Heh. Just kidding. I’m not going to talk about the state of the horror genre. Too many people have already done that, and many of them are far more qualified than me. But there is a question that has been plaguing my mind since I read Brian Keene’s thoughts on this subject. Before continuing, you should read it if you haven’t yet. Here’s the link. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Ready? Okay. Are we all in agreement that it is important to know the history of one’s chosen genre? (And it’s okay if you don’t want to be identified as a horror writer. As far as myself, I write whatever the fuck shows up in my head, be it horror, SF, mystery, or something completely unclassifiable. Anything except romance, although I have kind of an idea for a gothic romance novel. Regardless, I generally consider myself a horror writer. It’s where my heart is. It’s what I like the most. But I’m not married to it.)
Can we also agree that every writer has influences? Because let’s face it, even those cave artists Keene mentions found their inspiration in something else. I wear my influences on my sleeve. Stephen King, obviously, as well as Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Richard Matheson, and a number of others. Richard Laymon’s been lurking around in my head of late, too. As far as my non-fiction goes, it’s pretty clear that I follow the same path Harlan Ellison, Thomas F. Monteleone, and Keene himself have blazed. If you want, go down to the comments below and throw on a bunch of your influences. I’ll bet that every one of us will know every writer on that list. (Because I tend to keep the company of intelligent people.)
Now, here’s the question I have, the question that started this whole column. Those horror writers who don’t know their genre history, who don’t know who Robert Bloch is and why he’s significant, WHO THE FUCK ARE THEY READING?! They have to be inspired by someone, right? And they want to be horror writers, so chances are good the authors they’re familiar with are also horror writers. I’ll grant that no matter how bad at genre history they are, they’ve probably read King, Lovecraft, and Poe at the very least. But horror’s a big fuckin’ genre, man. They’ve got to be reading something else. And do not argue with me on this: all writers have to be readers. If they’re not readers, then what’s the point? Why do they want to be writers? Why do they want to produce something they would never use themselves? It makes no sense.
So who are they reading? To quote Jello Biafra, “I’m not telling you, I’m asking you.” Any ideas? Or is it possible that these guys are just kids? That they haven’t wandered too far in their reading? Let’s face it, that could be anyone posting on Shocklines. Maybe they’re not even old enough to shave yet.
But that’s not really an excuse. When I was in high school, I knew who the fuck Robert Bloch was. I knew why Ramsey Campbell was significant. I knew how important John Farris was to my own development as a writer. Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, I really didn’t care much for them, but I respected their relevance.
A while ago, Monteleone wrote in one of his MAFIA columns about the time he met Mickey Spillane. This was around when Spillane died. It impressed me so much that I wrote to Monteleone to express how jealous I was of him. He wrote back saying that he had hope for the new generation if young guys like me know who someone like Spillane is.
Go back over Keene’s speech again. Think back on all the authors he mentioned. I feel it is important for all of you to know who each and every one of them is. (Hell, it’s a challenge even for me; there were two names I didn’t recognize, but I assure you that I will become knowledgeable about them in the near future.) If you miss a few, don’t worry. No one is perfect. But do your homework. The fate of the genre—or any genre—depends on it.