My Geraldo moment came in 1988. Literally. This was the year Geraldo interviewed Charles Manson, and my passion for the macabre was born. I’ll admit that prior to this, I was primed for an interest in all things dark and dreary. I loved reading Edgar Allan Poe. And then there was my overactive imagination. It’s always been a bit warped. When the windows would rattle during a storm, for instance, my first thought wasn’t “wind.” It was “poltergeist.” So when I learned that the things that go bump in the night might not just be the creaks of an old house settling, but in fact Manson family members, my twisted imagination felt validated. I self-righteously picked up a copy of Helter Skelter, thinking See? Crazy things really do happen. I’m not so nuts for thinking the tree branch outside my window was a giant anaconda. The downside to this revelation, of course, was that after reading Helter Skelter, I slept in the closet for a week. I lived in real terror that Manson would get paroled.
I began consuming nothing but true crime books and Double Stuf™ Oreos. I read about Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Ed Gein with the same voracity that my friends were reading about the Sweet Valley High twins. I’m not knocking them, though. I’m pretty sure those books didn’t leave my friends with a lifelong fear of gold VW Beetles, clowns, and men who live with their mothers, respectively. I saw madmen wherever I looked. It was unfortunate for Mike K. that he owned a yellow Volkswagen bug, because when he asked me to the prom, I kneed him in the apple bag and ran away screaming. (You could argue that I was not the only one traumatized for life by my true crime reading habits.)
All of this murder-reading, naturally, kind of bummed me out after a while. There are some real sickos out there. Around this time, I discovered one of the most delightful things about growing up in the ’80s: cheesy horror movies. After reading horrific stories about the worst of humanity, I found that nothing cheered me up quite like watching Freddy Krueger crack jokes as he sliced at people in their dreams. Bad day? Throw on They Live, a fabulous B-horror romp starring Rowdy Roddy Piper cracking jokes, kicking butt, and chewing bubble gum. It felt good to laugh with these guys. Heck, it was a relief.
So when I finally turned my pen to horror back in 2010, the words came easily. I’d read a library’s worth of accounts of people doing bad things. I was primed to write scary stories. Except . . . sometimes, when we think that scratching at the window is a giant anaconda, or Squeaky Fromme, and we snap on the lights and it turns out to be a tree branch, what’s our first reaction? After the danger of a serious cardiac incident has passed?
We laugh at ourselves, don’t we?
When people dare to complain to me about my stories, the thing I hear most often is that the tone was too light. In the midst of the terrifying chaos, I made them laugh.
It’s a criticism I’m happy to take. Life is short. Life can be scary. You’ve gotta laugh.