Personal Essay: Tad Callin
“But, I don’t like horror,” I thought.
That was my first reaction when Steve Eley announced the launch of Escape Pod’s first sister podcast.
Horror fiction was something I had explored, briefly, and never embraced. I grew up as an evangelical Christian kid in 1980s America—think Stranger Things as told by The 700 Club—and even though I had outgrown that past, I still thought of horror fiction as simply the exploration and exploitation of evil. I thought I knew what I liked and what I didn’t. I wasn’t interested in shock, violence, or gore. I thought I would probably like the fantasy podcast better, whenever it came out.
But in the meantime, here was something new to listen to. I had always liked The Twilight Zone, adored Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books, and read everything Stephen King had published to that point, so I figured I’d give this new venture a chance, if only because I trusted Steve and Mur Lafferty to entertain me.
It didn’t take long to realize we were witnessing something special. From the first episode, a Scott Sigler story, and throughout the first year, Pseudopod offered a variety of new and interesting voices. I discovered the writing of people who would go on to great heights and broad expanses, like Daniel Abraham and the late Eugie Foster. There were some stories that were too much for me, but they were definitely in the minority.
Still, I told myself, it’s not that I like horror. It’s just that these were some good stories.
Then something changed around episode forty-nine. An English guy named Alasdair Stuart began hosting the show, and after a time, he began closing each show with a commentary. He didn’t just talk about the bones of the story, but he reached into his own life, and showed how the story understood something about him. This changed everything, because Alasdair was not at all like the leering Cryptmaster, he was not the winking, lecherous Hitchcock; he was just a geek like me, who loved fiction and loved talking about it. His commentaries were brief, at first, but soon became the highlight of the show for me. Even if that week’s story was one I didn’t like—because remember, I don’t like horror—Alasdair could find the crucial piece of my own heart buried in the prose and pull it out to show to me.
The truth is, you can’t say whether you like something or not if you don’t really understand what that thing is. I didn’t understand what horror was before Pseudopod. It was supposed to just be a cheap thrill, based on flirting with the forbidden, as far as I knew. Pseudopod, and its engagingly enthusiastic host, began asking me subtly important questions about what “evil” was, and forcing me to examine my assumptions. About fiction. About the world. About myself.
After ten years, Pseudopod is an essential part of my week. It has carried me to and from work, influenced my writing, and taught me that there is more to horror fiction than an author trying to scare me. I learned that everyone confronts horror, whether they like it or not, and it’s better to confront fear from a safe place, in a form that can be turned off or put down when you are done with it. It’s better to know your enemy before you have to fight . . . especially if that enemy is you.
Maybe you’re not supposed to like horror . . . but you ignore it at your peril. Much like the truth.
Tad Callin has been a lot of things, but he is most proud of being a father and writer. His previous published work includes an urban fantasy story, “Silver,” published on the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine podcast, and his self—published memoir, Tad’s Happy Funtime. One day, he hopes to return to the desert Southwest with his family, but for now, he enjoys living in Baltimore.