It's PromoteHorror.com's pleasure to take part in "The Bring Jasper To Justice Blog Tour" courtesy of Crystal Lake Publishing. The tour is taking place to get horror fans prepared for the release of author Jasper Bark's new book 'Stuck on You' on March 28th. What better way to get you prepared than to learn a little about Jasper. It wasn't easy to do, but Crystal Lake Publishing tied Jasper to a chair and beat a confession out of him. Here is part of that confession...
What first attracted you to horror writing?
The fact that it’s the genre you go to when you want to think the unthinkable. The genre where all our worst fears and neuroses bubble up to the surface. What if my child doesn’t come home one night? What if my home, my body or my mind is invaded and I’m powerless to stop it? What if consensus reality is just a cosy fiction that masks a deeper more irrational universe than we can ever understand?
This last fear is probably what attracts me the most. Horror stories are where I first learned about people who held heretical beliefs and practiced unthinkable acts in the name of both science and religion. Who had the balls to lift what Shelley called “the painted veil that those who live call life” and peer at what lies behind it. Granted they usually came to a bad end because of it, but in the brief moments before their fall I always thrilled to their Faustian excitement, drunk on the power of forbidden knowledge.
The Gnostics used to believe that fearsome angels, known as Archons, patrolled the outer limits of reality to terrify and attack all but the bravest and most dedicated seeker after the truth from venturing into the unknown. Sometimes the deepest and most profound truths lie beyond a howling chasm of fear. To experience those truths we have to leap blindly into that chasm with no guarantee that we will get to the other side.
That moment of electrifying, near hysterical terror, when we leave behind everything we know to be true, and hurtle towards a new reality, that’s the note of cosmic terror that I love the best.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
I think that depends on the story you’re telling, the themes you’re exploring and the scene you’re concentrating on. Both have their place in any horror story.
What connects them for me is that they’re both about revealing the mysteries of the interior. Very few of us get a sustained and intimate look at what goes on inside our bodies. Few of us get to hold a beating human heart, to use sharpened steel to remove a vital organ or watch as the blood drains from a still warm body until it stops kicking and turns cold.
Few of us ever explore the truly damaging nature of an aberrant human mind. Few get deep inside a psychosis so destructive it will bend a human will to murder over and over again. Or find ourselves caught up in the maelstrom of a meme, like mob justice, that culminates in genocide.
Horror is important because it’s the one genre where we can take those parts of us that remain mentally and physically hidden and bare them to the light. So that in plumbing the depths of our bodies and minds we might chance upon our souls.
What attracts you to writing Zombie/Apocalyptic fiction?
Although both those genres have become conflated thanks to Romero’s excellent Dead movies, none of the Zombie fiction I’ve worked on has been post apocalyptic. The appeal of each genre is quite different for me.
What I like about zombies is how malleable they are as a representative icon. As society trades old nightmares for new, with each advancing decade, the zombie keeps adapting and changing the things it stands for in our collective unconscious. In the 30s when the zombie was first introduced to western culture it stood for the western colonial fear of the nations it was exploiting. Over the years the zombie has come to represent mainstreams fears of everything from communism and terrorism to sixties radicalism and growing economic unrest. This makes it very appealing to writers like myself who have an interest in writing social commentary and satire.
The thing that appeals to me about post apocalyptic fiction, on the other hand, is that it allows you to study society as a whole in microcosm. As we view the shattered bands of survivors trying to rebuild their life in the aftermath of the collapse of civilisation there’s a huge opportunity to examine the everyday tensions and conflicts of our current society. The backdrop of a lost and ruined world allows us to view these opposing forces in a more naked and honest light, outside of the contexts and allegiances of our contemporary culture. This throws them into sharper relief and allows us a fresh perspective of the problems they’re causing us and the long term consequences of certain courses of action.
Plus err ... zombies are totally awesome. They eat brains, they never wash and they always, always win. Vampires and Werewolves might be in an eternal conflict but Zombies can kick both their butts. A vampire or a werewolf can bite a Zombie as many times as they like and it’ll still be a zombie. A zombie’s only has to bite them once and you’ve got a zompire or a werebie. (Is it just me or does a ‘werebie’ sound like a creepy undead furby fetishist?)
When a novel has a strong theme, it can be a tightrope act walking between what the story’s about and what it’s really about. Way of the Barefoot Zombie uses the walking dead sub-genre as satire. At times I found the message blazing as brightly as the story itself. Was that intentional? Once you knew where you were going, did you find it hard to keep a lid on all that social comment?
You’re right it can be a tightrope act but I’m glad you said ‘blazing as brightly as the story itself’ and not ‘strangling the fecking story to death’. I think the writer’s ultimate responsibility is to the story itself but I think the story is strengthened no end if it is about more than just the characters themselves and what happens to them. As a writer you get incredibly close to your story and subject matter when you’re spending eight, nine and even ten hours a day working on it. You can’t help but ruminate a lot on your themes, so when the greater significance of certain parts of your story occurs to you, you want to point them out.
I was a lot more subtle about this in my third novel Dawn Over Doomsday and as a consequence a lot less people noticed. So I think when I wrote Way of the Barefoot Zombie I was over compensating a little and trying to point out the subtext to the reader, possibly a little too much at times. I’m still learning how to get the balance right.
I do aspire to write genre fiction that is fast paced, completely gripping but just as intelligent and significant as more weighty writing. This is a tall order though and sometimes you can fall between two stools. The sort of people who just want quick entertainment can get really annoyed when you start asking them to think a bit and the sort of people who might appreciate the more complex ideas you’re considering can be put off by the schlocky nature of some of the content.
Still, it’s not worth doing if it’s too easy is it.
Do you think horror has a purpose, above giving people a comfortable, entertaining scare?
I really do believe it has. In my opinion the best horror stories use the weird and other-worldly as a metaphor for a deeper or more personal truth. I also think that the world is quite a scary place at the moment and because of this the tropes and motifs of horror are some of the best ways of addressing the contemporary world. A lot of the horror writers coming up at the moment seem to be interested in social commentary in the same way that the New Wave and the early Cyberpunk writers previously used science fiction as a vehicle for social comment.
Regardless of whether you could sell it or not, what is the book you were born to write?
The Scratch and Sniff Karma Sutra - don’t know why it hasn’t been done before.
Why should people read your work?
Because I need the money!
Also because they’ll discover imaginative, edgy and unexpected fiction that explores social and spiritual issues while pushing at the boundaries of what genre fiction can and ought to do.
Because I’ll take them to places they’ve never been before and will never get to visit again. That’s a money back guarantee.
Check out this video featuring Jasper…