“In Defense of the Horror Short Story”
by Gary Raisor
Can’t get your fix of true horror down at your local Walden?
The magic gone out? Welcome to the club. In the last ten years or so, it has become increasingly, and appalling, obvious that most of the interesting writing in the horror field is being done in the form of the short story.
By people you’ve probably never heard of.
Published by houses you’ve probably never heard of, either.
Most of these writers don’t have movies to their credit or ads that proclaim their status on the New York Times Best Seller List. Some, surprisingly, do.
The majority of them, though, are simply very good writers who produce stories that make readers just a little too uncomfortable. What makes them different from the writers you see lined up at Walden? These folks are willing to take chances, they’re not afraid to fall on their asses.
Let’s face it, main stream publishing is only interested in one thing: Huge, bloated books by huge, bloated authors. With movie tie-ins. Quality and artistic integrity have just about bit the big one. It’s all about the money, baby.
The only people who care about short stories, a place where an author can go out on a limb and express something other than good old John Q. Public being menaced by something vaguely threatening — but not too threatening, before overcoming that vaguely threatening something and going back to their meaningless little life and consuming mass quantities of goods — is the short story. Which is only kept alive by the specialty presses. And thank God for that. If it wasn’t for places like Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, Overlook Connection, Necro Publications, Dark Highways, and a handful of others, the short story wouldn’t be an endangered species, it’d be an extinct species. That would be sad, because that would mean we’d lose out on the things that drew us to horror in the first place. That sense of wonder and dread, that feeling we were going to some place where we might not come back safely, to consume mass qualities of goods. A place where our world view might be altered forever. It’s a good feeling to be frightened, it lets you know you’re alive.
I want to talk about a few people who know how to do the short story. People who can mess with your head year end and year out. I’m sure a few of you have your own list, but I have to tell you, mine’s pretty damn short. Here goes:
Joe R. Lansdale. This guy is a cross between Kafka and Will Rogers, with a voice all his own. You want to learn about voice as a writer, or simply enjoy a great short story, this is your guy.
R.C. Matheson. Mr economy of words. This man can raise goose bumps with fewer words than anyone else in the business.
John Shirley. The best of the new Gothic. You never know where you’re going when you start one of his stories. It’ll be someplace you’ve never been before.
David J. Schow. One of the few to come through the splat pack and develop into a multi-layered writer.
Jack Ketchum. This man puts his heart and soul into his work, and I guarantee you, you read some of his work, you can kiss sleeping goodbye for a few nights.
Edward Lee. The only man I know who can, on a consistent basis, raise the grotesque to an art form.
Nancy Holder. She writes with more balls than ninety per cent of the guys in the business.
So I guess what I’m trying to say here is, if you think you know horror, but you haven’t read any of these folks, then you don’t know horror. You’re only getting what the big houses are spoon feeding you. Pap.
So here’s a thought, save up your money by not buying that Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelization because you think Sarah Michelle Gellar is hot (okay she is) but she’s not going to be sleeping with you, so get over it. Instead take that money and put it aside. When you get about thirty or forty dollars together, buy a book from one of the specialty presses I mentioned above. It’ll be a much nicer book, with a lot more interesting things going on between the covers. It’ll be something you’ll take out and read more than once. Trust me on this. And hey, there might even be sex.