Okay, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Yeah, a series on horror? Well, if you spent five minutes with some of MY family members, a chainsaw might sound like a great idea. Truth be told, horror is one of my FAVORITE sub-genres and our WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia? He’s an AMAZING teacher. Also, horror is one of those genres that goes for the guts (no pun intended). It truly probes the human condition, and whether or not we are fans, we can learn A LOT from what horror authors do best.
All great stories probe what we FEAR. This is the essence of good storytelling. Whether it is the fear of not finding love or losing love or not achieving a goal? FEAR is the heart of conflict. No conflict? No story. This is why I’ve recruited one of the best authors I know to talk about a genre that many might not believe is salient….yet it is a masterful lesson how to make ALL fiction fabulous.
Take it away, Kevin!
I’ve learned much about the craft since I made my first foray into horror fiction seven years ago, but the most important lesson I learned in two parts. The first came during an evening spent with genre luminaries Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Stuart David Schiff.
You can get the full story here, but in brief: I spent the evening hanging with these giants as they regaled each other with tales of their experiences. One of the biggest takeaways was this humbling realization: I knew very little of the genre’s history.
The second installment of this lesson came the following fall during Brian Keene’s keynote address at AnthoCon: ROOTS, in which he detailed the different “waves” that made up the horror genre’s history. I was once again humbled to realize that my reading diet was quite shallow. I’d read almost every Stephen King and Dean Koontz novel, a few Peter Straub novels…
And that was it.
I quickly realized I wasn’t drawing upon a rich, developed palette to write my fiction. And while I’d read mostly novels and very few short stories, there I was, trying to “make my bones” writing short stories. This dissonance led me to radically alter my reading diet, committing myself to exploring the horror genre.
And in this blog series, I’d like to share those writers with you. In each installment I’ll present the giants of the genre and also some newcomers that maybe aren’t landing splashy big deals because they don’t write about zombies or vampires or sparkling vampire zombies, but write horror fiction that actually means something. Also, one good thing about the “greats” is that their work has either been re-released as eBooks, or used copies can be found cheap (almost criminally so) on Amazon.
But keep in mind: this list is hardly exhaustive. These are just the folks I’ve read myself.
Quiet Horror: The following three writers helped create a subgenre of horror called quiet horror. These tales boast rich, taut atmospheres; finely crafted prose and stories that comment deeply on the human experience. They didn’t rely on shock value. If you’re looking for something very far away from slasher films, this is it.
Charles Grant is probably considered the father of “quiet horror,” the epitome of everything the subgenre aspired to. He built tension better than anyone I’ve ever read and his prose flows gently, softly, quietly. His greatest achievement may be the creation of Oxrun Station, a fictional, haunted town in Connecticut with a loosely-connected continuity. He was also one of the finest editors in the business, his SHADOWS anthologies setting the standard for many years. His backlist.
Ramsey Campbell is called “Britain’s greatest living horror writer” by the Oxford English Dictionary. He also excels in quiet, tense horror that relies on emotion and psychological fears rather than shock and gore. He’s also adept at creating slippery, surreal narratives that leave his characters – and us – questioning what we call reality. Quite simply, Ramsey is one of the best in the business. His backlist and current list.
T. M. Wright has been called a “one-man definition of quiet horror” by Ramsey Campbell himself. He’s a modern master of “the ghost story” and for me, he completely changed the way I thought about ghosts. Like the previous two, his prose is rich, finely crafted, and he relies on stories of substance rather than superficial genre motifs. His backlist.
New Voice You Should Read:
Norman Prentiss is the first name that comes to mind when I think of a contemporary writer of “quiet horror.” His novella Invisible Fences is one of the finest things I’ve ever read, and he’s re-invented Charles Grant’s Oxrun Station-mythos in the exploits of the sinister (maybe?) Dr. Sibley, a college English professor you don’t want to cross. Keep an eye on Norman; he’s going places. Current publications.
So what are your thoughts? I am not a fan of slasher movies but I LOVE a great scary story. I love anything that makes me look more deeply at myself (um, I, Robot?).
