WIHM 2022: Upcycling Emotions, or Why I Write Horror

Upcycling Emotions, or Why I Write Horror

by Katherine Quevedo


Blood-red paper. Twin blades. An amusement park ride. Sounds like the stuff of horror, right? Except, the ride I’m talking about was a miniature one occupying a corner of my dining room table, next to a sheet of red tissue paper and scissors. One of my sons had a school assignment to collect things destined for our recycling bin and instead convert them into an amusement park ride. He took a paper towel roll, a flattened cardboard box, a takeout beverage tray, and that scarlet tissue paper, and he crafted a carousel. Little red seats hung down from the top wheel, and he painted the central pole blue. It was a lesson in engineering and, to my eyes, a prime example of upcycling—crafting something new out of what would otherwise be discarded as waste, with the end result becoming more valuable than the sum of its parts. 

What does this have to do with writing horror? Everything. Step right up. 

We authors of dark, unsettling literature are driven to gather the detritus of life experiences and transform those raw—often very raw—materials into works of art, into their own wild amusement rides. Life instills us with such a brew of negative emotions, from loss of loved ones to existential dread to sheer disgust at our fellow humans (and, occasionally, ourselves). We face horrors. It’s inevitable. By exploring them on the page, we not only safely generate the adrenaline rush and catharsis of moving through an extreme emotion (rather like a carnival ride), we also can bond with the reader across time and space over our shared survival instincts and fragile human bodies. 

Personally, I believe it’s inevitable to find myself scribing horror in addition to fantasy and science fiction. Writers of all genres are called to create art that’s truthful, no matter how fictional. Well, an unflinching gaze into the truth of the world must encompass the dark, the fearful, the inconvenient and grotesque, as surely as it also captures the balancing qualities we find worthy of love and hope. The horror genre allows us to take those difficult emotions, the ones we may wish to discard if we could so choose, and instead upcycle them into art. 

The chance to upcycle my own emotions is what drew me to talk about post-partum depression in my story “Hell-ium Balloon” in Last Girls Club. For a while, I’d resisted including that episode of my life in any of my writing. Eventually, though, I realized that any emotional experience I could create for the reader—even a horrific one—could become an opportunity for connection, between the reader and me as the author, yes, but also with other readers as interpreters of that shared experience. If I could help a fellow mother feel less isolated, or help draw attention to an overlooked phenomenon in readers who might otherwise never come close to that experience, I knew it would be worth the vulnerability. 

Horror writers know the fine line between emotional detritus and treasure, and indeed it’s no bright line. (That term makes me wonder, what would be the opposite of a “bright line”? I’m guessing it would include the word “dark.”) Crossing that line requires creativity, vision, and craft. Yes, we can upcycle our emotions. Yes, we can contort pain into beauty. 

Step right up.

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