I’m gonna rant a little here.
The horror industry –especially where books are concerned—have gotten a bum rap. You tell most folks that you write horror and they look at you like you just said that you eat puppies.
People think that all horror is torture porn, slasher stuff, and buckets o’gore. Admittedly those elements may play into some horror, but that doesn’t define the genre. In fact, defining the genre is difficult to do when you consider that The Turn of the Screw (Henry James), The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson), The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty), and Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin) are no less ‘horror’ novels than Off Season (Jack Ketchum), ‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King), Headstone City (Tom Piccirilli), Monster Island (David Wellington) or The Rising (Brian Keene).
It’s often been discussed that ‘horror’ as a genre label doesn’t quite cover it. Not all horror fiction is horrifying (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold won the 2002 First Novel Bram Stoker Award). Not all horror fiction involves the supernatural (Silence of the Lambs won the 1989 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel).
It’s been suggested a few times that ‘suspense’ would be a better word, or perhaps ‘thriller’; though those labels are mainly used by sub-genres of the mystery/crime fiction or action fiction markets. And, of course, by Stephen King. He calls what he writes ‘suspense’.
We love ya, Uncle Stevie, but that does muddy the waters just a tad.
So, what’s my take?
I see ‘horror’ as suspenseful storytelling that may (or may not) include elements of mystery, suspense, supernatural, gore, violence, humor, passion, romance, science fiction or fantasy. And about fifty other genre elements. Horror can be edgy and raw and it can be elegant and sophisticated. Horror can be visceral or it can be entirely psychological. Horror can be shocking or it can be a slow burn. Horror can be grim or it can be funny. Horror can be niche market and it can be mainstream.
What defines horror most is good storytelling. If you haven’t read horror before, or haven’t given it a chance, be fair (and treat yourself).
I recommended anthologies as the best way to get a feel for the wide range of storytelling subgenre and styles that comprise the vast world of horror. Sure, a lot of people love novels (as I do myself), but if you’re trying to decide if horror is for you –or if you’re more of a gourmet and want to find what suits your taste—then anthologies allow you to experience more writers and styles quickly. If you like the short fiction, you can then go hunt down the longer works of those authors.
Here’s a sample of some anthologies that demonstrate how interesting, varied, and accessible horror writing is:
THE NEW DEAD: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden. You think you know zombies? Maybe you don’t. These are all outside-the-box zombie tales by guys like Max Brooks, Joe Hill, David Wellington, Mike Carey, and others. On a personal note, this antho is where I first introduced Benny and Tom Imura, the zombie-hunting brothers who went on to star in the Rot & Ruin quadrology.
THE CURSE OF THE FULL MOON: Editor James Lowder put together a monstrously cool line-up of writers to tell werewolf stories. Heavy hitters include Peter S. Beagle, Ramsey Campbell, Jonathan Carroll, Nancy A. Collins, Charles de Lint, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison and a real wolfpack of others.
BLOOD LITE: Kevin J. Anderson edited a series of these vampire anthologies that infused the genre with some biting humor. Contributors include Charlaine Harris, J.A. Konrath, John R. Little, Scott Nicholson, Jeff Strand, F. Paul Wilson, Nancy Holder, Sharyn McCrumb, Stevem savilie, Mike Resnick, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kelley Armstrong, Heather Graham, Christopher Golden, L.A. Banks, Ken Lillie-Paetz, Lisa Morton, and…a horde of others!eaks to you…go out and find one of their novels. Take a chance. Horror may not be what you think…but once you experience it…it will be what you think about.
VAMPIRES: The Recent Undead -If you want your vampires darker and more frightening, editor Paula Guran put together this collection of tales that includes stories by Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine, Holly Black, Charles De Ling, Tanya Huff, Tanith Lee, and others.
SICK THINGS – sometimes you want to get down and dirty, to sink deeply into a more visceral works of horror. Editor Cheryl Mullenax collected some of the edgiest ‘extreme horror’ stories for those like their tales raw. Contributors include John shirley, Simon Wood, Sean Logan, Harper Hull, Michael Boatman, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, and others.
THE DARK: New Ghost Stories, edited by Ellen Datlow, features spooky tales by William Gibson, Ramsey Campbell, Jeffrey Ford, Glen Hirshberg, Tanith Lee, Kelly Link, Sharyn McCrumb, Joyce Carol Oates, Lucius Shepard, and Gahan Wilson. Great stuff.
WASTELANDS is editor John Joseph Adams’ masterful collection of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories. At times bleak, at times hopeful, and at all times fascinating. With tales by George R.R. Martin, Gene Wolfe, Orson Scott Card, Carol Emshwiller, Jonathan Lethem, Octavia E. Butler, Stephen King, and others.
There are more…many, many more…but this should get you started. I can’t promise you won’t be scared, but I can promise that you’ll change your opinion about horror. It’s always better than you think.