A Few Thoughts On Being A Genre Fan II or The Horror Fan’s Lament

A few days ago I promised a sequel to my genre fan rant. Yeah, I know I said it would be up sooner than it was. If you are at all familiar with this website you should be familiar with the delays that tend to creep up.

Well loyal reader, wait no more! Draw forth and I will spew more ranting upon thee.

Some of the negative aspects of being a genre fiction fan I discussed in the previous
blog apply to being a fan of horror, only more so. If you run into anti Sci-Fi snobbery, you are likely to be called a geek2 or some such thing. There is also a mind set which thinks that science fiction is written for adolescents. Granted, there is a history of sci-fi and fantasy series aimed at young adults (back before Young Adults was its own literary designation in the book shops). This doesn’t mean that every science fiction or fantasy book is written for young adults.

To go off on a tangent for a moment
3, I think we may have moved beyond the place where an adult reading YA is an issue. I think that pretty much ended with Harry Potter. I would be interested to see how much YA is being read by adults as opposed to people in its target audience. One of the benefits of Ms Rowling’s legacy is that people realized that just because a book is written for children, it does not mean that it is poorly written.4

Um, where was I? Oh yeah. People looking down on readers. There is a special kind of reaction that only horror fans get from people who do not understand the genre. Outwardly they say “Oh, so you like that?” while their faces say “Oh, I didn’t know you were an axe murdering, baby raping, Satanic psychopath.”

If you think that is fun, you should see the look you get when you tell someone that you
write horror fiction.

Part of this reaction comes from the assumptions that people make about the genre. There are people who have never read a horror novel who will tell you how much they hate it because they don’t like
Halloween or Friday the 13th. As an ambassador of the genre, I try to enlighten these poor, misguided individuals. Sometimes I’m able to convince them that there is more to the genre than just deep breathing, mask wearing, sharp object wielding killers. In fact, that makes up a very small percentage of the genre. Yes, there is a certain amount of splatter to be found, but that is only one small portion of a very deep genre. If you don’t like the gore, how about psychological horror where the scares arise from the internal working of the character? Perhaps supernatural horror where the fear is caused by something beyond the ken of most people? There is an excellent description of some of the sub-genres here but that is far from exclusive.

There seems to be a natural desire to attempt to identify things by placing them in categories. For each larger category, there are inevitably numerous subcategories. When explaining the sub-genres of Horror, I compare them to Mystery (which people seem more comfortable with than talking about other Speculative Fiction genres). I am a big fan of mysteries as well. I love the psychological thriller, the hard-boiled detective, and the police procedural. I am not a big fan of the tea and crumpets cozies. Now would it make sense to say I don’t like Mystery because I don’t care books for books where the crime is solved by a blue haired old woman in between feeding her cats and her knitting group? Of course not.

There is another small but absurd group who snub horror because they feel that it does not correctly portray vampires. You know the ones I mean. They are the ones that I talked about in this
post. I, for the most part, have a live and let live stance when it comes to vampires. I am on record as not being a fan of the Twilight series, but this has nothing to do with the misappropriation of the blood drinking undead. A quick glance at the history of the vampire in literature will reveal that ever since Bram Stoker the vampire has been an expression of repressed lust and carnal desire. The reasons I don’t like the Twilight books is that they are poorly written, the characters are one dimensional, and the dialogue is horrible.5

Having said that, I was going to link to a different website listing sub-genres of horror until I saw this:
Special note: due to its increasing variety, the 'Vampire' sub-genre is now in the Fantasy category. What kind of bullshit is this? They are removing the undead from horror because a lot of people are writing about it? Changing perceptions, twisting tropes, and reinventing how people see things is a staple of all speculative fiction. Shuffling the vampire out of Horror and into Fantasy because the monster is no longer (or at least not necessarily) the villain seems ridiculous. Yes, there are a number of vampire stories which have more in common with romance novels than with the traditional horror novel, but this means that they should be a special category within horror. Pulling them not only redefines how one looks at vampires, it has to make Fantasy purists a little pissed too.6

