This Month’s Question: What Is The Future of Horror?

My new feature called “The Question of the Month” over at FEARnet is a mix of “The Final Question” from Cemetery Dance magazine and also original content.

The feature has a simple premise: each month I’ll ask a handful of the genre’s authors to answer the same question and then I’ll publish their responses exactly as I receive them. In theory, this should give you some insight into how these authors think and where their work comes from.  Each month you can read the answers here on this blog or over at FEARnet.com.

This month’s question is: What is the future of horror?

Writers in pain. Their wounds, unconscious or otherwise, define the genre.
— R.C. Matheson

I don’t know what the future of horror will be, but I always live in hope that whatever it is, it’ll be a bit more subtle, quietly disturbing, surreal, and otherworldly than a lot of the trends we’ve recently seen. Something that instills genuine dread rather than aiming to shock or gross out. Not because I dislike accessible, splattery fun, but just to shake things up a bit. I’m loathe to use the word “cerebral,” but something with a bit more depth would be nice. Can we rewind to the ’80s and welcome Clive Barker as the future of horror, please? That would be grand.
— Brett Alexander Savory

The future of horror is the past–the sins of the past, that is, repressed and otherwise, which have been at the heart of virtually every horror story since Horace Walpole wrote the first gothic novel way back in 1764.
— Dale Bailey

The great thing about horror is that it doesn’t give a crap about the future or the past. It’s immune to trends. Humans will never lose interest in sex or death.
— Scott Nicholson

My hope is that horror will blaze a course through this present fascination with extreme violence without any subtext or meaning—simple shock and brutality—and start re-exploring the concepts that make the genre so powerful. Without a human element to these stories, the characters are just so many pieces of wood waiting to be hewn and chopped into kindling. If horror is to have a future beyond revolting people and making them scream with cheap scares, writers, readers and moviegoers alike need to rediscover that the best horror is about bad things happening to characters in whom we have an emotional investment.
— Bev Vincent

The future of horror is…assured.  The arc of expression seems to be following the media arc as a whole: less attention to print, more to video games and movies, but horror reinvents itself to fit.  Horror will prosper as long as people get a frisson down the spine from things that go bump in the night.
— Holly Newstein

The future of horror? The past. As always.
— Glen Hirshberg

People (or Soylent Green, if you prefer the packaging). Us.  With our capacity for feeling and inflicting pain, our reaction to mystery and the unknown, our appetite for the world and each other, we’ll be drawn to horror like lemmings to a cathartic sea for a while.  The Greeks dug it, we dig it.  However the source medium may evolve, as long as there are people, there will be both the inspiration and audience for horror.  Horror will truly be dead when we’ve split angel from demon and cast off the monsters inside us.  And we’re a long way off from that feat of genetic engineering.  Or exorcism…
— Gerard Houarner

It’s vampires who sparkle in the sunlight, like David Bowie in his sequined androgynous glam-rocker phase, or maybe it’s werewolves who crap strawberry scented sprinkles.  I’m pretty sure it’s one of those.
— Gary Raisor

What is the future of horror? WHO THE FUCK KNOWS? But I betcha we’re about to find out! (P.S.: The future of horror starts right… about… now.)
— John Skipp

Richard Chizmar speaking at the Jarrettsville Branch of the Harford County Public Library System

Richard Chizmar will be speaking at the Jarrettsville Branch of the Harford County Public Library system later TODAY (Wednesday, 10/12/2011) at 6:30 PM.  I will most likely be tagging along.  🙂

As I mentioned in the Cemetery Dance newsletter, this will be a great chance for Cemetery Dance customers and any local writers to meet Richard in person since he rarely attends conventions these days.  The topic of discussion will be Cemetery Dance Publications and the publishing business in general.  There will be a Q&A following the presentation.

Although the library has a registration process for attending events, registration is not required.  Walk-ins are welcome.  That said, Richard will be bringing along a very cool little grab bag of freebies, so if you do register, it’ll help him know how much is needed.  I will be calling to get the final count around noon and we won’t have too much extra free stuff.

If you’re thinking of attending, here are two web pages of interest:

The library’s website page for the speaking program

More information about the library and driving directions (at the bottom of the page)

Another Perspective: On Discovering Night Shift by Stephen King

In the spirit of My Mother’s Secret Stash of Stephen King, I thought I’d post another essay I wrote about that summer when I was 12 years old.  I mostly want to post this because the essay was written a few years after “My Mother’s Secret…” and it’s completely different.  One of the things I’m very curious about is how our memories work.  Not sure what that means in this context, but here’s what I wrote:

Like most life changing events, this one came out of nowhere:

One summer when I was very young, I stood in the basement of my family’s house staring up at the bookcase by the pool table.  This was where I had discovered my mother’s collection of Stephen King hardcovers a few months earlier.

On this particular day I saw a blue paperback jutting off the edge of a shelf high above my head.  I reached up and grabbed the paperback.  I turned it over in my hands.

There were eyes peeking out through holes cut in the front cover.  The eyes were part of a bigger piece of artwork under the cover: a hand wrapped in bandages with eyes growing in the flesh!  How horrible!  How awesome!

I sat on the basement floor next to the bookcase and read the introduction by John D. McDonald.  He wrote something there I’ve returned to many times over the years.  “If you want to write, you write.”  (It really is that simple, isn’t it?)

Next I read Stephen King’s “Foreword” and was instantly hooked.  I realized this was the author himself inviting me to join him on a journey.  He was talking about fear and the scary things in the dark closet, and yes, I totally understood what he was saying.  It was as if he knew me and my secret fears.

