Friday, March 8, 2013

The Slender Man, an Ancient and Modern Evil: An interview with Simon Cox

1) Please tell us about your novella, The Slender Man.

It’s a story about a horror character that was created and developed on an internet forum. It’s the kind of horror that I find scary – isolation, being trapped, and a slowly escalating sense of dread.

2) Please tell us a bit about your lead.

The lead in the story, Adam Bradford, is really just an everyman – I needed him to be almost a blank slate, the kind of person that any reader could identify with, or project themselves onto. Empathy with the protagonist is the thing that makes horror work, I think. That’s also the reason that I wrote it in the first person perspective.

3) Tell us a bit about The Slender Man and how you came across him originally.

I think I was reading a news article online that happened to mention him, and the name just jumped out at me immediately. So I went onto Google and typed it in, got to the page about him, from there I jumped onto the original Something Awful forum thread about him...and then I scared myself silly reading about him. Seriously – I gave myself nightmares when I was writing the book.

4) What do you find so compelling about The Slender Man?

I think really it’s the absence of facial features. That really freaks me out. We do so much with eye contact that I think that not having eyes implies something fundamentally monstrous.

I should say that the “canon” (if there can be one for a character developed by a crowd of people on the internet) has the Slender Man wearing a dark business suit, but personally I didn’t really like that element of the character. I generally try to describe characters as little as possible, in order to let the reader paint the picture in his or her mind, so in my story I mention the eyes as being like shallow scrapings in wax, and the limbs as being long and thin, but beyond that I don’t describe the Slender Man very much at all. That way if you like the “business suit” Slender Man then you can imagine that, and if you don’t then it isn’t mentioned.

5) In a hundred years, do you think authors will be writing about The Slender Man alongside your werewolves, vampires, ghosts, et cetera perhaps in ignorance of his/its origins? Who knows, perhaps we'll end up with Slender Man teen paranormal romance.

Good question. Talking about the future is a tripwire, really, so I won’t be making any firm predictions, but I will say that unless the internet disappears then there will always be a record of the origins of The Slender Man, so I’m not sure that it will ever exist in quite the same way as the creepies that have evolved over the preceding centuries. And if the alternative is a Slender Man teen paranormal romance then maybe it’s for the best.

6) Many concepts in horror have grown organically by building on underlying cultural myths, even if, over the decades they drift considerably from the source material (e.g., vampires). The Slender Man, though, is a very modern concept that is the result of an active attempt at generating a new bit of folklore, and, as such arguably lacks the connection to the history and cultural aspects that amplify the power of other horror creatures. How do you think this affects writing stories about The Slender Man, and did it affect your writing process at all?

I don’t think The Slender Man is necessarily a modern concept; to me he’s just another embodiment of the classic horror theme of a malevolent “unknown watcher”.

I think you’re right that the Slender Man himself lacks the historical and cultural aspects of other horror characters, however, and that does require some effort on the part of the writer. Today a writer can write “vampire” or “werewolf” and the vast majority of people will know what the writer means; a character such as the Slender Man requires greater explanation. But that in itself is a great opportunity for a writer, as there is plenty of white space that you can fill in with details of your own creation.

7) On first blush, one would think people would want to avoid feeling fear and terror, but the audience for horror media proves this isn't the case. What draws people into wanting to feel those dark emotions?

It’s odd, isn’t it? I think that for most of us these days our lives are very safe and, as a result, very boring, so I think that some people seek out horror as a way of accessing a form of “danger”. It’s my suspicion that evolution meant that the cavemen who were scared of things lived long enough to pass on their genes, meaning that a disposition towards fear is a genetic trait in many people...I know that for me the relief of a subsiding fear is almost pleasurable, so perhaps this response is evolutionary, and as a result some people’s genes “reward them” for being scared. Who knows? Certainly not me – I’m just making this up as I go along.

8) Do you intend to revisit The Slender Man in a future work?

I don’t think so. I usually write things that I feel that I have to write, and in this case I had a horror story about The Slender Man bubbling around in my head and trying to get out; now that I’ve written it I don’t feel that urge to write about him any more. Or to put it another way, I’ve written what I wanted to, and I’m not sure what I’d write that I haven’t already.

A few people have commented that they wish it were longer, and the idea of extending it into a full novel did cross my mind, but I don’t know that I’d do that justice – I’d be doing it for other people rather than for myself, so my heart wouldn’t be in it.

9) Please tell us a bit about your other work.

I’ve written a lot of short stories, and many of them have been published, either by me or by others. I tend to enjoy writing short stories because for most of the ideas I have the blaze of inspiration and motivation carries me far enough to get a short out of it but not much further.

I’ve finished one novel that I’m trying to interest agents in, and as of this interview I’m just putting the finishing touches to a second, although there is still the laborious and soul-destroying editing process to go on that one.

You can find out more about all of this kind of thing on my website:

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