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Horror Against Horrors by Michael Wehunt


by Michael Wehunt


A couple of years ago, I took a spooky photo of myself in the dark while holding a battery-powered candle. (I’m a horror writer, so that’s the kind of thing I do. If it weren’t for my beloved dog, Frida, my phone’s camera roll would be wall-to-wall creepy.) I filled up some of that darkness in the selfie with the words MAKE UP MONSTERS TO SHINE LIGHTS ON THE REAL ONES, and it was my social media profile picture for a while. 

It wasn’t just a semi-catchy slogan, though. I believe in the cliché that the horror genre holds a mirror up to the world and forces us to face the darker side of humanity. It’s uniquely qualified to examine what is in our darkness. And it’s valuable to disguise social commentary as genuine entertainment, as a way to sort of trick people into thinking about the horror of real life. 

Horror is also escapism, a way to turn that same real world off for a couple of hours and indulge in frights that are usually not realistic. At least I don’t have to worry about my neighbor opening a portal to hell, you might think. The country is so divided, but my significant other isn’t possessed by the devil. That horror fiction (and films) can serve both of these functions at the same time—parallel and yet intertwined—is a big part of what makes it so special. At its best, it doesn’t matter if horror stories are meant to comment directly on real-life fears or simply provide you with a delicious chill up your back and a smile on your face.

Through this unique lens, perhaps horror is particularly suited to do tangible good in the world, too, through the simple act of charity. With news headlines that make you feel like you’re living in a slow-motion scary movie, it can be difficult for people to know what to do, or how to help. The last few years have seen a dramatic boom in charitable giving across the US, especially, and while it’s unpleasant to think about why charity is so in the forefront of our minds these days, it’s still incredibly heartening to see people giving to worthy causes. And rewarding to do so yourself. 

Robert and Jennifer Wilson, the publishers behind Nightscape Press, have brought this philosophy to a new level in their publishing model. With their limited-edition Charitable Chapbook line of releases, Nightscape has created a way for authors and readers to make a considerable and direct difference—the author chooses the charity, and one-third of every penny is donated to it. The books are priced a little higher than usual so that a lot more is placed in the donation basket than just a few dollars.

My new novella, Everything Is Beautiful and Nothing Bad Can Ever Happen Here, is a proud part of the Charitable Chapbook line, and was very recently released into the world. This story speaks directly to the need for change, so I’m extremely proud to have Nightscape release it. As it deals with the pervasiveness of white supremacy in America, taking the specter of this evil in a more literally haunting direction, it is a more direct attempt to MAKE UP MONSTERS TO SHINE LIGHTS ON THE REAL ONES. My hope is that it will stir a contemplation of what complicity is in 2019 and beyond. One-third of everything will be donated to Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that uses all of its resources to fight hate and overturn injustice. The SPLC and this novella are the perfect match, and it warms me to think of how the proceeds will help.

Jon Padgett and Matthew M. Bartlett brought us two of the first Charitable Chapbooks (the print editions of each have sold out, but both are still available digitally), The Broker of Nightmares and If It Bleeds, respectively. Coming soon are watch the whole goddamned thing burn by Doungjai Gam, The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste, and Do You Mind If We Dance With Your Legs? by Michael Cisco. These are all stunning writers. With each chapbook, you can give to a cause that is personally dear to the author and own a beautifully produced slice of dark fiction with full-color illustrations throughout. (Luke Spooner’s illustrations for Everything Is Beautiful and Nothing Bad Can Ever Happen Here are wonderful, and the quality of the printing is fantastic, so I say that with authority.)

Nightscape will also be releasing Horror for RAICES soon, in which 100% of the proceeds will go to RAICES, the nonprofit set up to “defend the rights of immigrants and refugees, empower individuals, families and communities, and advocate for liberty and justice.”

Nightmares in Yellow will be aiming to offset the devastating medical bills incurred by Joe and Katrin Pulver. Joe is a legend in the weird fiction world and one of the kindest horror writers to ever creep along the earth, and his presence following a long and difficult illness has been sorely missed. Find out more about this anthology on its Facebook page. It will feature a huge list of horror authors (including my own flash fiction story “Numbers of the bEast”), and 100% of proceeds go to help the Pulvers in their time of need.

Tales for the Camp Fire, edited by Loren Rhoads, is donating all its proceeds to help victims of the massive fire that caused $16 billion in damages and took nearly 100 lives in California in late 2018. 

Dark Tides, edited by John J. Questore, was curated for the families and victims of the horrific mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in May of this year. All proceeds will be given to the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund c/o United Way South Hampton Roads. 

Love dogs and want to support mental health? Black Dogs, Black Tales benefits the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, so keep an eye out for this forthcoming horror anthology. In fact, if you’d like to contribute a story yourself, they’re open for submissions until Leap Day of 2020.

Sinister Horror Company’s Black Room Manuscripts series is up to four impressive volumes, each of which gives all its proceeds to a charity of the curator’s choice. These anthologies are a good way to see what the British horror scene is up to while supporting a good cause.

These are just some of the examples of how authors are using darkness to bring light. In a world full of struggle and injustice and encroaching danger, I think it’s wonderful that so many of the people who want to scare you are also quick to offer a gesture of love. No, not everything is beautiful in the world, and bad things happen here every day. But it’s a better place because of the horror genre.

Michael Wehunt lives in the woods of Atlanta with his partner and dog. His stories have appeared in multiple best-of anthologies and other well-known spooky homes. His debut fiction collection, Greener Pastures, shortlisted for the Crawford Award, a Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the winner of Spain's Premio Amaltea for Foreign Translation, is available from Apex Publications. 

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  • Michael, thank you so much for adding my book to your list.

    This was a wonderful blog post that helps answer the question I have been asked the most – “Why use horror to benefit such a horrific event?”

    • John J. Questore