Thomas D. Taylor is an author who writes in many genres, including horror, science fiction, mainstream fiction, and nonfiction. His horror books force his characters and his readers to descend into dark underworlds and reemerge with moral lessons learned. Two of his nonfiction books dispel much of the ignorance and misinformation about autism. His most recent nonfiction book, Autism’s Politics and Political Factions: A Commentary, explains some of the differences between the many warring factions of the autism community. Cliché sat down to talk with him about his most recent book and more.
Cliché: What inspired you to write horror?
Thomas D. Taylor: A good part of my childhood was spent watching creature feature and Grade B horror movies on TV. I also read a lot of horror books. But I found faults with most of what I was seeing. Movies and books rooted in myth and legend seemed to have taken liberties. “True” stories often turned out to be factually incorrect, and “scary” stories didn’t seem to scare.
Thus began my endeavors, first to improve upon what others had written, and eventually to produce all original material. It is, of course, the original material that I have published.
When you write your horror books, is there any research you need to do? If so, what kind?
Every story I write, every novella, every novel, no matter what genre I am writing in, requires research. For a horror story to work for whoever’s reading it, for example, a writer has to convince the reader to suspend disbelief so that the reader can come to believe that something totally fictional, yet absolutely terrifying, can happen to them. The best way to do this is to make sure that if you are writing about real things, you get those things right. This is because, aside from not being distracted by inaccuracies, if readers can trust that an author has the facts right about what is real, they are willing to believe the author might be telling the truth about what is fully fictional.
One example is the research I did for Evil Creeps In: A Tale of Exorcism. In that one, I researched the facts about exorcism, and discovered that much of what we see in Hollywood movies is untrue and/or sensationalized, and my book wound up being something totally different than I had initially intended. Originally, it was going to be a “true” and “accurate” representation of an exorcism with no embellishments, which, I thought, would be something like William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist on high octane. But because—I discovered—real life exorcisms are seldom as grotesque, the book turned out to be a novella in which a Lutheran layman and a Roman Catholic priest discuss an exorcism and the different theological theories and implications concerning the rite. An exorcism does take place in the book, but that is not the main focus of the text. To me, hearing the facts about how demon possession happens, and the facts about how exorcisms are performed, are scarier than the actual exorcism itself.
What messages or morals do you convey in your books?
One of the popular themes in horror stories and stories of other genres seems to be: “Do something bad, and sooner or later, you will get what you deserve.” That is a moral which, I think, could be put across better.
In my horror books, the main moral is a variation on the misbehavior-results-in-consequences concept. For me, the moral is that what a person does in his or her life influences who he or she is. One example: Fill up your life with evil, and evil will creep into your soul.
However, my books are not morally preachy per se. I am less concerned with overtly stating a moral than I am in demonstrating to my readers the process by which people change as a result of their activities, or as a result of who or what they take into their lives.
Regarding your books about autism, how did you conduct your research?
I circulated in the autism community for nearly 25 years before I decided to write about it. I worked with kids on the autism spectrum during teacher training, ran a number of forums online for autistics, moderated and administrated other forums from time to time, attended and discoursed at conventions, and, most importantly, I’ve read the research.
Two areas seemed to be underrepresented in terms of what has been published: A commentary on autistic authors, whence came Autistic Authors and Autistics and Autism in Literature: A Commentary and an outline and commentary on the politics of the autism community, which inspired me to write Autism’s Politics and Political Factions: A Commentary.
I had been compiling information on both for more than a decade before I decided to write up what I had learned and what my ensuing opinions were.
What made you get interested in the world of Autism?
In addition to advocating for a number of people on the spectrum, I know many people on the autism spectrum personally. There are commonalities among autistics, and there are many undercurrents in the autism community. Writing about these commonalities and undercurrents may help people on the autism spectrum to understand themselves, and may help people who are not autistic to understand autistics.
Tell us about your newest non-fiction book, Autism’s Politics and Political Factions: A Commentary.
There is fact, and opposing this is theory, conjecture, rumors and ignorance. Autism’s Politics and Political Factions tries to label and comment on all the differing opinions doctors, researchers, autistics, and non-autistics have about the origins, presentation, and treatment of autism and the ensuing political movements proceeding therefrom.
Thomas D. Taylor Interview: Portrait ©Elyse Bruce