(The estimated reading time for this is 6 minutes)
© 2015 by Keith Deininger. All Rights Reserved.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about dark fiction. The genre that we call “horror” is, I believe, not well understood. Horror is supposed to scare us, and so, naturally, we conjure images of fanged beasts hunting us in the night, or serial killer clowns, or insidious supernaturally hauntings out for revenge. Are these things scary? In a way, of course they are, but they’ve never really worked for me. To me, the fear of such things is much like one’s fear of spiders or snakes. Yes, spiders and snakes can be dangerous, but, for the most part, are harmless. Fears like these are on the outside, they come from our instincts as humans to avoid dark places where we can’t see predators that might be hunting us. It’s easy to be afraid of these things because they’re basic threats to our survival. It’s also easy to pin our fears on such things when the true danger lies within…
The most popular and most commercially successful of the titles in the horror genre tend to have this element: an outside force threatens a group of basically well-meaning and likeable people. Think of every Stephen King novel ever written—they all have this quality. Although King’s characters may be flawed and some of them have their vices, they are generally likeable people who come up against outside forces they must face. King writes classic stories of good versus evil. Occasionally he writes metaphors of personal struggle, like Jack Torrance versus alcoholism in The Shining, but even then it is the ghosts of the Overlook hotel—an outside evil—that is the driving antagonizing force in the novel. The fantasy genre has a similar problem, with Tolkien’s epic at its core, another story of pure good against pure evil. There is, of course, nothing wrong with these stories, but, as most of us know, the world in which we live is not as simple as all that.
Perhaps the reason we enjoy such stories is because we’d like to believe in pure good and pure evil. Such a belief certainly simplifies things. It’s easy to think of ourselves as the good guys and others—“The Other”—as bad. But, unfortunately, in reality, all of us are flawed creatures with traits both good and bad. Rather than accepting this fact, it’s easier for us to point out the awful things others have done, to lay blame, to point to outside entities like the devil or witchcraft as sources that have manipulated people to do horrible things. Was Hitler possessed by the devil? Were all the people he coerced to do his bidding possessed as well? Or is there a darker truth, one far more horrifying. Does the potential for such evil lurk within us all?
As I was saying, I don’t find spiders and snakes particularly frightening. It’s the potential for evil inside all of us that truly chills me. To me, this is horror and that’s what I write.
I write about things creepy and uncanny, occurrences that are “not quite right.” To me, true fear comes from things which can’t be fully explained. The problem with this approach lies in readers expecting solid explanations, and when they don’t get them, they shake their heads and turn away to find works more palatable. But the most frightening things in this world are often the most elusive. Imagine a nightmare in which you are being chased by a werewolf. Now imagine a nightmare in which someone you know turns to you and does something completely out of character, using a knife, and there’s blood… Which is scarier? We know why the werewolf chases us. The werewolf is a killing beast and that’s what it does. We do not, however, know why this person, whom we thought we knew so well, has done this act with the knife. It should hurt, but she’s smiling…
Explanations dilute the fear. One might argue, of course, that many of us read for this very reason, to explain away our fears, to release us from them through a cathartic experience, and that is, of course, an important quality of horror fiction. But, let me take it a step further, and argue that horror fiction can, and should be—like any other literary work—used to incite questions and to get us thinking, because the world in which we live is a strange and mysterious place, one filled with things our limited human faculties simply cannot perceive. There are no definite answers or certainties.
That is the fear I have written about in my novel “Within.” That is the spiraling decent into madness in which I have plunged. That is what scares me. That is my mark on the genre of horror fiction. We have within us all the capacity to do great harm—great good, as well—but also great harm. It is only by awareness of this fact, understanding of the darkness, that we may make decisions compassionate not only to ourselves, but to those around us.
The evil is in all of us. It lurks within.
MORE ABOUT THE BOOK…
Something’s wrong in the eclectic mountain town of Mesa Rapids. Something’s always been wrong. Sometimes its citizens behave in strange ways—sometimes to the point of violence…
When the wealthy and enigmatic art collector Harold Klimt moves into the long dilapidated house known as the Upshaw Mansion, most don’t think twice about it. But when Mr. Klimt begins to throw lavish parties for the town’s elite, Colin Thorne—a young, aspiring artist still grieving over the recent death of his childhood friend—sneaks inside the house to explore, suspicious something’s wrong.
What he finds are the buried secrets of a town with a troubled history and something else…a plane of horror so vast that it threatens to alter reality.
Soon after that, Mr. Klimt offers Colin a job—painting a mural in the basement of the Upshaw Mansion. As Colin becomes more and more obsessed with the dark vision he is creating, the horror begins to bubble to the surface of not only his psyche, but the entire town.
“Within is a violent, disorienting, and hypnotic tale–a tapestry woven with sinew, hope, and sacrifice. An unsettling read, Deininger casts a spell that stretches out over time, its talons grabbing hold, and never letting go.” —Richard Thomas, author of Disintegration
“Deininger’s Within is a genuinely chilling tale of a town and people gone bad. A sense of detachment pervades the novel; a feeling that we, the readers, are no more than helpless observers as souls crumble all around us. Deininger puts us right there in the story, and with a sure hand takes us to a brilliant, dreadful crescendo, before leaving us with an ending as cold as ice. A classic American horror story by one of the finest writers of imaginative fiction out there.” —Craig Saunders, author of Masters of Blood and Bone and Deadlift
“Another superb story from Keith Deininger, his writing seems to come from somewhere between dream and nightmare, between solidity and hallucination.” —Scream Horror Magazine
“Within is a horror novel with enough traditional horror themes mixed with a newer and edgier feel to appeal to every fan of the genre. Deininger infuses the tale with an almost dreamlike (nightmarish) quality that adds a surrealism to the story and keeps the reader guessing.” —Examiner.com
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