I’m a fan of all things spooky. I always have been. I’m addicted to monsters, campfire stories, urban legends about men with hooks for hands, and things that go bump in the night. Growing up, I’m sure this drove my parents crazy. I wanted to dress as a vampire everyday of the year. And there were a few PTA meetings about my drawings. But for me all those ghosts, ghouls, and goblins were never so much scary as they were fun. And I still think they’re fun.
I think (and this is just a theory) I was attracted to haunted houses, horror, and Halloween because of adrenaline. Let me explain. Looking back I think I must have seen something that scared me (a picture of a Zombie or something like that) but instead of freezing in terror I probably felt a surge of hormones and thus a radical increase of energy. So in a sense I think I became a particular type of adrenaline junky, but instead of engaging in risky behavior I found my fix in fear. Dracula and the Wolf-man became my dealers… and my friends. See, for me everything spooky isn’t so much scary as it is fun. I’m clearly not alone in this. Think of the people you see leaving the theater after watching a really good horror movie. They’re laughing, almost cheering. They’re hopped up on hormones and feeling silly at their own embarrassing screams.
There is a lot more going on than just a bunch of jump scares. The horror genre is rich with history. The best pieces of horror have always been metaphors for the more subtle and everyday terrors we don’t know how (or don’t want) to discuss. Invasion of the Body Snatches was really about the fear of conformity and the fear of communism. All werewolf tales are about dual identities and change (i.e. puberty or alcoholism--The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is often referred to as a werewolf story). A lot of the slasher movies are clearly about fear of sexuality—all that penetration going on would give Freud a field day.
Last night I found myself rewatching A Nightmare on Elm Street and I realized how much of it is about parental guilt—the failures of mothers and fathers come back to punish their offspring. In the film a group of high school students are all having the same nightmare: a badly burned man with knives for fingers is coming after them. This is, of course, Freddy Krueger, the child killer (really child molester and murderer) who was burned alive by a group of vigilante parents. There is a reason why all the protagonists are only children. Krueger has returned (via dreams) to torture and kill the sons and daughters of his enemies. The parents are drunk, on pills, sometimes just not around, and when they are around they don’t listen to their children at all. In the 1980s the news was plagued with stories of teenage suicide, AIDS, and drugs in the suburbs. Divorce rates had gone sky high between ’75 and ’85, and an entire generation (dubbed by the media as generation X) grew up in broken homes as latchkey kids. Freddy Krueger wasn’t just a boogeyman—he was an Ibsenesque ghost. He was the pack of cigarettes daddy left out at night. He was the bottle of vodka mommy didn’t put away. He was the lack of supervision that came back in forms of teen pregnancy, sexual transmitted diseases, drug abuse, and general self destructive behavior. Director John Carpenter once said there are two types of scary movies: one says “danger is out there” and the other says “danger is here with us.” Freddy Krueger was more than just with us. He raised us and tucked us in at night and wished us pleasant dreams....
Every fall I go to the Western Literature Association conference to hear people read their essays and creative work. It is a fun time to meet men and women of letters who focus on the American West like I do. For me, as an editor, it is a great chance to meet in person the writers who have been published in Southwestern American Literature and talk shop over a few beers and cocktails. It is also a great way to discover new talent!
The past few years I’ve given some critical and scholarly presentations, but this year I am going to read some of my own fiction. I’ve only read my work in front of an audience once so I’m a bit nervous. Yes, I have until October to get ready, but still. I’ll be reading a short story that hasn’t been published yet which makes it all the more nerve racking. The piece needs some revision and needs to be polished by August 15th to be submitted for the Frederick Manfred Award. I guess I better get to work.
Besides reading some of fiction, I’m excited to go this year because the WLA conference will be in Reno, Nevada. I haven’t been to Reno since 2008, and though I’m not a big gambler I think Reno is a great town. I’ll be staying at Harrah’s and plan on eating some juicy steaks and breathing in some crisp October air. I’m also happy to announce that one of my graduate students whom I encouraged to submit to the WLA also got in—so I must not be that lousy of a teacher after all, har har.
I’m afraid I also have some sad news. One of my other graduate students was in a really bad fire and is now fighting for his life. His name is Victor Holk and he just graduated from Texas State University with a MA in philosophy. Victor also just recently married. A few weeks ago there was some type of electrical fire at his house, and though Victor got his wife, his friend, and his pets out, he now has severe burns over most of his body. Please visit http://www.gofundme.com/x4tbb3w and make a donation. The Cheatham Street Warehouse recently put on a two night charity event which really brought a lot of people together in support of one amazing guy.
And some more sad news…
My father recently lost his friend Alex Datchuck. This is super recent so I’m not sure about the details, but it was apparently sudden and unexpected. The last time I saw Alex was about nine years ago. A bunch of us went fishing off Cape Cod and had a wonderful time. Later that evening, Alex cooked up the fish we caught and it was quite tasty. Alex was a good man and a beloved friend of my father’s. I’d like to send my condolences to the Alex’s family and friends.
I work at the Center for the Study of the Southwest at Texas State University. It’s a pretty good gig. I get to read, learn, and share information about the region where I’m from. Okay, sometimes I have to grade papers and correct people’s spelling, but generally I like to think I’m getting paid to shatter people’s misconception about West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The Southwest is an incredibly special but misunderstood location.
At the center—or the CSSW—we put out two journals: Southwestern American Literature and Texas Books in Review. We also sponsor symposiums and readings throughout the year, and we offer classes and a minor in southwestern studies. We’re located in Brazos hall which is one of the oldest buildings on campus. It used to be the university police station and the infirmary before that. I like Brazos because it holds onto a certain old Texas charm that the newer buildings just don’t have. At night, when I’m here working alone, it can be a little creepy but that has its own charm, too.
During the school year I teach two classes: southwestern studies and editing the professional publication. Southwestern studies is an interdisciplinary course over two semesters. I try to bring in guest speakers to grasp a little bit of everything about the Southwest: history, literature, music, geography, biology, cinema, sociology, economics, and archaeology. Some of my students have driven to the Hueco Tanks outside El Paso, or the cliff dwellings around the four corners, but most of them have not been west of the hill country and are a little shocked when they learn that the Southwest is more than just dirt and rocks. So it is up to me to get them to consider where these misconceptions come from. This is pretty gratifying for me because I remember when I went off to college on the east coast people were a little scared of me when I told them I was from Arizona. People asked me if I rode a horse to school, if I had ever shot anyone. And then they would make ignorant assumptions about Hispanics which always made me grind my teeth. I remember one guy who lived in my dorm told me he was afraid of me because I “came from a place with cactus and snakes.” I like to think of my job as vindication for all the stuff people said about me and my home when I went off to school.
Writer living in the hill country of Texas