Horror fans, be it books or films, are some of the most difficult people to please. Most “non-horror” folks rely on misconceived perceptions of the genre to shelve it under, “I don’t like all that blood and guts stuff.” Which is what horror is and which, of course, is what horror is not. The challenge with the genre is that it encompasses far more than any other type of writing. Yes maybe monsters…or psychos…or ghosts…or maybe just the surreal or the slightly crazy or just the troubled. Which is why I believe it is better served if we just relabel it “dark fiction.” The genre is, after all, the study of the darker side of our world.
The length and depth of the possible things that fit under the heading of Horror is why its fans are so hard to please. Each fan has their own particular sub-genre in mind when they define “good” horror. This alleged “blood and guts” art attracts some of the smartest and most introspective fans of any fiction. They are open to an exploration of fear, but the cost for the creator is very high expectations of content. Unfortunately, this often lends itself to an insistence that dark fiction writers cease and desist with certain story lines. In no other genre will you experience as many proclamations to stop. “Stop writing vampire stories,” “no more zombie books,” and “enough with the psychos!” Horror fans want more, they want new, they want different. To which I very politely answer…eat me!
I don’t rebel against that desire because I don’t agree with the sentiment. It takes a lot to frighten me and I expect horror creators to do a good job at it. I just disagree that any subject, regardless of the number of times it has received treatment should be “off limits” to book or film. Here’s why. I have in my book case Dracula, Salem’s Lot, 13 Bullets, I Am Legend, and The Stake. They are all vampire stories and I love them all. I also have The Cell, The Stand, Monster Island, The Rising, and Ex-Heroes. They are all zombie books and I love them all. In the future I will read more zombie books and more vampire books and of course many other “horror” novels. I’ll write a few myself. The same will apply to the movies I watch and the ones I will hope they will make.
As a horror fan I believe it to be very fair to ask for something new and different. It’s what sets horror fans apart from fans of other genres. Dark fiction fans demand greater creativity than other readers and viewers. The proof? Do people demand that Grisham stops writing “court room” dramas? Or that James Patterson writes something other than “detective stories?” Go into B&N or look on Amazon. Exactly how many “Police-Detective” stories qualifies as “enough?” How many more James Bond/Government Conspiracy plots do we need? When does Clive Cussler stop giving us the “invincible” hero? Here’s something new, man meets woman, they fall in love, but they cannot be together because somebody dies/somebody is married. It can go on and on in every genre, be it space ships, wizards or chick books.
I’m not trashing these genres, hell I read all of Tami Haog’s stuff because I liked the two characters that appeared as different names in each of her twelve books. My point is that dark fiction is made up of its own story lines – about ten – and that these are the core of the genre ( and most can be traced back to the 1800’s). Dark fiction creators need not be apologetic of their craft. That the masses don’t embrace it the way they embrace spy stories and romance dramas is not because it is necessarily sub par writing, in fact it may be the opposite. Poll the folks who “don’t read that stuff” and see if they’ve read Faulkner, or Hemingway, or Henry James or any of the other classics. I would bet the answer is usually “no.” But most of all “don’t stop writing that stuff!” Give me the next best vampire novel, or zombie apocalypse or psycho or scary clown or monster. Those are the things that live in “our” world and the things we love to be afraid of, so stand your ground and make it count.
I’m not suggesting to throw the same plot line at me…a person is murdered, a conflicted detective must solve the case, but there are behind the scenes elements at work against him/her (oh wait that’s not horror)…what I’m stating is that which we horror fans already know…what makes dark fiction great isn’t the monsters. It’s the opportunity to see our character in action in the most extreme and life threatening situations. It’s where the unimaginable becomes a reality and only the smartest stands a chance at survival. It’s a place where the stakes and the sacrifices are real. Dark fiction is where we stop apologizing for being human and start celebrating the strength and courage of our humanity.
That’s why we love horror, because it is in the darkest places that we can most clearly explore ourselves. So don’t give up our favorite monsters. Just take us deeper into the darkness with characters that we trust to guide us.