Johnny Worthen on Dark Fiction and Horror

Before I begin to tell you why dark fiction and horror are so wonderful, perhaps you want to know who I am. Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.

I am Johnny Worthen. Next year I’ll release three different books from two different publishers and be a household name in some of my friend’s living rooms. “Why won’t Johnny leave?” they might be saying. “Has he been kicked out of his own house again?”

But now all my published works are dark.

My debut novel BEATRYSEL, an occult thriller/horror was released in 2013. It’s an adult look at the occult and the dark sides of love. If you don’t own it yet, rush on over to Amazon and get one. While you’re there, pick up DR. STUART’S HEART, it’s a little companion piece to BEATRYSEL. You’ll be glad you did. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Done? Good.

This year, my Young Adult Paranormal series, THE UNSEEN launched with the award winning, ELEANOR. It received a Gold Quill as the year’s best published young adult novel by the League of Utah Writers. The same group, having great taste but low standards, named me this year’s Writer of the Year. I got a plaque to prove it.Johnny Worthen

There is a monster in ELEANOR and thus it has found a horror following along with a young adult, literary, and familial audiences. It’s a great freaking book and if you don’t already own a copy, rush to a bookstore or back to Amazon and pick one up. I’ll wait. Go ahead. Do it. It’s a wonderful book and will go far to making you a better person for having read it. Got it? Good. I’ll continue.

I didn’t intend to be a horror writer when I wrote BEATRYSEL and ELEANOR. It just happened. I needed to push the bounds of fiction and horror was the way to do that. The edges of dark fiction are blurry and binding. Fear faced deeply, honestly, starkly and raw-ly must by definition be horror.

But that’s a lie. Horror is just a name. Genre is a completely made-up thing. It’s a label critics use to associate and book stores use to shelve. That’s it. Most bookstores I visit have actually taken horror out of its own shelf and put it with general fiction, science fiction, of if they’re really bright in ‘speculative fiction.’

Still we all must agree that horror is a thing, if only for the fact that it names a certain type of writing that has a physical effect on us. It and porno are the two types of fiction that can have measured physical responses to reading it. I’ve never tried writing porn; I’m no good at flash fiction (ba’da-ching!) but getting my heart rate up as tension builds and terrors — both real and imagined — seep into my consciousness is a thrilling experience I create and crave.

But horror goes beyond scares and tension. The best horror is an insidious stream of rationalization and twisted reality, a lingering feeling that is akin to a smothering blanket more than a knife edge. These are the dystopians (Hunger Games) and the invasions (War of the Worlds), the paranoids (Body Snatchers), the plagues (The Stand) and the hopelessnesses (The Road). These are the ones that seep into the imagination and linger. These are the ones where even after the victim has died, there is no respite.

These are intellectual horrors. Often and most pronounced, they are supernatural, but there are horrors enough in real life to go around. Disease, war and famine. The four horseman are as deadly and as present as ever. Perhaps it is these horrors we wish to escape in the pages of fictional ones.

In the ‘controlled’ context of a page, we can visit the dark stay and stay as long as we dare. We have only to look up to see the comfortable room around us to find security again, even if we see the colors are now a little darker than we remember them.

There’s an adage I know that compares one’s life to a tapestry. The dark threads are as important as the light ones in defining who we are. So too I believe is life and reality. Thus, dark fiction has its adherents rightfully so.

We can choose to shelter ourselves behind happy endings and uplifting fantasy, make a true escape from the world, or we can seize the darkness and make it a part of us. We can understand and recognize the yin and yang of the universe. We can celebrate the decay as we would growth, roil in fear to feel the life therein as acute as a joyful laugh. That is what dark fiction offers.

Someone, I think it was Chaplain, said that comedy is wide angle and tragedy is close-up. Horror is close-up.

That’s not to say that horror can’t have a happy ending, but it is decidedly optional and damn well better be deserved. Dark fiction with its open ends demands an honesty that other genres do not. Endings, good or bad, must be earned.

This is strange to say, I know. How can I, who write about demons and monsters, killers, and ghosts, argue for truth in these things? Well I can. And I am. A writer is one who tells the truth through lies, and in horror with its stretched realities and weird angles is really just exaggeration: close-ups.

We are emotional creatures, we humans. We love and we hate, we hope and we fear. Writers deal with all these, exploring the dark along with the light, facing their fears as well as realizing their hopes. It’s all part of the wonderful experience of life. There is a season to each of these things, and Fall, Autumn, Halloween, Samhain, as the Wiccans call it, or the Season of Witch by others, is most definitely a time for fear and wonder. It is time for the dead to speak and for the unspeakable to teach, and words to cast shadows while illuminating.

I welcome you to Fiction Vortex’s celebration of dark fiction and horror – October, 2014. Go buy my books and enjoy the chills here there and wherever you find them.

Blessed be and Happy Halloween!


Johnny Worthen


Some of my links:

Twitter: @JohnnyWorthen


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