By Jerry Waxler
I asked horror writer Jonathan Maberry why the characters in his Bram Stoker award winning supernatural thriller Ghost Road Blues, are so vivid, so horrible, and strong. He said because they were based on his experience. As he grew up, he struggled to overcome the helplessness and brutality of his abusive father. Then, even after the external abuse stopped, he still had to face the demons that had already become part of his memory.
Maberry’s frankness took me inside this battle waged in real life. To become a fully empowered human being he had to overcome the darkness implanted by his abusive father. His first attempt to push aside his father’s cruel legacy was to study martial arts. He achieved black belt after black belt, and then as a world class martial artist, he began to teach self-defense, and helped kids and women deal with bullying. He has made a lifetime career not only of conquering the evil in his own life but helping others conquer it in theirs. His ultimate platform is the written page. Through writing he can share the insides of this battle, and hundreds of thousands can learn from it. Maberry’s personal struggle against the memories of a father bent on destroying the dignity of a small child is embedded in his novel, Ghost Road Blues.
Based on my interview with Maberry, I came to see horror writing through his eyes. Previously I thought horror stories were simply abstract battles with ghouls and vampires, in a senseless appeal to the darker side of human nature. Such an appeal had no interest for me. After the interview, I realized horror is not some abstract force. Horror reaches into the roots of the human psyche, because for many people, that’s where it has been planted. Children look up to their parents as gods, and when those gods betray them, their budding personalities become clouded by the darkness of horror like some sort of demonic plot to hurt people from inside their own mind. From then on, the battle becomes an interior one.
After our talk, I realize for many people reading such stories helps define the the battleground where good and evil can duke it out. And the reason they need to think about it in this symbolic way is because it is so difficult to talk about in terms of the actual memories. Even the recipients of such abuse bury their memories, afraid to remember at all, or afraid to hurt the perpetrator, or afraid to make themselves look like victims, or ashamed of having provoked it or given in to it. Abuse perpetrated against children defies our sense of fair play so profoundly, the only people who talk about it are politicians who defend us against the bogeymen who prowl our neighborhoods and prey on our children, predators so demonized they are not too dissimilar from the ghouls and werewolves of horror stories. See Maberry’s book, Cryptopedia, another Bram Stoker award winner, written with co-auther David Kramer, for an encyclopedic discussion of other creatures that fascinate and horrify us.
In my opinion, child abuse perpetrated by someone who knows the child has been protected by a collective bargain of silence. As long as it remains hidden behind closed doors, it continues to fester. Now, in the memoir age, that silence is breaking down. I believe that Maberry’s story hints at one of the first great sea changes of the twenty first century, when people are speaking more openly in memoirs and blogs about the variety of experience. In earlier years, much of that information would stay hidden to the grave. Now, domestic child abuse is emerging as a story worthy of our collective discussion and consideration. We no longer need to couch it in terms of vampires and ghouls. We can uncover it in the very real struggle of ordinary people right here on earth, and finally begin to shed light into these darker places of human experience.
In part two of this article, I’ll review one of the best memoirs I’ve read, Ten Points by Bill Strickland in which, like Maberry, the author offers hope that while abuse is possible in real life, so is redemption.
Click here to learn more about Jonathan Maberry’s novels and nonfiction writing about the horror genre.
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
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