I’m only an armchair observer and by no means an expert, but it seems in the last six years the horror genre has witnessed a blossoming short story anthology market. And no offense to anyone, but I mean good markets offering quality stories and top-notch production values, not lots of people discovering the novelty of quick and easy self-publishing in order to issue sub-standard collections through Lulu or Createspace, which seemed very common about eight or nine years ago. (Again, I apologize for any snark; that’s just my opinion, only).
Rather, it seems more and more small presses and indie publishers are utilizing a variety of crowd-funding methods to offer writers competitive pay, secure excellent cover designs, and professional layout. Passionate individuals who are also knowledgeable about the horror genre seem to have learned their lessons well, and are now creating what I believe (again, in my very unofficial opinion) to be excellent short story collections.
While magazines are more limited than they used to be, and I imagine (again, armchair observation) horror short story collections don’t appear in big box stores as much as they used to, the form itself and a paying market for it is alive and well. It’s also been very heartening to see horror veterans (namely, Ronald Kelly, the subject of a future installment of “Revelations,” to be sure), returning to the short form, having released three short story collections this year alone through Crossroads Press, with a fourth in the making.
One thing I want to see more of, however, (they’re probably out there, and I just haven’t run across them) are reoccurring series of open-themed horror and speculative fiction collections. I referenced one of my favorites in a past column, the Whispers collections, edited by Stuart David Schiff. I would love to see those return and, in particular, see a series offer installments of new and established voices alike. Something we could look forward to every year, wondering who would be featured next in the new edition of INSERT ANTHOLOGY NAME HERE.
In other words, I want to see more anthologies like Shadows, which was edited by the inimitable Charles L. Grant, and Borderlands, initially edited by the formidable Tom Monteleone and his wife Elizabeth, and now co-edited with his equally formidable daughter, Olivia. Both of these collections played key roles in my development as a writer. Veterans will likely nod their heads and agree. Young writers would do well to pursue these collections, because — again, my opinion only — studying what came before can only help in creating your own, unique voice.
Shadows, edited by Charles L. Grant, a master of “quiet horror,” ran from 1978 – 1991. Like Karl Edward Wagner’s introductions to his Year’s Best Horror Stories, the introductions themselves read like mini-lectures on the horror genre, quiet horror in particular. They’re almost worth the price of admission themselves. Grant started the Shadows series in hopes of showcasing “quiet horror” for horror readers.
Showcase it he did. In eleven collections, Grant featured tales by some of the finest writers ever to practice in the horror genre. Steve Rasnic Tem, Al Sarrantonio, David Morrell, Alan Peter Ryan, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tanith Lee, Ramsey Campbell, Tabitha King (and her husband, what’s-his-name), Lisa Tuttle, Nancy Jones Holder, and so many others. All the stories shared a common theme: horror which happened quietly, creeping out from dark corners where monstrous things flickered but never quite resolved into something tangible, until it was far too late. These were collections of whispered fevered dreams, muttered damnations, weak and tremoring legs, subtle paranoia, and creeping madness.
Also, like Whispers, Shadows featured writers who — while working primarily in other genres — had a dark quietness inside which occasionally needed to be whispered free — fantasy author Jack Dann (a former Binghamton resident, ironically), for example. Also like Wagner’s books, Shadows featured many authors whom I’d never heard of at all. A Google search would turn up one book to their name, or maybe only a handful of short stories, nothing more.
But that didn’t matter, because it was the stories themselves which mattered. Though Shadows certainly featured its share of big names, it also featured names of writers from many different publishing levels. The common denominator was a powerful understanding of the quiet fear which lurks in the deepest parts of hearts, and whispers its dread secrets to us as we sleep.
Something I’ve always dreamed of is editing an annual series similar to Shadows which would, every year, highlight the best quiet horror stories I could find. Even more, I would love to edit such a series with a blind submission policy. To choose the stories themselves, not necessarily the author. It’s very likely that something has been set in motion along these lines. We shall see how events unfold. Until then, find Shadows on Amazon and tread into the too-quiet darkness, if you dare.
Borderlands, edited by the legendary Thomas F. Monteleone and his wife Elizabeth, also played a huge role in my development as a writer. Featuring writers like Joe R. Lansdale, Poppy Z. Brite (Billy Martin), Elizabeth Massie (who wrote one of the strangest stories I’ve ever read, about a lost woman giving a dying man with no arms OR legs a sexual “gift”…the story sunk its teeth under my skin and wouldn’t let go), Harlan Ellison, Bentley Little, Ed Gorman, TED Klein, Thomas Tessier, and so many others, Borderlands collected some of the strangest little horror gems I’ve ever come across.
Like Whispers and Wagner’s Year’s Best Horror Stories, Borderlands didn’t confine itself to one theme or style of horror, or genre, even. Billed as an anthology of Imaginative Fiction, the stories in Borderlands would whisper or scream; cut like a razor, slash like a machete, or gut you like a dagger; creep up behind you and run icy fingers down your skin, or leap upon you and devour you whole. They took place in this world, or in worlds far away, lost to time. They were about people, monsters, monstrous people, and once, a monstrous potato, I’m fairly sure.
While the Shadows stories helped define the type of horror I wanted to write, Borderlands challenged me as a reader, which I believe has helped me develop as a writer. As I read the stories in Borderlands, I knew, deep in my heart, I’d probably never be able to write stories as strange and as unusual as these. I still don’t think I would be able to. However, developing your own unique voice isn’t about copying others. It’s about exposing yourself to different kinds of works, and seeing where those stories push you. I may never be able to write stories like those found in Borderlands, but I have no doubt their weirdness will help me develop my own brand of weirdness in the years to come.
The best part is, not only have the Borderlands series been updated with ebook editions (get on those, stat) the series is alive and well, edited by Tom Monteleone and his daughter, Olivia. Its most recent installment features legends like Jack Ketchum, David Morrell, Steve Rasnic Tem, Tim Waggoner and Gary Braunbeck, contemporary luminaries Paul Tremblay and Bob Pastoralla, and young writers like John Boden and Michael Bailey leading the way for a new generation, plus so many more.
Kevin Lucia’s short fiction has appeared in several anthologies, most recently with Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Bentley Little, Peter Straub and Robert McCammon. His first short story collection, Things Slip Through, was published November 2013, followed by Devourer of Souls in June 2014, Through A Mirror, Darkly, June 2015, and and his second short story collection, Things You Need, September 2018. His novella Mystery Road was published by Cemetery Dance Publications May, 2020. For three free ebooks, sign up for his monthly newsletter at www.kevinlucia.blogspot.com.