoon. Pacific Gas &
Electric had come through last summer and leveled a number of
pines while installing an electrical line into the back of the
property. I had taken the chain saw to one of the piles, unaware
that nearby a nest of yellow jackets had built a hive in the
ground. Apparently, they didn't care much for all the racket.
Before I realized what was happening, I found myself under attack.
It was a long, long run before the last of the persistent fellows
finally gave up the chase. I was fortunate to come away with only
five or six stings.
Going up for a rebound while playing basketball when I was in my
early twenties and coming down wrong on my foot. I ended up on my
back, and when I raised my head to see what had happened, I
discovered my right foot pointing the wrong direction. I had
dislocated it. On the way to the hospital, I couldn't remember
where I lived. Once I got to the emergency room, they had to put
me under because they couldn't get my foot back into place and
every time they tried, I screamed. Even in my twenties, I couldn't
find the composure under adversity of my father.
I carry these snapshots with me wherever I go. Some were taken at
the most significant moments of my life. Others were taken for
reason I cannot fathom. All I know is they are always with me.
Yet each, in its own way, has contributed to my fascination with
I write horror not because I've lived it, but because it charms
me, because I see its place in my live and the lives of others
around me, and I want to understand it.
Copyright © 2005 David B. Silva
About David: David B. Silva has written eight novels. His most
recent, All The Lonely People, is published by Delirium Press.
He's awaiting the release of The Hawke Legacy, a novel of epic
horror, from Subterranean Press. His short fiction has appeared
in The Year's Best Horror, The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, and
The Best American Mystery Stories. In 1991, he won a Bram Stoker
Award for his short story, The Calling. Visit his site,
List of articles by David Silva: [EMAIL PROTECTED]
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