ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Logan is a Scottish author and journalist, whose writing career has taken him across the globe.
Apocalypse Cow, which won Terry Pratchett's Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now Prize, was his first novel. His second novel, Wannabes, is now out as an eBook. The sequel to Apocalypse Cow, entitled World War Moo, will be released by St. Martin's Press in June 2015.
Michael's short fiction has appeared in The Telegraph and literary journals such as Chapman. His piece We Will Go on Ahead and Wait for You won Fish Publishing's 2008 international One-Page Fiction Prize.
He currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is married with a young daughter and son.
I have a lot of bad habits. I smoke. I drink. I eat so many sugary snacks that I now consider a chocolate bar studded with even the tiniest fragment of nut a health food. My most persistent fixation, however, revolves around trying to scare the bejesus out of my wife and kids.
More often than not I’m successful, although occasionally my creaking and clicking joints give me away. I’ve become adept at sidling along walls in my socks, slithering along the wooden floor like a freaky ginger snake, or patiently lying under the bed and waiting for my wife to finish pottering around next door.
I never jump out with a loud ‘boo!’ The shock is far greater if I breathe softly on the backs of their necks, whisper in their ears, or reach a hand out from under the bed to brush their ankles. They always startle like spooked horses, and then burst into laughter—the latter reaction providing my justification for continuing.
One day, though, I chose to pull a pillow case over my head. I wore my glasses over the shiny, blood-red fabric and sucked the cloth into my mouth. My face became a featureless skull with dark-rimmed eye holes and a gaping maw. I lurked behind the bedroom door for a victim to enter. My two-year-old son pottered into the room, at which point I groaned. He took one look at the horrendous specter, and ran from the room in hysterical tears.
It was ten minutes to persuade him no monster was coming to devour him, which I achieved by allowing him to wear the disguise and taking a picture to demonstrate it was only a pillow case. Fortunately, my wife was travelling for work, so I managed to gloss over quite how much I had petrified our child (and I sincerely hope she isn’t reading this blog).
I share this anecdote about my complete lack of suitability for fatherhood to illustrate a point that makes my chosen field of writing a veritable minefield: it is difficult to identify the line one should not cross when combining chills with humor.
I cram a lot of genres into my books—fantasy, crime, and thriller among them—but at the heart of my work beats that sometimes uncomfortable mix of horror and comedy. It isn’t something I consciously chose to do. When I wrote my first novel, Apocalypse Cow, it flowed from a simple premise. If you have zombie cows roaming around, you’re going to have blood and guts, but also plenty of opportunities for silliness.
When it came time to sell the book, I realized I had to put it in some kind of box to pitch it to the publishing industry. Several friends suggested comedy-horror, and being a keen little writer I fired up the internet to research the market. What I found was that very few writers worked in that field at that time: Christopher Moore (who also writes in numerous other genres tied together by humor), A. Lee Martinez and David Wong being the three principles.
I still believe that had I not won the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award, Apocalypse Cow would remain unpublished. Comedy is a genre relatively underrepresented in the traditional publishing industry as a result of the subjective nature of a sense of humor, which many publishers feel narrows the potential market. Combine humor with horror (or science fiction and fantasy for that matter), and it becomes more difficult to persuade publishers to take a chance on a book.
I found out why when the novel hit the shelves. I intended some scenes to be purely horrific, but certain readers assumed that because the book was billed as humorous, everything was meant to be funny. So some people were baffled, occasionally outraged, because they thought I was trying, and failing, to make them laugh at horrific deaths.
This shows how tricky writing comedy-horror can be. But I believe it can be done effectively, as long as you don’t mind running the risk of alienating large chunks of the reading public. The approach I take, which I refined in my second novel, Wannabes, is to flit back-and-forth between playing it for laughs and seeking to scare. I take death scenes, and the subsequent emotional reaction of my characters, seriously. The comedy comes in dialogue and ridiculous situations between the bouts of horror.
I believe this approach accurately reflects how we live. Humor is a defense mechanism in awful situations. When terrible things happen, we can either let the misery engulf us or try to find a way to keep going. Often, we cope by making light of the grief and pain life throws at us. I’ve seen this first-hand, working as a journalist around the globe and covering stories that, if my colleagues and I allowed them to, would drive us to despair.
Do I think I have perfected the art of mingling terror and titters? Absolutely not. As my balls up with my son shows, the line sometimes remains invisible until it is crossed. Still, I can only hope to improve, and that comes through practice. Today, as you are no doubt aware, is Halloween. By the time you read this blog, I will have no doubt crept up on my family once more, perhaps dressed in a scary costume. If, off in the distance, you can hear the hysterical sobs of a small child, you’ll know I need to try a little harder.
WHAT'S YOUR SCARIEST HALLOWEEN MEMORY? Tell us by commenting on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of WANNABES (U.S. entrants only, please.)
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