I skipped “Jerusalem’s Lot” because I didn’t understand the epistolary tale yet (why are these characters writing letters to each other?  where’s the story?), but I started the second piece, “Graveyard Shift,” and was sucked right in.  There was a basement full of ruined junk!  And big rats!  What’s not to love?

And I was off to the races, reading story after story.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  This continued for the better part of the afternoon while my father was at work and my mother slept.  (She worked the night shift at the local hospital.)  The sun crossed the sky and the day slipped away and I just couldn’t get enough of those short stories.

My favorite in the bunch was “The Last Rung on the Ladder.”  Oddly enough, after all of the killer trucks and toy soldier assassins and scary boogeymen and a very bizarre lawn guy, this story was nothing like the rest and yet it easily affected me the most.  (Spoilers to follow.)

Instead of another scare fest, this was the story of two farm kids–a boy and his little sister–playing a game in their family’s barn when something goes terribly wrong.  The sister was climbing a ladder to the top of the barn when the rungs splintered, leaving her hanging high above the floor, her hands barely holding on.  Her brother frantically built a pile of hay to break her inevitable fall.  The ladder was going to give way, but he kept telling her to hold on… and then, right before the ladder finished breaking, he told her to let go… and she did… and she landed in the hay with a sickening thud… but she lived!  She had let go without looking because she knew her big brother was going to do something to save her.  What a happy ending!

But then the story went on.  And the two farm kids grew up.  And in the end, the reader was left with a man dealing with his sister’s suicide and his regrets about the distance that grew between them as adults while he was busy chasing the brass ring in life — and the fear that, had he been a better bigger brother after they left the farm, he might have been able to break his sister’s fall one more time and she wouldn’t be dead.

Powerful stuff.  Emotional stuff.  And what the heck was it doing in a book of horror stories?  Some readers might have been turned off by this heart-wrenching tale of loss if they were just expecting more gore and scares, but I loved it.  I had never experienced a story quite like it before.  I read “The Last Rung on the Ladder” a second time that day and I’ve read it a dozen times since then.

Night Shift was marketed as “excursions into horror” and it was my first taste of grown-up short stories.  Soon after, I discovered a huge anthology called Dark Forces, and soon after that I dedicated myself to writing and selling my own little stories.  I had dabbled with writing since the second grade, but now I had a concrete goal: my stories needed to appear in an anthology like Dark Forces or a collection like Night Shift.

Since then, my short stories have been published in many anthologies, including Borderlands 5, which featured Stephen King and a lot of other great authors I was humbled to be published with; my first collections of stories will see print next year if all goes well, although I harbor no illusions that they’re anywhere near as good as the tales in Night Shift; and a few years back Lonely Road Books published a brand new edition of Dark Forces.

When I think about it, I realize just about everything I do today is because I happened upon Night Shift one summer afternoon when I was a kid.

If you ask me, there isn’t a better foundation for a lifetime of reading than the short story.  Short stories will take you to worlds you never imagined and help you examine your own world through new eyes.

What better way is there to spend a summer afternoon… or an entire life?

Steve Jobs: February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs

The Dark Forces Special Edition from Lonely Road Books

Probably the best thing about running Lonely Road Books was landing my dream project to launch the press: Dark Forces: The 25th Anniversary Special Edition edited by Kirby McCauley.  This special edition was limited to a 300 copy Limited Edition and a 26 copy Lettered Edition.

Why was this a dream project?  Simple: Dark Forces was the first horror anthology I read as a kid and it made quite the impression!  Also, I feel like you should make a statement about your goals and ambitions when you launch a press.  Dark Forces certainly did that, in my opinion.

In case you’ve never seen the Lonely Road Books special edition, here are some photos.  I’ve included my original mass market paperback to give you some idea of the size of these books.

Dark Forces
Lettered Edition, Limited Edition, paperback

Continue reading The Dark Forces Special Edition from Lonely Road Books

The Stephen King Book Covers That Might Have Been

One of my favorite jobs at Cemetery Dance Publications is the day-to-day book production work.

We published two new Stephen King books in 2010: the World’s First Edition of Blockade Billy and the Deluxe Limited Edition of Full Dark, No Stars. Most collectors never get to see “behind the scenes” of the creation of a Limited Edition book, so I thought it would be fun to discuss how the cover artwork and design for Full Dark, No Stars came to be.

If you’ve read Full Dark, No Stars, you know this book has a really dark heart, which made deciding on a cover image and designing that cover a serious challenge.  Plus, we were publishing three editions of the book (Slipcased Gift Edition, Signed Limited Edition, Signed Lettered Edition), so this one book would actually have three different dust jackets.

First, we needed an artist. After much discussion, and once we rejected the idea of going with an AC/DC “Back in Black” style dust jacket, we hired Tomislav Tikulin to paint the cover. We had been impressed with his work on other projects and we felt he would bring a fresh perspective to this particular Limited Edition. We knew we wanted a wrap-around cover painting (artwork on the front cover and back cover) with the back cover somehow “showing the inner darkness” of the character on the front cover, but those were the only instructions we gave him so he wouldn’t be limited by our ideas.

Tomislav spent weeks on the painting, showing us each stage and discussing ideas and looking for feedback and suggestions to nail the tone, and he has very graciously allowed me to reprint those different drafts on this page, so you can get a better feel for the process of how the artwork was created.

Continue reading The Stephen King Book Covers That Might Have Been

A Coda to My Mother’s Secret Stash of Stephen King

A fun little coda to My Mother’s Secret Stash of Stephen King:

The teacher who supposedly said I wasn’t literary enough to be in his Honors English class because my favorite author was Stephen King?  That teacher’s name was… Stephen King.

Like many comedians have said over the years, you just can’t make that up.

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