Literary killed the horror genre

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?

17 Comments

  1. I have been dabbling in horror on my own site recently. Something I wanted to write for ages. Given I write flash fiction, but man do I find it hard to write horror. Everything else seems easier. Maybe that’s a problem Writing stuff other than horror is easier?

    Hope you guys stick at it.

    • Thanks. We’ve grown up writing horror – started when we were 10! To us, it’s easy and we find other genres hard. It’s kinda soul destroying to see a genre you’ve grown up, completely obliterated.

  2. May I ask what magazines you’re reading and where you are looking for submission calls?

    • The ones we’ve been reading at the moment are Black Static, Apex, Shimmer, Gamut, which had absolutely zero horror in them, despite claiming to be horror magazines. We’ve also read Deadlights and Dark Moon Digest, which actually have horror in them. We find them through Writing Magazine mostly.

      • Top notch stuff: I believe these magazines are considered to be the cream of Speculative fiction. For submission calls, you may want to try http://www.darkmarkets.com/ and http://horrortree.com/. There’s also a Facebook group that’s worth a peek (if you can’t find it hook up with my FB page and I’ll send you the link.) Do not give up.

      • Thank you, we appreciate it! 🙂 We shall definitely check those out.

  3. Very heartfelt piece of writing. You put your point across very eloquently. You write extremely well. You are not sales people. You don’t ram your books down people’s throats. People buy your books because they have read them before and liked them. Don’t stop believing in yourselves.

    • It’s hard when the genre you love and grew up writing, is completely destroyed in favour of ‘literary’. We’re not the only ones who have noticed this trend. Horror is a genre. It should be genre writing.

  4. I wouldn’t mind the massive output of ‘literary’ fiction if the books and stories being produced were half decent. But they’re not. Many have little or no plot, feature gratuitous sex and violence and have never been within SIGHT of a proofreader or editor. It’s why I keep my writing and editing for my leisure time and have a dayjob to pay the bills. Writing is fun, but it’s more fun when the bills are taken care of elsewhere. Don’t give up. Many books now regarded as classics were rejected dozens of times before one publisher took the chance. You only need one.

    • thanks 🙂 we agree. A lot of the stuff we’ve read seems to have no plot and the characterization is poor. Most of the time, it’s told in a really detached way that keeps you at a distance from the story so we end up not caring about the characters.

  5. Like you guys, I grew up with King, Barker, Bentley Little and Dean Koontz. Just like the horror movies back in those days, horror writing has changed dramatically. Most “successful” horror movies these days are nothing more than dark scenes, tight shots and one “jump scare” after another with little or no mind paid to actual storytelling. The dark, stormy night novels of our youth are gone…for now. Who knows? Maybe like these once popular Rock acts from the 70’s and 80’s finding recent, new followings and success, Horror (traditional) may see its seat back at the head of the table once again. My horror has evolved (?) from monsters and gore to take on more of a thriller/suspense feel with supernatural threads woven within. Keep fighting the good fight, and as George Romero famously says, “Stay Scared”.

    • You are absolutely right. It’s a shame to see horror go down a route that completely removes the horror from the storytelling! But we shall indeed keep fighting the good fight!

  6. I agree. Horror can be so much more than blood/gore. Sad thing is, it seems to be struggling economically compared to some of the other genres. I think it has just as much potential as the scifi genre, if not more.

    • we agree! There is so much that can be done with horror but the genre doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

      • Yeah. It’s a real shame. Horror really shines when an author pays more attention to atmosphere/psychology, rather than the gore/violence it is commonly associated with. The latter also brings down its reputation, imo.

  7. Some interesting stuff here. Not a whole lot of horror stuff scares me these days, and this may be hitting on why. A lot of modern horror is too clean, sanitized, and aesthetic to be scary.

    • We totally agree with you. Very little scares us too. We’re seeing the same ideas rehashed. The 70s/80s era of horror really was the best. This is the era we aspire to. Suppose because it’s what we grew up watching. Too much modern horror relies on jump scares and when you’re an avid horror fan, you can see them coming. One of our favourite films as kids was Snowbeast. Our childhood was spent trying to pause the VHS on the split second you see the monster’s face. That one moment defined the film but now, the monsters seem to on show from the start and it loses the fear, the impact. The fear is in the unknown, where the imagination takes over.


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