Blurred Lines: News Writing and Horror Fiction
– by Josh Schlossberg, Josh’s Worst Nightmare
People often act surprised when I tell them I’m both a journalist and a horror fiction writer.
I mean, I get it: in many ways the two fields don’t even occupy the same landscape. In one, shameless hacks make up fake stories to exploit the most depraved aspects of the human experience, while the other is a celebrated genre of literature popularized by respected writers such as Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King.
Seriously, though, while quality journalism presents a spectrum of viewpoints all at once, horror fiction is typically about seeing the world through the biased (even warped) lens of one character at a time.
The mechanics of the writing itself also tend to differ, where spare and simple prose best conveys the facts essential to newswriting, while, in fiction, colorful word choice and stylistic phrasing amplify a writer’s unique voice.
But the lines can—and often do—blur. Whether it’s an article delving into the gun control debate or a story about swimmers devoured by a lake monster, both crafts are driven by our inborn attraction to conflict.
Obviously, both news and horror need to be written in clear and accessible language, otherwise known as readability. And, whether a journalist wants to admit it or not, both news and fiction are indelibly marked by a writer’s personality and biases (conscious and unconscious).
What’s more, each genre has helped me to see the other in a new light. Newswriting’s focus on concise language has taught me to write fiction less burdened by unnecessary, superfluous, and redundant adjectives (thanks a lot, Mr. Lovecraft!), while fiction writing has improved my ability to structure news articles around a narrative.
Once in a great while, the two worlds collide. This spring, while meeting over pints of Java Porter with the editor of Boulder Weekly, I mentioned a short story I was working on about a real-life parasite found in cat poop that—according to numerous studies—hijacks the human brain to cause unusual behaviors, such as getting into car crashes and developing a taste for unconventional sex. Intrigued, he suggested I use that research to write an article for the paper.
That article, “What the Cat Dragged In,” ran in Boulder Weekly in March 2017 and my short story, “The Cat’s Meow” will be published in Disturbed Digest by Alban Lake Publishing in June 2018 (apologies in advance to cat lovers).
Ultimately, journalism and horror fiction are tools I use in my (mostly vain) attempt to pick apart the crazy clockwork of human experience, in hopes of gaining a bit more insight into what makes us tick.
Josh Schlossberg is a Denver-based freelance investigative journalist and horror writer. His articles have appeared in Westword, 303 Magazine, Boulder Weekly, and elsewhere and his short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Bards and Sages Quarterly, Deadman’s Tome: Campfire Tales, Disturbed Digest, and Hellbound Books. He oversees the blog Josh’s Worst Nightmare, dedicated to horror fiction and is an active member of the Horror Writers Association. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.