Monday, November 26, 2007

Don't Be's Just Horror

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.

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). Start with one of the anthologies, like Stephen Jones’ Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Vol. 18 or The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection (Year's Best Fantasy and Horror) edited by Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, and Ellen Datlow. Start with the short fiction –which will allow you to sample the writing of a lot of different horror writers (and some of the name’s may be surprisingly familiar to you!).

Then, when you find a short story that grabs you, that speaks to you...go out and find one of their novels. Take a chance. Horror may not be what you think...but once you experience will be what you think about.

And check out this link:

See you tomorrow.


Morbideus said...

Another thing that defines "horror": someone, somewhere in the story is going to have the bejeeziss scared out of them, and quite possibly the reader along with them. Regardless of gore, supernatural or whatever...

Jonathan Maberry said...

Most of the time, sure; but in some of the comedy horror it's more the spoky setting that gives a sense of chills that start a shiver rather than provoke a scream.

Morbideus said...

I realize that crosses into a grey area, but wouldn't such a thing qualify as comedy instead of horror?

That's why I'm not a writer, words confuse me...