It's been a long time. Since I last wrote, I have moved with my family back home in Texas, lost pets, etc. J Ellington Ashton Press keeps e busy as does the renovations to our new home! Paint, boxes, flooring...ugh! But we are happy.
Being There: A Commentary on Extreme Horror
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.
The waters of the world erase all but the mountaintops; within hours, few are left alive. The Trident, a hotel resort styled to look like a cruise ship, sits at the top of the Ouachita Mountains and may be one of the last dry places left on earth. Survivors discover that besides having no hope of rescue, they must face growing desperation and violence as supplies begin to dwindle. Different groups struggle to take control while right and wrong become blurred. A doctor, a undisciplined Marine, a divorced police officer, a little girl, a blue-haired pole dancer, and a Heavy-Metal playing bartender are among the few who will try to stay alive, unsure of what the future holds. Religious fiends, cannibals, and newly formed gangs fight back, but the seas are not finished dealing misery as legends and heroes wage war.
The Trident is the ultimate battle between good and evil as sorrow, hope, and dreams take unfathomable directions. While there appears to be no real future, many are not giving up. They’ll fight Poseidon himself to control the hotel and escape.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Great Post-Apocalyptic Novel
By xxxx on February 14, 2016
I have been a huge fan of Melanie (Catt) Dahman's works since reading her page-turning thrillers "When We Were 8" and "Circle Jerk" in one sitting each. As great as those two masterpieces of psychological terror are, she might have outdone them with "The Trident". The same high level of suspense is there; the same development of intriguing, complex, sympathetic characters, the same proficiency at tight, imaginative plotting. However, "The Trident" offers a much broader canvas and wider imaginative sweep for her authorial skills.
"The Trident" is a post-apocalyptic novel in which a flood of biblical proportions covers the earth including most of the mountaintop resort known as The Trident up to the seventh floor. Perhaps two thousand survivors are trapped in the top several floors above the high water level. As might be expected, a chaos of deteriorating hygienic conditions, good and evil factions battling for power and control of the provisions, and general moral and ethical decline in the residents ensue. Add to that the rise of a schizophrenic self-proclaimed profit and his murderous devotees, and you have the ingredients for a page-turning thriller.
The descriptions of the differing floors of the resort - each with their unique micro-societies - are so descriptive and sensual, that the reader gets to know them by their sights and sounds and smells and differing hostility levels. As a reader, I almost came to feel that I lived there. I found myself charting out areas where it was safe and not safe to venture, and quite often pleading with the viewpoint characters to turn around and go back before something evil and nightmarish happens to them. Too often, they didn't listen to me!
Author Melanie Dahman's great strength of placing a diverse group of characters in high stress situations resulting in interactions and reactions that are perfectly consistent with what we would expect of each character is fully at work in The Trident. The characters are typically complex and intriguing, the tension is high and the suspense continually mounts, there is a coherent and compelling story line, there are many powerful and moving scenes - several of which left me with tears in my eyes. This is a rich, deep, fully engaging work of the imagination.
Especially exceptional are the succession of dilemmas, challenges and catastrophes that successively test the ethics and moral fiber of the protagonists. The degenerating hygienic situation in the huge flooded hotel spirals downward at the same rate as the ethics practiced by the residents erodes. There are many powerful scenes that stick with me - they've burrowed their way into my psyche and I remember them with the same level of intensity as when I first read them. A good apocalyptic novel provides potent social commentary, and The Trident delivers in this respect as well. As time marches on and conditions deteriorate, it becomes harder to distinguish the actions of the right-minded protagonists who have seized power from the actions of the self-serving, and in some cases outright evil, factions who are striving to wrest the power away. When the protagonists realize this, they begin to question their own motives and suffer their own ethical dilemmas. In this respect, think of The Trident as an expanded version of The Lord of the Flies. The Lord of the Flies on steroids!
There are many wonderful, memorable characters in this book. If I would comment on them individually I would double the size of this review. Suffice it to say that The Trident is an amazing, rich, albeit rather bleak, experience, as the best of the post apocalyptic novels are supposed to be. I consider The Trident to be one of the very best post apocalyptic novels that I've read in years. And that is saying something, because there have been plenty of good ones published in this timeframe. Highly recommended!
I feel inspired by my friend Myke Ondek today. In my position, sometimes I have to keep my mouth closed when I wish i could say what I think. So today I will say what is on my mind. My friend Susan Simone sings the prettiest opera and I am envious of her talent but no matter how I try, I can't do the same. I accept that and enjoy that she can. I envy that David Dahman can be furiously polite in the most dire situations; I am not. I am green that Toneye Eyenot andJim Goforth are metal gods and hey....I am never going to be! I appreciate the gifts other people have but know they are not my gifts. That said....how the blue hell is it that we all say "anyone can write....just do it" as if there is not training and talent involved? (Yes, some stinkers make us wonder if people do love bad writing). While I encourage those with talent to write, I can also say that some people need to let go of that dream in the same way I have let go that I can ever sing opera (or play piano, or play pro sports or be a dancer). Writing takes training, a special skill set, HARD work, and yeah...talent. Just for today, I am tired of telling people that "anyone can write" (well). Let's allow some to have their talent and stop belittling what some of us work long hours to perfect. And no...Mom and aunt Sally and your best friend are not the ones who are being honest...I am this one time. Find your own place and allow a few to have this. (Weird but true...the 5 mentioned here ALSO are excellent writers....who would have thought?) And let the flack fall; I was honest for today.
