Friday, July 22, 2011

"I Should Just Write Horror..."

Way back, many years ago, my first novel got picked up and published.  And, like any young writer, I was thrilled.  To the point that I actually had the audacity to go up to a few graduate students in the English department to share in my good news.  I tell the story a lot about how they turned their nose up at genre fiction (insert effete snooty accent, if you please), but there was one guy who really got my goat.  I'll never forget his words because of how they marginalized my beloved genre, but also because of how they insulted me and any other writer who dared to write something a little scary.  Here's what he said:
I should just go write a horror novel so I can get published quick, then I can get back to real writing.
I memorized it.  That's how hurtful and wrong the statement was.  But, like any true Texan, Scotsman, and professional loudmouth, I couldn't let it go.  It took a while to get all the obscenities out of my head, and to quash the almost insurmountable urge to strangle the self-important bastard (not obscene...I truly believe his parents were never married), but here's my carefully considered response.

Go for it.

If you think you can do what I do, if you think it's easy to frighten people with words on a page, or to build an eerie atmosphere, give it your best try, Sparky.  See, here's the thing:  We're trying to do the same thing.  We're both trying to tell a story.  We're both trying to develop characters that people care about.  We're both trying to make our readers feel the way we want them to feel.  We're trying to make that emotional connection between us and the reader that allows them to feel sympathy, or love, or wonder, or fear.  I just happen to concentrate on the fear aspect.  That's all.  His story, as I understood it, was a very heart-felt tale about a boy who grew to manhood having never experienced his father's love, and was full of chapters in which the character sat at a desk and thought deeply about how much he'd missed, all the while never comprehending how much he was currently missing by sitting in the dark like an emo-kid and contemplating how his dad never hugged him enough.  Frankly, I'd choose zombies over that any day, but to each his own, right?

And while we're on the subject, do you really think that by writing horror you could just "get published quick?"  Really?  Again, go for it.  I've got rejections upon rejections to throw your way.  See how easy you think it is to "just get published quick" when your work is shot down by fifty or so publishers.  Not so easy, is it?  Nope.  We have just as hard a time, if not harder, than the so-called "literary" types because we can't rely on academic presses and because there are many more of us than of you.  So to get published, we have to be at the top of our game and turn in the best piece of fiction we can in hopes that someone will like our work.  I think we actually have it harder than you.

I think the point I'm trying to make is this:  Horror isn't bad.  In fact, none of the genres should be considered "bad" or "lowbrow" or "unworthy to be printed on paper because only the ignorant masses care for that kind of thing and I'd rather spend five-frickin'-years working on a single manuscript, secure in the knowledge that no one will ever print it because it's too high a concept for their tiny brains to handle" or any other such thing.  Good writing is good writing.  Bad writing is bad writing.  That's the bottom line.  If you can't string together two sentences, chances are you need to either re-evaluate your career choice, or you need to suck up your pride and work on it.  But to say you're not an artist, or a real author, or any of a thousand other derogatory things because you write genre fiction is insulting, small-minded, and ridiculous.

So remember that.  Everyone deserves to be respected.  Every genre deserves its own little pile of respect.  Because if it were that easy to write what we do, you would be writing it too.  Admit it.

Oh yeah... And Buy My Books!


  1. Preach it, mah brother!

    Writing well is *hard*, regardless of whether it's genre or literary. If there's anything in publishing that can be done "quick" it's getting rejected -- *not* getting published.

  2. Oh, I'm sooo with you on this one. I love when I tell people what I do and they get that thoughtful look and say "Yeah, I've had this idea for a book for a long time now... I should go ahead and write it."

    Go ahead. Just go ahead and try. Get back to me in a couple of months... actually, I'll give you a YEAR... and let me know how that goes. Kthxbye.

  3. Crap, I think *my* novel is basically about some Emo Kid sitting in the dark thinking about how his parents didn't love him enough. And I thought I was being original.

  4. I understand...

    In my case, I experienced bad vibes from my fellow graduate students for daring to say out loud that I was a Christian... and worse yet... a conservative... just do what you do... and be true to yourself...

  5. Yeah I most certainly understand rejection. I myself have written a couple of novels that have never made it to print, but that shouldn't distract your effort. You do it for the love of the story, the creativity that you can sit back and say wow that came from me. But in the same sense this isn't the old days, you can do very well with out a publisher, especially when everything is going digital.

  6. Lovin every minute of it, Scott. I'm aspiring to do what you do, and that (in and of itself) is a horror story in its own right. Writing well, in whatever mode, method or madness one chooses, is not an easy task. Bravo for your fortitude, for pressing on, and for taking those of us under your wing that want to learn. The students you mentor should know that the cuts, slashes and blatant blood letting you dish out are "tough love" meant to give them eternal life in the long run. In which case, you should consider it a high complement if a student takes time to say "Bite Me." They, and I include myself in that group, mean it.

  7. I’ve suggested Stephen King’s "Memoirs of the Craft" (auggh, can't underline) to my students who dream of being writers. He used to put his rejection slips on a railroad spike - when he filled one, he started another. When people, especially other teachers, find out I'm getting my master's in Creative Writing their first response is typically encouraging. When they find out my genre, it's typically...not. I often get that look that suggests there's something just a little "wrong" with me (especially from my Nazarene mother). But you know what? I can't remember squat about Faulkner's Compson family - and Henry James' "Turn of the Screw" put me to sleep. However, even though it's been years since I read it, I can still feel pain over King's Bill, Bev, Eddie, Richie, Ben, Mike and Stan. Those people lived (and, in some instances, died), and I felt the loss. Still do. Richard Matheson's Robert Neville was NOT Will Smith; and the tragic realization of himself as the 'other' broke my heart. The only people who could believe that writing successful horror is easy, are those that have never tried it.

  8. Great post, Scott.

    Ironically, horror is harder to sell than most stuff, so anyone selling horror gets the double pat on the back. The real point, of course, is to burn elitism to the ground. The idea of one genre -- even if that genre declares itself "non-genre" -- looking down on another is ridiculous. JACK makes a great point above...

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