Michael A. Kozlowski is the author of Some Days Suck, Some Days Suck worse, a collection of horror and suspense stories. He has been published in various magazines, has a novella in print titled Above the Clouds, and has authored a travel memoir about moving to, living and working in Australia.
He lives in a reasonably quiet suburb of an unreasonably loud city in Michigan, USA, with his wife and two boys. They keep him around for entertainment purposes only. He is banned form telling the children bedtime stories.
You can find out more about his writing, works in progress and general activity at his website, www.mikekozlowski.com, on his blog, www.blog.mikekozlowski.com, or by following him on Twitter.
"Hank, I’m a horror writer.
That’s the answer I like to give when people ask me what I do. I enjoy the way their faces take on that dull, glazed over expression while they try to sort out if that means I’m only moments away from pulling out a machete and lopping off one of their arms. You know, just for fun.
Sometimes I build up to it a little by just saying I’m a writer and letting them get around to the specifics. Rarely, these days, do I start off with telling them what my day job is (the one that actually pays most of the bills). I’m not ashamed of my day job, it’s a good one that pays pretty well, but I have come to define myself as a writer; a struggling author, perhaps, that happens to have to take on other work to make ends meet for the time being (like all those actors in Hollywood that are serving dinners and wine to the people they wish they were).
After the initial shock wears off, people tend to say something along the lines of, “Oh! Like Stephen King?” Well, yes and no. I write stories that might make you think of King or Peter Straub or Richard Matheson or a hundred other “horror” writers but I don’t write Stephen King stories (he does that well enough on his own). Frankly, King’s stories don’t often scare me, or even disturb me. Nor do any other horror stories. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, I’m just a hard scare. I try to write about the things that give me the chills or that, at least, make me pause. If I can do that then I’m reasonably certain that they will give little, creepy feelings to my readers.
Now most of the things that scare me are pretty mundane and wouldn’t necessarily be horror story fodder. Things like impotency, family tragedy, random drug testing and flaming midgets (it’s a well documented fact that I love both midgets, with whom everything is more fun or funnier, and flames, with which everything is cooler, but that they terrify me in combination). My stories, by and large, tend to focus on the dark parts of the human condition. Sure, I write the occasionally monster yarn but there is usually, at the heart of it, some mental issue going on. I like when you read a horror story and say, “You know, that could happen” because that makes shit really scary.
I also tend to stay away from happy endings. In fact, I have a whole collection of stories that end badly. Well, I guess that depends on the perspective, but you know what I mean. It’s not that I’m a dark, angst ridden person. In fact, I am quite the opposite. I nearly always look on the bright side of things, am generally upbeat and tend to be pretty humorous, if reports from friends and family can be trusted (and they probably can’t be, ‘cause those fuckers lie a lot). I also tend to write a lot of parenthetical statements because I have a hard time staying focused and that practice lets me spout off about whatever I want to, whenever I want to (but that has nothing to do with this post other than to amuse me).
Most stories, horror or otherwise, tend to have a happy ending or, at a minimum, a satisfying resolution that lets the reader close the book and go to sleep knowing that the day has been saved, humanity has prevailed, the monsters have been vanquished, the boy got the girl, the bad guy was served a healthy dose of justice, etc., etc. Not all of them, to be sure, but most of them. You can usually find a hero. I can’t tell you exactly why my stories don’t typically end up that way but they don’t. In fact, I’ve been told by a few trusted readers that I seem incapable of a happy ending, though they mysteriously keep expecting one (I’ve also been told that there is something very, very wrong with me, that I’m probably insane and that they’d rather not have me around their kids anymore).
Maybe my stories end in gruesome and horrifying ways because the effort of keeping a sunny disposition all the rest of the time pushes all those dark bits down and they need a way to get out; a way that doesn’t involve high powered rifles and clock towers. Maybe I just like being a bit different (“different” is one of those words people like to use when describing me anyway as in, “He’s a really great guy though he is a bit…different.” That pause speaks volumes). It could be that it’s just so much damn fun writing bad guys and evil things that I get attached to them and end up rooting for them to win (Note: I realize this is going on a blog that originates in England and, as a person that has spent some time in Australia (yes, I know that’s not in England) I feel it may be necessary to point out that “rooting” in this sense does not mean “fucking.” It means pulling for or putting one’s support behind (and I suppose that last one could mean “fucking” too. God, you’re a bunch of sick bastards)).
How’d you like that? Parenthesis inside of parenthesis…twice! Fuck yeah! I’m on a role! And a tangent, I notice. Should this bit be in parenthesis, as well? Shit, I’m confusing myself. Oh well, onwards and upwards.
After people realize that I’m not likely to kill them on the sidelines of my son’s football game (that’s American football, folks, not soccer), they usually go in one of two directions; neither of them, in this case, being running away from me. They will either comment that they are going to go find some of my work to read it (which, I’ve discovered, is usually true about 1/10th of a percent of the time) or they say that they just don’t have the stomach for horror.
I always find that last statement so confusing. Fear is such a primal instinct. One we have used for survival and safety since the dawn of man. It paid off not to go poking the sleeping Saber tooth Tiger. But fear can also be so damn much fun. It gets the heart racing and the blood pumping. It gets you all sweaty and worked up. And when it’s over there is a nice, exhausted, relieved feeling and a sense of accomplishment. Now that I think about it, Fear is a whole lot like Sex (but not as messy and, if you’re doing the latter correctly, probably not as fun).
I can only assume these people haven’t read a scary book or watched a horror movie since they were six. I can only surmise that they never watch the news, because that’s a whole lot scarier than anything I can come up with. I guess they spend their time reading Newsweek or romance novels and the closest they’ve been to horror involves sparkly vampires (don’t get me started). Most likely, they don’t read much of anything at all and spend their free time watching The Biggest Loser (while sitting on the couch eating fatty snacks) or American Idol or something.
I feel sad for them. I can’t imagine not having read Carrie or ‘Salem’s Lot, I Am Legend, Horns or 20th Century Ghosts, Dracula, The Haunting of Hill House, Ghost Story, Something Wicked This Way Comes and countless others. How do you get through life not having seen the Friday the 13th series or Halloween, The Thing, Dawn of the Dead, Amityville Horror, The Exorcist and on and on?
I’m not saying horror is the end all be all, I like other genres just as well, but it should be included in any well-rounded individual’s library or DVD collection. It’s a bit like depriving yourself of new foods and living on a diet of bread and water. Sure, you might survive, but what a waste (unless you’re talking about mushrooms; nobody should ever, for any reason, eat a fucking mushroom).
So what does all this mean? What is the point I’m trying to make here?
Fuck if I know. I’m just ranting. Kate was kind enough to let me play in her sandbox and I’m gonna make a good, God damned mess of it because I can. Maybe you get a glimpse into the mind of a horror writer. Maybe you decide to go read a “scary” book or watch a horror movie even though you haven’t in a long while. Maybe you get a giggle or two or you start adding random parenthetical statements to your emails and letter correspondences. I don’t care. I was able to vent and it was fun. Just be glad I didn’t really go off and start on about those sparkly vampires or what I ate for breakfast and how it affected my bowel movements or what color underwear I’m wearing today (or IF I’m wearing underwear today). Don’t push me. I’ll fuckin’ do it! Be glad I held it together for this long. I am a bit…different, after all."