As writers around the world scream a collective, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
Kidding aside, it might seem strange that I have our WANA International Instructor, Kevin Lucia here talking about the horror genre. Yet, sometimes it’s good to get out of the comfort zone and cross-pollinate our creativity. I can tell writers who do too much reading in the same genre. What can really add that certain je ne sais quoi is when an author adds in elements from unexpected areas.
This is what makes the writing unique. Writing is similar to music, and the legends we remember in music are transcendent simply because they possess a gift of surprising listeners. They might add elements of opera to heavy metal or jazz to rap. This is where tropes can transform into something magical. Writers can do the same.
Kevin’s here to offer some suggestions to help diversify your creative palette.
Take it away, Kevin!
Some horror writers, for whatever reason, never end up writing nearly as much as others. And this is unfortunate. They never quite earn the popularity they deserve simply because they don’t churn out one cookie-cutter, mediocre story after another. Maybe it’s because of their sense of craftsmanship; because they consider(ed) themselves artists, because they want(ed) to live and breathe their own work, rather than spewing it out like a vending machine. Maybe they left us too early or, like Harper Lee, felt they’d said all they’d needed to say.
In my reading through different anthologies and collections, I’ve been amazed at how many of these writers I’ve encountered who only ever wrote a handful of stories. And because of this, sadly, they got pushed aside by legions of “pop” writers who latched onto the current craze, rode the wave, and then got overrun by the next legion of “pop” writers. Here’s a handful of horror writers I wish had written more, or I wish WOULD write more.
In thirty years, Alan Peter Ryan wrote forty short stories, three novels and one novella. And I wish he’d written more. A stylist who knew how to use place better than anyone, his novels Cast A Cold Eye, his novella Amazonas and his novelette collection The Back of Beyond are among the finest things I’d ever read. He wrote with a literary sensibility, and also had two reoccurring characters – cowboys in weird westerns the likes of which Larry McMurty or Louis L’Amour might’ve written – that I enjoyed, and wanted to see more of. Unfortunately, just as he was returning from a fourteen year hiatus from horror fiction, Mr. Ryan passed away due to pancreatic cancer. His other novels: The Kill and Dead White, and his collection, The Bones Wizard.
T. E. D. Klein wrote only one novel: The Ceremonies. Literary, finely crafted, built on tension and dread and atmosphere, about old myths and religions, it stands as one of the best things I’ve ever read. And that’s it. Only one novel, and no more appear to be coming any time soon. His short fiction is also astounding…and he only wrote fifteen of those, collected in Dark Gods and Reassuring Tales. He also served as the editor of The Twilight Zone Magazine, which became known during its four year run as one of the premier horror/dark fantasy magazines on the market.
Thomas Tessier is another fine author who hasn’t been nearly as prolific as some – only ten novels from 1978 – 2007 – but the results stand above the rest. Phantom is one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve ever read, and Fog Heart is deeply emotional, moving, disturbing, and finely written. Two collections of his short fiction exist, Ghost Music and Other Tales, and Remorseless: Tales of Cruelty.
A contemporary author who hasn’t written nearly as much as I’d like him to is Robert Dunbar. The Pines and The Shore are wonderfully lush, vivid, poetic novels offering intriguing spins on The Jersey Devil myths. They’re also about hurting people trying to find their way in the world without hurting those they love most. His collection Martyrs & Monsters offered wonderful genre/literary blends, and his small press Uninvited Books has committed itself to publishing literate, well-written dark fiction.
Another writer, Robert Ford (and no, not the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto), also hasn’t written enough, of which we all dutifully remind him often, and kindly (sorta). Bob writes immensely enjoyable, entertaining horror…but his sense of style and craft is finely tuned, raising his work above the rest. Samson and Denial is a wonderful mix of crime noir and horror and I bought his short story “Georgie” for Shroud Magazine’s Halloween Issue because – as a father myself – it tore my guts out, in all the best ways. I haven’t yet read his zombie novel The Compound, but I know this: it will be about far more than zombies, simply because it was written by Robert Ford.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at some authors whose writing simply can’t be contained by the term “horror,” or whose work sprawls outside all the lines.
Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror Channel. His podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.
SOURCE: Kristen Lamb’s Blog
Check out Kristen’s newest book: Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World on Amazon or even Barnes and Noble.