The Writer

SPEAKING OF HORROR

I started writing seriously, with an aim toward making it my career, almost 40 years ago. I explored several genres – science fiction, fantasy, literary, mystery, and horror – before eventually focusing on the latter. It was inevitable, I suppose. Horror was my first love, after all, and I’d been obsessed with monsters and all things dark and wonderful since childhood. In my late 20s, during the first tentative days of social media, I started to make connections with other horror writers, and I quickly learned that the adage “pay it forward” wasn’t simply a saying in the horror community – it was one of its bedrock principles. But despite being the beneficiary of experienced writers’ advice, I still found there was a lot I didn’t know and had to discover the hard way. So, in the horror community’s tradition of paying forward, and with the aim of decreasing your learning curve, I’d like to talk about some things I’d wished I’d known when I was starting out as a fledgling horror writer.

Don’t be afraid to write horror.

I was reluctant to commit to writing horror when I started out, especially after the collapse of the ’80s horror boom. (More on this later.) Science fiction and fantasy seemed like more respectable genres and certainly more marketable at that time. I played around with horror short stories now and then, submitted them to small-press magazines, and even had a few accepted. But I didn’t even contemplate trying my hand at a horror novel. Who would publish it? What agent would bother to take a look at it? But horror was where my heart was, and even as I worked on other kinds of novels, I kept returning to the genre I loved. I published more stories and began to get some positive feedback from readers, and this finally encouraged me to at last say to hell with the market and write what I felt called to write. My first horror novel was called The Harmony Society, which came out from a small-press publisher in 2003, and I haven’t looked back since.

I made the mistake of listening to all the advice I heard against writing horror. I read many articles about how horror was dead as a market, and I once had a pitch meeting with a small-press horror publisher at a World Horror Convention, who began by telling me that “Horror

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