Can you smell that? That fetid odour of decay seeping into your nostrils, coating your tongue? That’s the death of horror. And our career. Seeing as they’re linked, it’s only fitting they die together.
We used to blog regularly – once a week at least – but lately months will pass without a blog post. There are no excuses, we just have nothing to say. We’re finding it hard to keep motivated when we’re failing at the only job we love. Writing advice often tells you to enter competitions because they’re a great way to teach you to work to deadlines, they help get you noticed by agents and publishers, and they can be a great boost to your career and bank balance. But that’s if you win. We’ve been shortlisted and longlisted in various competitions and has it boosted our career at all? Has it fuck. Things is, many competitions are expensive – novel ones are easily £20 per entry. Short story ones range from £5 upwards. Poetry ones usually start at £3. Over a year, it mounts up. For this tax year, we’ve spent £285 on competition entries. One win would make that worthwhile, but when that win never comes, all you’ve done is spent money with nothing to show for it.
So we decided to change tactics and spend the next couple of months submitting to magazines instead. You don’t pay to submit and some even pay to publish your work. We’re now avoiding the ones that don’t pay. Publication is brilliant but we can’t pay vet bills with a PDF copy of a magazine. Can you imagine calling in a plumber and telling them you’re not going to pay them, but the work will be great publicity for them? You’d be left with a blocked toilet. Yet people think it’s ok to do this in the creative industry. But that’s a rant we’ll save for another post. In order to try to reduce our vast amount of rejections, we’ve been buying the latest issues of the magazines we want to submit to, to see if our style of work is suitable. And it’s left us feeling despondent and questioning why we’re bothering to write anymore. Because we’re reading these horror/dark fantasy magazines and asking:
Where is the horror?
Horror is about producing emotions – fear, unease, anticipation, an unsettling feeling that something is going to happen. Yet we’re reading these stories and the only thing we’re feeling is bored. And pissed off that we’ve spent money on this tripe. There is no horror. One story had a smidgen of horror in the final few pages, after making us wait 7000 words to get to it. By which point, we didn’t care. We’ve also noticed that some stories are told in a really detached way, so if there is any horror, this way of narrating lessens the impact of it, and makes us not care about the characters. Oh no, something may have possible happened to X, but it’s not explained and the story goes on and…nobody cares. There seems to be this new breed of ‘literary horror’ that just isn’t horror at all. (Don’t get us started on literary work. There is no good reason to leave out speech marks just to make your work ‘experimental’. Why not go really experimental and leave out the words?) It’s like arty films. All pretty cinematography and bugger all happening. This is what literary horror is. All purple prose, characters as two dimensional as a Justin Bieber cut out and about as scary as a blade of a grass in a leafy meadow.
Horror doesn’t have to be about blood and gore. That’s one sub genre of it, mostly in the slasher/spatter sub genres. There are other sub genres, such as: body horror, zombie, psychological, crypto/nature, paranormal, supernatural, gothic, etc. There are sub genres within sub genres and genre cross overs, such as sci-fi horror, (the best example being Aliens) action horror, horror comedy (Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Friggin’ genius). But their main aim is to scare or unsettle you. If they don’t, they have failed.
And yet we’re reading these magazines and wondering when did it become ok to leave horror out of horror fiction? We are rapidly running out of markets that we think would be a good fit for our work. Sadly, we’re spending money to find this out but at least our rejections will be reduced and the magazines are tax deductible. In one magazine’s guidelines it says ‘sci fi, fantasy and horror with a literary slant but if you write what is considered classic in these genres, it’s not for us.’ So do they want sci fi that has no science? Fantasy that is realistic? Horror that isn’t scary? It seems we don’t write what these magazines publish. Maybe we need to rename what we write as ‘the genre formally known as horror.’ We’re from the old school of horror – Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz before he found God. The classic films – Nightmare on Elm Street, Fiday the 13th, Snowbeast, Candyman. But magazines don’t want this. They call themselves horror magazines but don’t actually publish any horror. It would be like us setting ourselves up as window cleaners and refusing to actually clean any windows. Remember that song by Buggles? Video killed the Radio Star? Well Literary killed the Horror Genre. Sing it. The words fit.
So if competitions pick literary stories as winners and genre magazines chose literary over genre, where does that leave genre writers? How are we supposed to get published? The main piece of writing advice given is ‘write what you love’ but if nothing is publishing what you love, what are you supposed to do? Self-publishing doesn’t guarantee you’ll find readers or success, but that may be the only option left. One way of getting readers would also be to graffiti your work on random walls and buildings, but the council frown upon this form of creative expression. So if you see any form of spray painting horror writing on the streets of Cardiff, it wasn’t us.
Horror does have to evolve to stay alive, (not with sparkly vampires please, you’ve ruined it enough) but not to the point where you take the main ingredient – the emotions of fear or unease – out of it. It would be like romance stories where no-one falls in love, crime where no crime is committed, or comedies where no-one dies. No, wait, that’s horror comedy. Horror films are sticking to the right ingredient, even if it is all just remakes for profit, but at least it’s still horror. (Are you listening, Hollywood? Fucking stop it. Start paying attention to Indie films – they have imagination). Horror is finding a resurgence in TV series based on classic horror films: The Exorcist, Wolf Creek, Ash Vs The Evil Dead, Scream. And other series – American Horror Story being the most well known. However in the writing world, it’s getting harder to find horror fiction that actually contains an element of horror.
Horror isn’t dead – especially in the indie film scene – it’s like Michael Myres or Jason Voorhees. It can’t be killed. But maybe it’s waiting at the bottom of the lake, biding its time for unsuspecting campers to revive it from its watery grave. *Does stretches* Fancy a swim?