Guest Post By Kurt Newton

Literary Horror and Other Unnecessary Labels
By Kurt Newton

Whoever said horror fiction had to be crude? Whoever said you can’t have horror without art? Somebody must have said it because it’s all I see when I read blogs discussing the current state of the horror genre. You’d think there are only two types of practitioners vying for supremacy in the horror world. In this corner…with their wine and cheese meet and greets and their intellectual discussions…the highly educated, the well-read…the Highbrows! And in this corner…with their blood and guts and their sexual excesses and their aversion to multisyllabic words…the self-professed, the self-published…the Lowbrows! The Highbrows shout: “You’re ruining the genre!” The Lowbrows growl: “Shut your piehole you uppity-assed dick-twittlers!” The Highbrows glower condescendingly with eyebrow raised (as only a Highbrow can do). The Lowbrows hawk and spit and flip them the finger.

I mean, come on. Literary Horror? We actually need a label now to define what’s been around in popular fiction since Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein first bowed in 1818? From Edgar Allan Poe to Hans Christian Anderson to Bram Stoker to H.P. Lovercraft to Ray Bradbury to Richard Matheson to Shirley Jackson to Ira Levin to Stephen King to Clive Barker to Phil Intheblank …we’ve been blessed with literary horror and now suddenly we need to distinguish between what’s literate and what’s not? Shouldn’t that be the job of the reader? When a reader picks up a book (either physically or virtually), won’t a quick skim of the inside cover or the first paragraph of the first page of the first chapter be enough to tell them what they’re in for? If not, then shame on the them.

The Highbrows want to “save the genre”. Save it from what exactly? The inevitable revolution taking place in the publishing industry? The fact that more and more readers are getting their fixes online? The fact that twenty years ago desktop publishing opened up reading, writing, publishing and art to a segment of the population that would otherwise not have had the means or the access? The Greeks believed certain knowledge should be accessible only to those intelligent enough to understand it. Could the Greeks also have been uppity-assed dick-twittlers? And how much does monetary compensation play a roll in determining what is good and what is not in the eyes of the elite? (That’s a whole other essay.) Could it be the Highbrows are nervous they’ll one day find themselves on the same tiny island with Lulu-published Neanderthals? Does the genre really need saving? Or is it simply in transition? Once the dust settles won’t the fight really be about the words and not each other? Won’t it be about producing the best example of what you’re rallying for, instead of wasting time and energy on what you’re rallying against?

A hundred years from now there will be a revised list of horror writers who made a difference, and it will include those who let their work do the talking, not just their mouths. The size and shape of their brows will be merely a footnote.


Hey, Mercedes here.  I simply adore this man. Keep up on his work by following him here. You’ll be glad that you did.

0 Comments on “Guest Post By Kurt Newton”

  1. The “democratization” of anything (re: “The Highbrows want to ‘save the genre’…”) scares those with power/control. More access means more competition means…oh shite!, the establishment might have to work harder.

    Nice perspective.

  2. I read a trilogy recently from a horror author, and I loved the first book. It was excellent. As the series went on, the author felt the need to up the gore factor and while his writing remained good, I was turned off by the increase in gratuitous blood and guts. It didn’t add anything to the story, only distracted from it.

    His first book outside of that series started out weakly and then limped into a huge gory description of something that didn’t help the plot or characters develop. I stopped a couple of chapters in. Its too bad, because that first book, was really good and showed exactly what the writer could do with their skills.

  3. Too many authors feel there’s no room for other authors. Those highbrow turds fear anyone coming their way. They fear the competition, as Aaron mentioned, while perched at the top of mediocrity, throwing boulders.

    It’s unfortunate they don’t realize most other writers won’t even get close to them based on their own inabilities; and those writers that can get there, will likely be smart enough to go higher.

  4. Couldn’t the same thing be said for any genre fiction, really? But you’re right, good sir–the work should do the talking.
    Nicely said. *hawk* *spit*

  5. Great post great point. The need to label groups and designate which is better/cooler is so extremely junior high. Insecurity in kids is understandable, but in grown-ups it’s just sad.

    Dick-twittler is going to be my word of the day.

  6. Actually, I can find a number of great horror writers that have great talents (although, their books are more difficult to come by as they happen to be published in lower numbers). So, no. I’d say the genre itself isn’t in need of saving. What needs saving is the marketing of such books.

    Whereas Stephanie Meyer gets all the attention she gets, people like Reggie Oliver and Quentin S. Crisp are generally unknown. That is where the sacrilege lies.

  7. Thanks guys! And thank you Mercedes for letting me rant. (The next challenge will be mine!)

    Aaron — The Internet/technology has and will be the great equalizer. The genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting her back in!

    Matt — The need to package everything as part of a series is (with few exceptions) all about marketing and nothing more. The sad fact is it’s much easier to get a book deal nowadays if you can pitch a series. What sucks is usually after that first book is just becomes an exercise in keeping the story going.

    Shiney — U.A.D.T. Like ICP or STP. The t-shirts alone will be worth the price of the show!

    Ken — Unfortunately the general populace has been bred to crave mediocrity, the familiar, the warm and fuzzy. “Come to Momma and suck on my bland-tasting tete!” Well, I say decapitate the tete! Clip the nip!

    Simon — Yeah, it can apply to any genre. Compared to music, the publishing industry is so far behind the times it’s not even funny.

    Katey — I’ve heard there is a forum within this very genre (frequented by some surprisingly well-known names) dedicated to bashing other folks within the genre. Playground stuff indeed. Reeks of insecurity.

    Shad — Agreed, my essay is a somewhat idealistic view. Like that saying: “The cream rises to the top.” I realize that’s not necessarily true. I know of a lot of great writers who are toiling in relative obscurity — Lucius Shepard, Gary Braunbeck, Christopher Conlon, Paul Tremblay, to name a few — who, for whatever reason, just haven’t been able to break through to a larger audience. It’s kind of sad to hear an adolescent girl say the only book she’s ever read is Twilight, or some adolescent boy say, “Transformers: The Novel was awesome!” I think parents need to get back to shutting the TV off and closing the laptop and just spend some quality time reading to their children. I think we’re a couple generations lost now and it’s going to take some doing getting it back.

  8. Pingback: I be highbrow horror, it’s true. « The Little Sleep’s Blog

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