Michael Aronovitz published his first collection titled Seven Deadly Pleasures through Hippocampus Press in 2009. His first novel Alice Walks came out in a hardcover edition by Centipede Press in 2013, and Dark Renaissance Books published the paperback version in 2014. Aronovitz’s second collection, The Voices in Our Heads was published by Horrified Press in 2014, and the featured novel, The Witch of the Wood, came out through Hippocampus Press recently. Aronovitz’s first young adult novel Becky’s Kiss will be appearing through Vinspire Press in the fall of 2015 and his third hard core adult horror novel titled Phantom Effect will be published by Night Shade Books in the fall of 2015. Michael Aronovitz is a college professor of English and lives with his wife and son in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
by Michael Aronovitz
There is so much sex and violence in my horror novel The Witch of the Wood, that a reviewer accused me of farce. Since I’d never been associated with such a thing, I looked up the word in my Collegiate 10th Edition Websters, and the first definition was a strange one-word presentation. “Stuff.” I sat back and nodded. Yes, Witch is jam-packed with stuff, certainly. It happened during the process of writing as a sort of domino effect, starting with an exceptionally beautiful woman from an ancient race of goddesses who could shape-shift according to a given target-male’s evolving sexual desire. If there was a witch, there had to be a warlock, and mine was soon levitating, reading minds, and destroying his enemies by twisting their private socio-emotive wiring into unintelligible spaghetti. From there I admit the whole thing started to steamroll, making it clear to me that if there were witches and warlocks, there had to be ghouls riding an army of wolves, victims tied to crosses in dark cornfields at the edge of Route 9, demons in the drainage network with sewer rats as their subjects, airstrikes from unexpected adversaries, murder, betrayal, prophecy, apocalypse.
I took a deep breath and looked back at the dictionary. I had made a mistake, of course, initially finding the vt “farce” (transitive or action verb) as opposed to the noun. The second definition under this primary presentation of the word was far more telling, however, in that it said, “to improve as if by stuffing,” and when I looked at the 2nd presentation of the term in its more appropriate form as a noun, the reviewer’s accusation became a bit clearer. While the first definition for “farce” here was slightly forgiving, in that it started with “a savory stuffing” there was a colon and a strange exclamation after it, in all capitals no less, that said “FORCEMEAT.” I sat back in my chair again, and thought about it. As aforementioned, having “stuff” in the piece and a lot of it was something I was guilty of, but the connotation of “stuffing” as an action, especially one so strangely akin to the type of vocabulary one would find in the horror lexicon, in the form of FORCEMEAT and CAPITALIZED no less, made me wonder if my dictionary was haunted. But the real question I had to ask myself at that point was whether or not I force-fed the action in The Witch of the Wood.
That was easy to determine for me, because it came down to character motivation. Were things imposed upon my lead player, college professor Rudy Barnes, throughout the body of the piece that were not logical? Of course. I write horror. Witches, zombies, werewolves, ghosts, vampires, and water beasts are not logical. The horrific material that interests me is usually the type that gives me a realistic character in a realistic situation with one element of the bizarre he must deal with. The Witch of the Wood has a theme of chain-reaction, so it’s like pulling a thread on a sweater. Or stepping on ice, one crack causing another and another. I only wanted the reader to start with a baseboard belief in Rudy, to believe he would fall in love with a beautiful woman, that he’d let his morals and desires fight equally, that he’d go all the way.
I nodded my head in cautious self-reassurance, and looked back at the haunted, evil, spooky, old dictionary, and it was “farce 2” definition 2 that hit me right in the heart. “a light dramatic composition marked by broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot.”
I had no problem with this if I considered it in sections, at least most of them. The word “light” was no real threat as it did not describe The Witch of the Wood even a little bit, just as “improbable plot” seemed complimentary in that I didn’t telegraph my “Ah-ha!” moments. I didn’t see the description “satirical” as damaging (or untrue), because everything I write has always included biting commentary on the social systems we have in place. It was the word “comedy.” When I think of horror and comedy Freddy Krueger comes to mind, giving off bad one liners while he scrapes your throat with his razor-fingers. I think of violence so gratuitous it plays like slapstick. And while an author’s intentions are rather meaningless once his piece is read by the public, it made me stop right there sitting at my cluttered desk with my haunted dictionary and endure a moment of hard self-evaluation.
The question was not so much whether The Witch of the Wood came off funny. People laugh at different things for a variety of reasons. One man’s pleasure and all that. The question was whether or not it came off as silly. In the end, looking in the mirror, looking critically at the book and the many definitions of “farce” in all its forms, I came to a conclusion not only based in truth, but the “real” truth this particular reviewer was trying to expose.
All in all, if a reader thinks The Witch of the Wood is funny, he might question exactly what he is trying to laugh away. Furthermore, I would argue that within the world of the text, every fantastic event has a reason for playing out within the “logic” of the event presented before it. That being said, I must admit that when I wrote this novel, I didn’t just ask the proverbial author’s best question, “What if?” only once. I got addicted to it. And maybe underneath it all I was smiling cruelly, thinking more, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” in the spirit of the darkest of ironies where “comedy” bares its sharpest teeth.