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The Future of Horror and the Next 'Steven' King

The Future of Horror and the Next 'Steven' King

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What's the future of the horror genre? Is any writer worthy of King's crown? More articles at http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com
What's the future of the horror genre? Is any writer worthy of King's crown? More articles at http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com

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Published by: author Scott Nicholson on Apr 29, 2010
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The Future of Horror and the Next 'Steven' KingBy Scott Nicholsonwww.hauntedcomputer.com(Scott Nicholson is the author of nine novels, including DRUMMER BOY, THE REDCHURCH, and THE SKULL RING. Other articles and excerpts can be found atwww.hauntedcomputer.com)Several years ago, on one of the horror genre message boards, a new writer thunderedin like a rhinoceros in an ossuary and proclaimed himself “the future of horror.”He was met with incredulity, then amusement, but the tone quickly changed when Mr.Future refused to back down. He was finally driven away by other posters on the boardwhen taunts turned hostile. Chickens in a roost will sometimes peck the head of a newlyintroduced chicken until it learns its place in the pecking order. If the chicken is arrogantor just plain too dumb to learn a lesson, it might literally be hen-pecked to death. In thiscase, the new writer left the board not with a sense of introspection and humility, butwith resentment because his genius had not been immediately worshiped.I don’t believe this writer has ever published anything of note. He certainly hasn’tbecome the future of horror, because, as far as I can see, the future hasn’t arrived yet.It’s telling that I can’t even remember his name. For those who believe that gettingpeople to talk about you is the key to publicity, here’s evidence to the contrary.In stolen moments at work when I browse the Internet, I’ve stumbled across writers whocall themselves “the next Steven King.” And, yes, more than once I’ve seen King’s firstname misspelled, which is all the proof I need that the aspiring writer in question has notseen the name enough to memorize it. It’s hard enough to be taken seriously whenyou’re working hard, submitting stories, and slowly building a reputation. There arethose who just want to be a “personality” and not a writer, and they dress to somebizarre funereal ideal and wander the halls at conventions. One or two idiots muddy thewaters for everyone, because the genre pool is small and shallow. Outsiders might onlyglance at the pool once in a while. Just as people really do judge a book by its cover,they might judge the entire horror genre by their first encounter with one of itspractitioners.Stephen King, an extraordinary average guy, is linked with scary stuff in the public’smind. Most horror writers love being compared to King, and invariably a great number ofthem are, particularly at the beginning of their careers. The sane ones know the praiseis merely the kind words of friends and well-meaning reviewers. Others perhaps takethe praise to heart and begin to believe their own press releases and message-boardproclamations. They suffer visions of King-like popularity and pout when they don’tshow up on the bestseller lists.
 
Sorry, it doesn’t happen that way. Once in a while some New York publishing houseannounces a new book by an author deemed to be an heir to the King’s throne. Severalof these have come and gone between King’s well-publicized but never-seriousretirements. King is committed to writing like Michael Jordan is committed to basketball,though hopefully King won’t be reduced to hawking underwear on television. StephenKing will never be replaced simply because he is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon born oftalent, will, and circumstance. There is no formula for genius and no guarantee thatgenius always gets its due.The future of horror has little to do with the next Stephen King, anyway. King’s bookswill stay in print at least through the rest of our lifetimes, so we don’t need an imitator. Icould make an argument that King has already been replaced by Dan Brown, a modernphenomenon himself whose rise was due as much to a cunning marketing campaign asto storytelling ability. I could also make an argument that the future of horror will noteven be found in literature but in video games and movies. King’s initial splash came ata time when mass market paperbacks were exploding as an entertainment choice andKing’s books could be found in every grocery store, drug mart, and airport sundry shopin the country. Take away the Internet and it is now harder than ever to find King’sbooks, even while his influence on popular culture expands daily.Though a number of new horror writers are emerging (you’ll recognize them by thecover blurbs comparing them to King), and King's own son Joe Hill has a legitimateclaim to the throne, they’re not the sole hope of the genre. Particularly since some of thebest voices in modern horror are female. And, besides Shakespeare, Shirley Jackson isprobably the greatest horror writer ever. Being compared to King is still a treat but itdoesn’t mean readers will care.I own a decade-old anthology billed as a collection of the “new voices” of horror. Thereare only a few whose names I recognize and none are being published on any sort ofsteady professional basis. In fact, I saw one recently billed as—you guessed it—a “hotnew writer.” So we can’t count on the rookies to carry the entire load, though certainly afew of the new wave will build admirable careers. They won’t be alone. Prominentmainstream writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, Sharyn McCrumb, Stewart O’Nan, andGreg Iles are not afraid to dip their quills into the supernatural. Old masters like PeterStraub, Bentley Little, and Douglas Clegg seem to reach ever-greater heights, so thedeath knell for horror is a long way from sounding.The future of horror, as I see it, is in the writers who continue to push the boundaries.Not just the tedious boundaries of some abstract “extreme” where the writer vomits upviscera and body parts; that has never been what ordinary readers wanted, though theywill accept and embrace it if it’s an essential part of a well-told tale. Not the boundariesof hype, where it seems some new and demeaning form of promotion springs forth

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