This reaction causes more problems than it fixes. I will admit, I would much rather see
Twilight in someone else’s section than among my beloved horror books. If we define Urban Fantasy as those books in which supernatural elements interact with the “normal world” than it makes a little more sense. However, this is a slippery slope. On some level, most horror deals with everyday people dealing with something outside their realm of experience, albeit usually in a negative way. More specifically, what do you do with the true vampires? Do we make an exception for books in which the vampire is the antagonist like King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Nicholson’s They Hunger, and Wilson’s Midnight Mass? Those are definitely horror novels. OK, so all vampires except these?

What do we make of novels in which vampires are both the protagonist and antagonist? Where do we shelve Anne Rice’s
Interview With The Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. What of Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake who starts out as a vampire hunter but over the course of the series becomes much closer to the undead?7

There is always a problem when it comes to shelving genre and non-genre books. King’s
Eye of the Dragon is usually found with his other books, occasionally so are Danse Macabre and On Writing (both non-ficiton). Some chain book stores (for example all of the Barnes and Nobles in my area) solve this problem by eliminating the Horror section all together. This is a HUGE problem for horror fans for a number of reasons. The most obvious of these is that it makes it pretty damn difficult to walk into a bookstore and browse just those books I might be interested in reading. Without a specific Horror section, horror fans have to guess where their favorite authors may be -- Sci-Fi/Fantasy? Fiction?

This, of course, is predicated on the assumption that you are looking for a specific title or for something by a specific author. What if you are just browsing for something new to read? This is one of my favorite past times. When Borders was open I would pull out a number of likely candidates and sequester myself at the Cafe while pursuing snippets of each book. I found more cool new authors that way. That option just got a lot harder and not for the reason that you are thinking of.

Yes, it is a pain to have to shuffle through the entire Fiction section looking for something of a supernatural flavor. That’s the beauty of having a genre section to peruse. What makes the search even more daunting is that there is a distinct possibility that the new books you are looking for might not be in the Fiction section because they never got ordered at all.

The simple truth of the matter is that if you have a section your bookstore, you have to fill it. When I used to work in a bookstore
8 there was a formula for figuring out shelf space based on the percentage of sales multiplied by something else blah blah blah I honestly don’t remember. The fun part of being in charge of a specific section was that there were certain books that had to be there (perennial sellers), new books by established author who got a certain amount of shelf space, and the rest you got to fill yourself with back titles by established authors and new material from new authors. There were always new authors looking for shelf space.

Just as there are now. However, the fight for the shelf space just got a lot harder for the horror author. Now our brilliant young writers are not only vying for space among other horror authors, they are also fighting the entire Fiction section. I admit to no hard data on this, but given a choice between a backlist title by an established mainstream author and taking a chance on a genre author no one has heard of...

What is a Horror fan to do?

That’s where the internet and specialty stores come in. Rather than going spelunking in the cave of the chain store which may or may not be fruitful, horror fans trot off to stores which specialize in horror novels (if they are lucky enough to have one in the area). They stock up at conventions. They check out the wares of specialty presses and connect with other fans on-line.

All of this is very good for the horror community. It is good for the horror authors whose material can be found this way.

It’s not so good for the chain stores.

1 OK, even I thought that sounded a little gross. Sorry.

2 Which has become a badge of honor among geeks. Sorry, we claim the word as ours. It’s not longer an insult.

3 Because
that never happens.

4 As opposed to those books which are written for adults which seem to have been written by a three year old gibbon that was dropped on its head
50 Shades of Grey

5 I am not opposed to books with supernatural creatures as love interests either. I am a fan of Anne Rice and Laurell K Hamilton. I got addicted to Kim Harrison last year.

6 Here, we don’t know what to do with this so we’re gonna jam it in your shelves.

7 To put it lightly.

8 A Waldenbooks, so you know how long ago that was.