Let’s talk about a unique, but often ignored, sub-genre of fiction: American Horror.
It might be argued that American Horror begins with Ye Olde Master, Edgar Allan Poe, himself who wrote some of it and lived too much of it. Whatever the beginnings (which you can argue about in your next term paper), American Horror is distinguished by certain definitively American, rather than universal, themes, by a decided vigorousness of constantly evolving language in even the most cerebral of stories, and by tropes thought of as quintessentially American. It’s not wrong to say that American horror can be recognized as much for what it is not / does not as for what is.
The worldly Middle European count with a long history and longer fangs and the quaint ghost of the manor house are not likely to be found in an American story, which more probably will be peopled with inbred, chainsaw swinging morons. There will be that “rose for Aramantha” on that silken pillow in our Southern Gothic crumbling mansion, next to Aramantha’s fetid corpse, but the cursed vase, necklace, rabbit’s foot will find its natural habitat in the haunted museum in Liverpool.
In the first decade of this century, new American voices in horror were heard and the older guard undertook horrifying (literary) experiments (many of them successful) to grow the horror genre. There were horrors in convenience stores and condominiums, monsters bred of steroid use and crack cocaine, and of course, there was 9/11, when horror invaded the security of the mundane and changed everything and every American.
Perhaps citing examples of American Horror scribes and their not so American counterparts might help to define the category, and thus, not implying anything about quality …
American Horror: Stephen King, Weston Ochse, Joe R. Lansdale, Jeff Jacobson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz. Not American Horror (notice, I did not say “Unamerican”): Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell, usually, Anne Rice.
Sometimes American Horror: Wayne Allen Sallee, Tina Jens, David Niall Wilson, Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson.
See, it’s not just about setting, it’s about sensibility. It’s not what is filled in on “Country of Origin” on your official papers, it’s about your “World Perception.” It’s not subject matter alone that differentiates painters Gustave Caillebotte from Frederic Remington, nor the folk themes employed by composer Modest Mussorgsky (Russian, in case you couldn’t figure it out) from those of Red, White, and Blue Aaron Copeland. It’s an approach which can be contemplative but still has a degree of cowboy consciousness, it’s a fierce independence in tone and style which might well be seen as the prime motivation for both Daniel Boone and Chuck Palahniuk, or Teddy Roosevelt and Jackson Pollock.
American Horror: Well, like that All American Supreme Court of the Nixon Era (Yes, an American horror and tragedy his own se’f) rendering its ruling on pornography … “Heh, can’t quite define it, but I know it when I see it.”
So do you, right?
And don’t you think there ought to be a book of quintessentially American Horror stories?
So does Wicker Park Press.
I am therefore pleased to announce—
A CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
If you have been reading this column for a while, you might recall my saying I had a couple of projects in the works. Here’s one of ‘em:
I am reading for ALL AMERICAN HORROR OF THE 21ST CENTURY: The First Decade. This will be an anthology of reprint stories published between October of 1999 and December of 2010. The tentative release date is spring of 2011.
Payment will be on a par with the reprint fees paid by most of the “Best of” anthologies and will be an advance against a pro rata share of royalties. I am particularly eager to see stories under 5,000 words which have been published in venues which I might not have come across; this could include college literary magazines, pro and semi-pro genre magazines, and websites …
Confession: Although I recognize some webzines do publish quality, I don’t spend days reading fiction on the internet; it’s this thing about my eyes going granulated.
And proclamation: Those who know me are already aware that I strive for quality in my own writing and admire the achievement thereof in the work of others. That means if a horror story is the literary equivalent of Ipecac and might well act in the same emetic way, it probably ain’t for me.
The book’s publisher, Wicker Park Press was established in 2002. Titles include Becky Thatcher’s AMAZON GIRL’S HANDBOOK; Leigh Hunt’s THE REBELLION OF THE BEASTS; Gene Logsdon’s THE LORDS OF FOLLY, and, forthcoming, CAVAFY’S STONE AND OTHER VILLAGE TALES, by National Book Award nominee Harry Mark Petrakis. Wicker Park Press is headed by Eric Lincoln Miller, a veteran “book guy” and the current president of the National Association of Independent Publishers Representatives.
For more information about submissions or anything else, please write to me at:
Looking forward to seeing great stuff.