Friday, February 23, 2007
Douglas Winter has written horror, but is better known as a critic in the horror field. Of all the critics I've read, I personally feel that Winter gets it right more often than not. I'm reading an article by him now in On Writing Horror that is quite insightful. One point he makes is this: "If your sole ambition is commercial success...you probably lack the courage to write great horror fiction." I believe this to be true. True horror fiction is unlikely to attract the kind of huge audience that The Da Vinci Code commanded.
I know that as soon as I say this someone will toss out names such as Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. My first response is that Anne Rice doesn't write horror. The underlying power of her work lies in romance. Note, I'm not criticizing her for this, although it's not my cup of tea, but I sincerely believe that her readers are with her more for the love than the fear. Koontz can write horror with the best of them (Phantoms, Midnight), but most of his work, especially his recent work, is more clearly suspense with some horror elements.
Stepen King does write horror, and is an exception to Winter's rule. I don't know why, but I do know plenty of people who are happy to read King but eschew reading any and all other horror fiction. On the list of big selling horror writers, I'd include Peter Straub, one of our most literate practicioners, and I would claim that in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs Thomas Harris wrote horror.
But the big names pale beside the small names in horror. Dennis Etchison and Wayne Allen Sallee are two of our best modern short story writers and yet their names are known only to an inner circle who truly love horror. Joe Lansdale has far better sales for his suspense work than for his horror. Writers like Sidney Williams and Del Stone Jr., toil brutally and well in dark fields and have yet to reap a golden harvest. Charles Grant produced one of the most significant bodies of work of any writer in horror. Ask his wife, Kathryn Ptacek, a horror writer herself, sometime about their big house and fancy cars. And who among you has heard of Charlee Jacob, one of the most significant new voices in horror?
No, if you want the "world" to love your writing then horror isn't for you. But if you want to explore lonely places where only a few will venture with you, then gas up that long black 4X4 and leave home at midnight. Pick the road less travelled. Hammer the highway down. Watch for the wicked. And stop to visit.