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Flipping Stephen King Upside Down: Marco Candida on Why He Writes Horror

By Marco Candida

Translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris

Italian author Marco Candida, whose work appears here n the December 2010 "Horrors" issue of WWB, speaks about why he loves writing Horror.

The reason I write horror—and I like writing it, don’t worry about writing it, don’t hide the fact that I write it (there was a time when I did, just like I never admitted how much I enjoyed reading horror writers like Richard Laymon, Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Landsdale, and I certainly never admitted that I thought Stephen King was one of the best writers around)—is because I’ve come to realize (in the last two years) that I don’t see much difference between fantastical and realistic literature. Those works that might be seen as “realistic” in fact have settings that aren’t entirely real but are stylized, artificial, constructed. Consider books set during a war, or some sort of sporting event, or in a school or factory; or just consider those novels about family issues, social issues; realistic works of fiction are concerned with hunting, with fishing, they’re set in hotel rooms, apartments, include the most banal, the most ordinary of objects. But when eleven actual soccer players step out onto an actual playing field, this doesn’t reflect reality—it’s a construction; it’s fiction. When we walk into a hotel, we’re walking into a place that’s no less fabricated than a horror tunnel in an amusement park.  Who says people have to live in apartments, condominiums, houses? Who says we have to eat our steak with a fork and knife? Our daily lives are filled with artificiality, though we call it reality and don’t think any more about it, and realistic novels rarely step out of this artificial state (I can’t think of one that does): rather, these novels make use of this artificial state, describe it, magnify every cog and every wheel of every relationship that makes this state function, as they try to offer readers a moral truth that applies to each one of them, that applies to their lives.

But perhaps the main interest of the realistic novel isn’t to show how things work or to reinforce certain values, preserving them forever on the page. At a deeper level, perhaps the realistic novel wants to cull from reality a specific metaphor and have that metaphor concern the primordial human condition, speak to that space not confined to artifice or fiction—to that formless space where we probably eat our steak, not with a fork and knife, but with our hands.  It’s important to understand, though, that these metaphors (and the ethical truths within them) already exist in reality (in a soccer match, a love triangle, war, a fishing boat, a courtroom battle, an office) and the realistic writer simply sees these metaphors and takes a magnifying glass to them and shows them to the reader.

At times, though, a writer can’t find the right metaphor in reality to allude to an individual’s precise condition, and so that writer must come up with a story not entirely tied to reality that breaks some physical or chemical law, that turns reality into something it is not. Yet even here, even if the story is complete invention, it might reflect a condition readers can recognize within themselves, which makes that condition real.

The fantastic stories I prefer and that I think work the best are those which still speak of the individual but through allusions that just aren’t possible in more realistic fiction. But when a fantastic story alludes to conditions for which you can find metaphor after metaphor in reality, that sort of story falls flat, leaves me cold. Given the various genres of fantastical fiction, I tend to prefer horror, perhaps simply because ever since I was a boy I’ve fed my own fantasy with the authors I mentioned earlier—and especially Stephen King. I think I love King in particular because there’s such a strong metafictional component to his work. I sometimes think of Stephen King as a meta-pulp-fictional writer (with metafiction in the context of horror but sometimes—as in Misery—distorted through a pulp lens). I’m ambivalent toward King. As a reader I can’t help loving him. But there’s something inside me that comes out when I write my own stories (King, Hemingway, London, Verga, Leopardi—they’re always with me, even when I’m writing something far removed from their work) and this something makes me want to flip this writer of It—this icon—upside down: for me as a reader, King has been my most important father, but for me as a writer, he’s often an opponent. As for the other horror writers I’ve mentioned (and of course, there’s also Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, William Katz, Robert McCammon, Robin Cook), for some time now I’ve just considered them side effects of King. The truth is that when I find a bad horror novel, I’ll often rethink the story, fix it, pull out something close that’s still a horror story, but I’ll include those elements I’ve described that make the story matter. At times, I think that if a good story, through its merits, contains messages, ideas, feelings, then a bad story, through its defects, can sometimes do the same.  Prose style, the beauty of prose, is fundamental (and most of the horror writers I’ve mentioned aren’t exactly prose stylists), but for me what really counts in a work is its ability to allude, through its contents, to something else: and it’s through this allusion, when we connect to it, when we suddenly feel it though we might not even understand why, that literature becomes a useful instrument for knowledge.

Read from Marco Candida's Dream Diary here.

Translation copyright 2010 Elizabeth Harris

Published Dec 13, 2010   Copyright 2010 Marco Candida

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