Horror is Transgression: An Interview with Karl De Mesa

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On June - 21 - 2010


I did a quick-and-dirty interview with Joseph Nacino when Demons of the New Year first launched, and now I have an in-depth interview with his co-editor, horror scribe Karl De Mesa, up at Pinoy Pop–not just about Demons of the New Year, but his life and his newly released book “News of the Shaman”, published by Visprint. You can see the first part here, and the second part here. An excerpt:

Did they know from the start that you were a writer, and that you tend to write about people around you?

Yes, although maybe some of them would be surprised to see themselves in my fiction. But a lot of my friends aren’t really big fiction readers. My family doesn’t read my fiction for the most part. I’d tell them about a launch and they’d say “okay” but not show up, which is a good thing in general, because some things I’ve written, especially my non-fiction essays about growing up in the Philippine left, might make them angry.

Is it a different experience, writing about these experiences without even the venner of fiction?

Very. People have asked me why I don’t just become an overtly political writer. The truth is, hindi ako natutuwa sa ganoon eh. That’s actually the feedback I received from writing workshops: “Ikaw, ang dami dami mong material, bakit hindi ka na lang magsulat tunkol sa status ng Pililipnas?” Eh hindi talaga ako natutuwa eh.

When you’re dealing with taboos, with that kind of transgression, you take the reader far beyond their comfort zones. How do you ground them?

You ground them with characters who are real people, with sympathetic concerns and motivations. This is something Philip K. Dick was great at. Even monstrous creatures can have drives that people will understand: hunger, for example, is something we’re all familiar with–I used that for my were-dog story in “Tales of Enchantment and Fantasy”. Other creatures can be motivated by a need for control, say a Tikbalang in a crime family. The characters can be inhuman, but their motivations can still be human. They may have special needs, but that’s still a motivation that can be sympathetic.

I think this is one of the powers of horror: defamiliarization. That can also work to make the central form of a metaphor stronger.

You might also want to check out Fidelis Tan’s two part review of Demons of the New Year itself. Part one / Part two.

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