by Catt Dahman
I am all over the horror writing scene as a writer, an editor, opinion-giver, and more. I watch trends and try to predict them, but at no time have there ever been so many variables. Some may feel we are zombie/vamp swamped, but while those are still favorite topics, there are more sub-genres than ever before. It reminds me of the 60s-70s influx of new horror.
There is some badly written material, I agree, but there is just as much badly written horror from those who are with huge presses as those who self-publish. I don’t see the difference, except for the ones who are getting paid enormous sums for shlock. I also don’t want to talk about the B-horror/ commercial writing (that many of us have done to support the other writing we wish to do). It has a place if we trust in Sharknado 2 (it is entertaining and I still indulge), but I want to talk about the rest.
I had to get the rest off my plate to get here, to the trends I am seeing in horror that are interesting. One is the splatter-punk/ splatter-gore/ extreme horror genre. I like it. I describe it in a book’s forward as not shooting tequila, but snorting it. Occasionally, it’s fun to read those types. I prefer them, actually. Why? Again, some are bad, some are B-list, and so on, but I like those that are spot-on, well written, and brutal. They get a bad reputation because they often contain explicit sex (and sex is so bad, right?), and because they have gore, and because of the unconventional, profane themes.
That is the real kicker. The other elements, we can set aside, and maybe complain about, but the themes are what bother us. Extreme horror magnifies the themes. I love the subtlety of The Lottery or in Frankenstein; I get the social and personal over tones, but sometimes… There are times I want to snort the tequila.
Some of the extreme horror stories I have read recently are raunchy, profane, and rough. They are also very honest, and they hit some disturbing themes harder than the more subtle pieces can. One, recently, blew me away. Pubienne Tueur de Cheveux by Scott Pratt has given me nightmares. It reads as a piece that contains sex, language, and a mature theme. It seems just a simple, extreme piece, and all would be fine if that were the end. Instead, it bothered me deeply as a social piece of writing. Within, hidden very well, are some ideas that are disturbing.
Pratt discusses a woman’s place, treatment of sexual abuse victims, legal politics, sexual preferences, and the difference in power/strength/bitchery that some face. The story may be wrapped in a nice package of sexual overtones, gore, and offensive (but honest and real) action, but the real horror is within the very theme.
I am fascinated with these types of stories. How clever is it that the writers hide deep commentary within the fancy gift-wrapping? The stories are so honest and they cut so deeply, that they simply must be hidden within a special means of dispersal. What else but the horror genre can cover the deeper meanings? To me, that is a new trend of horror that I am in love with. I am enjoying reading the stories, but have mixed feelings.
Several other presses have rejected these that I have been pouring over. Why? Oh, the themes mainly, of course, because they are shocking. If the acquisitions editor who read them was not a deep-thinker, then the stories were tossed back for the content (sex, gore, language). I get amused. I get scared. That is, I get amused and scared when I read the stories and when I consider the fact that I am going to release them.
I am a writer of commercial horror (read B-shlock), thrillers, zombies, and some more classic type, literary horror. I have one or two extreme books as well. Of 35+ books, I have found the shlock and the extreme sell the best. That was kind of what got me here, to being the editor who might release stories that no other press will touch. Why do those of mine sell the best? What is the trend?
In my commercial works and in the extreme, I am free to be as honest and brutal as I please. I can hit home the ideas we don’t want to always think about: abuse, intolerance, bad parenting, and my favorite: bad family traditions. I get to say what I feel, but wrap it up in a pretty package of gore and violence, and hide my social commentary. I hide the honesty within the sex. I put the real fear behind the shadows of some foul language. In this way, I can deliver my story, nicely tucked into something that seems like fun, but is in no way light. Does this make sense? I hide the real fear and horror behind a story of pretend horror that is overdone and extreme. And guess what? It sells and people love those pieces the most.
Some don’t get it. A few rant and rave and call me on the fake horror. That makes me laugh. They don’t get it. A few do get it, and they love what I have said. They are also scared by both the real and the fake. That’s when I have hit it out of the ole ball park, when I get them and then they get the message behind the horror.
I get it. I really get it. So when I read one of these schlocky, profane, or bizarre stories, I know what the author is truly saying. I get the real message of sheer terror that is hidden in gossamer layers and tied with silken bows. Those stories really scare me. They really are, at times, like snorting tequila. They hurt.
I like the trend, but not everyone does or will. It’s way too much for some. The smart readers sometimes don’t see that the stories are written for them. It’s a sub-genre that kicks those that it is aimed at, but isn’t that the idea? Kick and hit? Gut-punch and eviscerate?
Horror will always be fun and have the B-list, commercial fun stuff. It will always deliver the books that are excellent, classic and literary, but there is room for a new sub-genre. There is a place for the intelligently profane. It may take a while to be recognized for brilliancy, but it’s strong in a (fitting, very apt) hidden subculture of writers and readers. It’s the Jimi Hendrix, the Kurt Cobain, Elvis, Jim Morrison and the Janis Joplin of the literary world. They were once considered “dangerous to the youth” and only admired by a few. Today, they are viewed as revolutionary. Motown was once thought to be a bad influence. None of those musical giants harmed music, they changed it for the better.
I feel the intellectual profane horror will do the same. It will take a while, but in time, names we may not know now ( Goforth, Misura, Fisher, Johnson, Woods, Pratt, and more) will be whispered about. They will be called revolutionary or so emulated that they may be forgotten, but I am thrilled to say I was there. No, I didn’t get to see Hendrix play live at Woodstock, but I am getting to see a few as they begin the revolution, and to me, brother, that is big time.
Horror is a’changin'
And the best part, is, I get it. And I am there this time.