Recently I put together a new collection for ChiZine, Celestial Inventories (August). Perhaps you can tell from the title that it’s not my usual group of horror stories. No ghosts or vampires, not even a serial killer. There are a Halloween story, a plague, some creative terrorism. Some people die. And there’s a story called “The Monster in the Field,” but is it the monster who’s terrifying or the things he feels? Not exactly horror stories, in the traditional sense. Some may read as science fiction, bizarro or absurd or surreal or some variety of fairy tale, yet fear is the engine that drives every one of them.
In our daily lives quite a few of us behave as if we're immortal, as if we understand ourselves and our world, as if our surroundings are perfectly safe, as if our friends and acquaintances are exactly as they appear to be. We believe, at least part of the time, that we know what we know.
For example, the idea that we might be immortal is clearly a fantasy, but I think some of us feel compelled to suspend disbelief and act as if we’re immortal just to get through the day. Otherwise the bald fact of mortality stymies us into a kind of stage fright. And maybe you do understand yourself and see the world clearly-it’s your reality so how can I argue with it? I simply suspect that the truth may be less defined than you think it is.
All of this is a source of low-level, every day anxiety which, given the right circumstances, can develop into paralyzing fear. Because it’s not just the ghost or the knife-wielding stranger that terrifies, but also our fears that we are invisible to others, that we will make some terrible mistake, that we are subject to powerful forces and predators beyond our control, that we may not find our particular meaning, that we may not find that thing or person we need the most. We come to question how we've defined ourselves and our surroundings, and horror is the result.
Which may give rise to questioning how we’ve defined horror, for those of us who create stories out of this material. Or questioning why we need to define it at all. The boundaries of human experience are slippery, including not only observable daily events but dreams and fantasies and anticipations. The same experience can make us laugh or cry or cower in terror or dream—and sometimes all of these before the day is done. To tell stories that adequately capture that richness of experience, you have to be willing to move, to cross boundaries, and to imagine outside the definitions that have been handed to you. Our lives do not inspire simple feelings. Our stories shouldn’t, either.
World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Award winning writer Steven Ransic Tem's short fiction has been compared to the work of Franz Kafka, Dino Buzzati, Ray Bradbury, and Raymond Carver. His latest collection of genre-bending sf, fantasy, and horror, Celestial Inventories, will be published by ChiZine Publications (www.chizinepub.com) in August. Find more information here.
You can visit the Tem home on the web at here.