4 releases this year. A coming-of-age, vicious murder story; a Gothic psychological thriller with an Aztec flavor; a modern take on monsters seeped in Greek mythology; dinosaurs in the Bermuda Triangle. Ages (of characters) for all 4 run from 5 to 85. Horror of the mind to brutal murder to monsters to extinct monsters. Nods to Richard Laymon, VC Andrews, HP Lovecraft. Arkansas to the oceans of The Triangle. Mythology, legends, traditions.
I am so varied with these that it's hard to kind a commonality but for the theme of horror. Fear. Bloodshed. If I had to say I explored any one theme, seriously, in all 4, it would be: relationships.
Anyway, today I am only musing over how I genre-jump within horror. For the next half of the year?
* cannibals and rednecks
* an apoc-style thriller
* a collab with a friend that is part apoc/part cannibal/part far worse
* a Virgil McLendon thriller
This must be the year I jump all over the place!
I am not inclined to explain cause/effect because I assume most understand the fundamentals. Background: in the old days, writers were published by big presses and received juicy advances, and anthologies were filled with big names. The readers got 4-5 good horror novels a year. It was a fancy world. Today: advances are tiny or not given; there are small, medium, and large presses, vanity presses, and self-publishing. Thousands of new authors emerge each year for a piece of a smaller pie, and we have hundreds of new horror novels a year. Anthologies are often filled with new authors. Compare the two. Once there was high quality, supply was low, and the demand was high. Today, there is a range of quality, supply is enormous, and demand is fickle.
Still with me? Presses aren’t paying because they may not have a best-seller and because they have a huge pool of players who don’t require an advance. The surge of horror writers (horror is my example, but this may apply to all genres) is like a tidal wave. Being a great writer may be unimportant as we face those writers with a giant social media, commercial works, and just plain luck. Being great is obsolete.
There is a huge debate over pay vs. FTL (For The Love) anthologies. In theory, the anthology is probably not going to make any press rich. Used properly, an anthology is a PR tool to introduce new authors, get them a fat resume (for acceptance to paying markets), establish names (brands), and (gasp!) to entertain readers and cause the readers to want more from said authors. Some writers refuse to submit to any place but a paying market.
An established writer can do well with waiting for the paying markets. New writers? Not so much. To refuse a possible print is in essence, refusing to publish without the big advance; they’d rather wait for the pay. “But, catt, shouldn’t writers get paid?” Why yes, they should, but my Darlings, this is a sign of the times, a cause/effect, and a game changer. Things have changed. It was fine long ago to get paid and have a single story released each year because if you were one of only 25 well known horror writers, you could demand a lot. It was glorious!
Today, each anthology you miss is one less chance to be seen in a wave of thousands of writers who are all swimming frantically upstream. The writing game is a crap shoot at best if you wait to get what you’re worth, but guess what? There are at least a dozen others who write as well as you do and want your spot. The competition is brutal now.
I feel that FTL anthologies build my resume and brand me. They get my name seen, and maybe a few readers will go buy my novel. Short stories are my PR and nothing more. I know this and am working within new parameters. Those who write only shorts will suffer more keenly, and I understand that. But the irritating phrase, “it is what it is” fits here. This is simply the way things are now. Times changed. You hate it? Want to rage? Go ahead, but spit in one hand and wish in the other, right?
Gone is the time when YOU were special and iconic (and were paid). There is a large pool of writers who can take your place. Want to blame someone? Blame the new writers or Amazon or the evolution of publishing. It changes nothing. Being rude and nasty to the writers who are taking advantage of shorts as PR gets other writers nothing but a few less sales for a bad attitude.
Instead of bashing FTL writers and then throwing them away, work on yourself, and then you won’t have to denigrate others. Write better pieces, submit more often, be gracious, and be kind so that readers want to be your fans. Leave the FTL writers alone because they are NOT turnip-truck riding people who “give away their work”. They are savvy planners who are using every single chance they get to be in print as a marketing strategy, and they have long term goals. Stop assuming they (I, we) are fools for not wanting to be paid the .01 a word because selling one story and being seen once a year in print can’t compete with the writer who is showing off in twelve anthologies a year! Whose name do you think readers will notice or even remember? Readers don’t know (or care that) your story was worth a whopping $25 as opposed to being “worth nothing”. Don’t assume you are any better because you cashed that little check; some writers are far better than you’ll ever be. That’s just how it is. Harsh words, huh? I am saying what many are thinking and are afraid to state.
Times have changed. Hate the self-publishers, the small presses, the vanity presses, the medium presses, or the retired/disabled/second-job/mom/young/old/female/new writers that are fighting for your spot. Competition sucks, huh? Get used to it because it’s here to stay. Maybe you are in the wrong game, after all.
Fight the new system, evolve, or give up. I don’t care. I’m just the messenger.
Catt Dahman lives in Texas with her Husband, son, 4 cats (Ollie, T.S. Eliot, and Procol, and a dog named Levi. Catt writes horror, thrillers, spooky stories, and westerns.