Two decades ago, Michael R. Collings bought a house that quickly became a homeowner's nightmare.
The slab that the house was built on was cracked. The western wall rose or lowered three inches depending on the weather. The roof leaked regardless of what he did to try and fix it. Almost everything that could go wrong with the house did go wrong.
After moving, Collings took all the experiences and frustration he had gone through and wrote a novel called “The Slab."
Unfortunately, Collings’ son, Michaelbrent, had to endure a truly horrific experience when he and his wife had a child pass away. Like his father, Michaelbrent Collings turned to writing.
“When it turned out the way it did, it was really tough but it also allowed for wonderful blessings,” Michaelbrent Collings said in an interview with the Deseret News. “All my books tend to be about family because I realized how much families really matter and that is heavily informed by the fact that I hope to see my daughter again (and) that I hope that my family never has to go through this again.”
In addition to being writers, both Michael and Michaelbrent Collings are active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their ancestors include two of Brigham Young’s sisters. Michael, despite being deaf, is his ward's organist, and Michaelbrent teaches young men in his ward.
And they both write in the horror genre, which may seem to be a contradiction for a person of faith. So why do they do it?
“Because we believe in it,” Michael Collings said in an interview with the Deseret News. “The basics of horror are that there are things out there that are simply evil. Horror is perhaps the most moral genre being written right now because there are causes and consequences. You make a choice, and there is a consequence.”
Michael R. Collings was a professor at Pepperdine University for 30 years. In addition to his fiction, he has written scholarly articles on the works of successful writers such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Orson Scott Card and others.
Michaelbrent Collings, who was a lawyer before becoming a writer, argues that the genre itself is not inherently problematic.
“There’s a split in horror,” Michaelbrent Collings said. “One kind of horror celebrates evil, and it knocks you into the gutter and it kicks you around and then leaves you there. I don’t want to judge people that like that, but that’s not for me. The kind of horror that I like is the kind that kicks you even deeper, it drops you into a hole, into an abyss, and on the way down it slices everything off of you everything you thought was important. And it leaves the core values that you hold, and then it shows you that that is sufficient to climb back up to the light. And sometimes, depending on the writer, it shows you that just humanity is good enough, and sometimes that that climb requires grace; it requires very literally some kind of intervention of holiness.”
Michaelbrent Collings feels that avoiding certain novels simply because they are classified as horror is a mistake.
“If you read any genre, it’s not the genre that’s offensive, it’s the content,” he said. “I read this story the other day that had — and I’m not joking — it had this guy who cut the scalp off this other guy, and then he waves it around on this sword and it’s full of these stabbings and mutilations that are totally disgusting, and then everybody dies at the end. But the point of that story — which is called the Book of Mormon — isn’t the stabbings and the mutilation and all the wars. It is a redemptive story.”
Modern horror writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz often make religion part of their novels. The Collingses point out that while horror stories may deal with evil people doing evil things, they also portray good people overcoming evil and becoming better individuals.
“One of the things that I find appealing about horror as a genre is that it’s a modern genre but it goes back to a time when good and evil were intricately related,” Michael Collings said. “We’ve cut that juncture between them; we’ve severed it. We may believe, we may go to church, but we don’t talk about it, and it’s not an integral part of our life. Without extreme, great evil, there’s no reason to have extreme good. Witches, zombies, werewolves and vampires (have) been connected to religion from the very beginning — all of them have religious roots at one point of another — (and it) allows us to explore that religious element as deeply as we want.”
Ben Tullis graduated from Utah Valley University in August 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English. He lives in Pleasant Grove with his wife and 3-year-old son. Follow him on Twitter at bentullis.