Recently I’ve been kind of depressed about the state of the written horror genre. Not the economic aspects of it, that’s more of a problem for those who have to eke out a living from it, but prevailing attitudes of many of those who constitute the bulk of its community. The small presses, for a long time a vital part, seem to be imploding under bad business practices, and a common delusion that the packaging of a book is more important than its content. Incestuous little groups of amateurs who have achieved success by shrinking the world to their own group and becoming the principle consumers of each other’s work. “Professional” authors with only a small credit or two who feel compelled to share with the world the secrets of their writing habits or how to attract their “muse”, even if the world doesn’t care. A seemingly endless stream of bad zombie novels, imitative of the few good ones at best, borderline illiterate at worst.
I’ve loved horror fiction all of my reading life, but the willingness to devote time to anything but good writing has pushed me near the point of chucking it in.
Tuesday, as I posted here, was the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Karl Edward Wagner, a great writer, editor and enthusiast in the genre, who does not have the appreciation he deserves. This intensified my feelings of dissociation from horror, as it seemed to represent the decline and decay of the field. In addition to my post here, I started a remembrance thread at Brian Keene’s message board, The Keenedom. I really didn’t expect much of it. I thought it would be mostly ignored except for a couple of friends of mine who I knew were also his fans, or that people would ask who he was. A thread a while back on another message board had elicited the infuriating comment “He was nothing but a drunk.”
A funny thing happened, though. Some people who I respect, including some who rarely post, came out of the woodwork to express their thoughts, including some very good writers like Keene himself, Ed Gorman, Norman Partridge, and J.F. Gonzalez. Many of them had known Wagner and talked of their personal experiences. The thread became a small virtual community, which is what message boards aspire to, but rarely achieve.
It may sound strange, but the response to the memorial thread has gone a long way to improve my state of mind in regards to this horror thing of ours. Yes, there are many writers, readers and publishers who are complete nabobs. But in the hidden heart of horror, there are still those who appreciate those talented people who sweat blood to wring out that one soaring turn of phrase after another to elevate their stories into something that can affect you in profound ways, and do so for an hourly wage that would make a grocery store cashier blanch. And as long as this heart remains healthy, I feel a new confidence the genre will remain as un-dying as many of the creatures who live in it.