Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Does Horror Exist In Literature Anymore?

When I was a little girl my mother used to take me to a second hand book store in the small Texas town where we lived.  It was in an area of the dying downtown where the sun always seemed to be blasting down on us as we hurried up the sidewalk and into the cool gloom of the store filled with shelves upon shelves of books.

My mother was a voracious reader and was always picking up huge stacks of books to read.  Other than the library, the cluttered second-hand bookstore was to place to find something to read during the warm muggy Texas nights.  As my mother slowly moved through the stacks, I would follow her admiring the covers.  I couldn't read at the time, so I was very small.  I would pull a book out, look at the cover wondering what the picture meant, then shove it right back onto the shelf.  I was pretty well-behaved so my mom didn't really worry about me.  During one visit, I wandered around a corner and found myself staring at a book that had been turned so the cover was facing outward.  I stared at the man with the blood dripping from long teeth clad in a tuxedo, dramatically throwing out his cape to show the red lining in absolute terror.  I had never seen anything like this before.  I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I was scared, but intrigued.  My mom called to me and I rushed away wondering about that mysterious book.

On return trips I discovered that all the books in that section were filled with bizarre covers of monsters and creatures like I had never seen before.  I knew my mom wouldn't approve (how do we always know that?), and tried to look at the covers on the sly.  I'm fairly sure quite a few of them gave me some terrible nightmares.

Of course, at such a young age I never dreamed I would one day be writing about monsters.

I love monsters. I love tales of horror.  I love the things that go bump in the night and the mysteries that surround them.  I am both intrigued and terrified of monsters.  I love a good monster movie (though I don't like slasher films), and always enjoy it when they manage to actually scare me.  A good horror tale is a treasure in my eyes.

Is it any surprise that I write horror?

What's that?  Oh, yeah. I consider myself a horror writer.  You didn't know that?  You classify my novels as post-apocalyptic, or supernatural suspense, or paranormal romance (I don't get this one at all), or urban fantasy. Honestly, that doesn't surprise me.

While in Barnes & Noble during one of my book signings, my husband and friends searched high and low for a horror section hoping to see my book on the shelf.  At the information desk they were told zombies were in science fiction/fantasy.  So my husband and friends searched there to no avail.  At last they found THE FIRST DAYS tucked into general fiction.

"Why would anyone look for a zombie book in general fiction?" my husband wondered.  He even asked the store manager.

Apparently, the lines of genre have blurred so much that even Stephen King, the master of horror, is in general fiction.

Horror has been re-branded  and shuffled off to a variety of corners in different bookstores.  They end up shelved in thriller, science fiction, fantasy, and general fiction.  There is rarely a horror section in bookstores.

I'm not sure why this happened.  Some of the big names in publishing are those of horror writers, or at least people who write about monsters.  Stephen King, Ann Rice, Dean Koontz, and even Stephanie Meyers all write about things that go bump in the night.  But somehow the horror tag has been dismissed, even among readers.

PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES received a pretty favorable review a while back, but was slammed for having a "horror" cover, while the reviewer considered it urban fantasy.  This same cover drew in a YA reader who was upset to find a "horror" novel inside.

I consider the novel firmly in the "horror" genre.  It has brutal killings, disgusting zombies, bloody feasts, and themes of a horrific nature running through it.  Yes, there are some moments of humor and a dash of romance, but the overall plot line is that of a young woman facing down a fearsome vampire/necromancer who can raise armies of the dead.    Yet, the tag urban fantasy gets attached to it over and over again.

Many urban fantasy novels geared toward adults are told via a first-person narrative, and often feature mythological beings, paranormal romance, and various female protagonists who are involved in law enforcement or vigilantism. --wikipedia
PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES is in third person, does feature mythological beings, and has elements of romance, but Amaliya is definitely not in law enforcement or a vigilante.  She just wants to save her ass from the bad guy.

THE TALE OF THE VAMPIRE BRIDE, which I consider gothic horror in the vein (hehehe) of DRACULA and CARMILLA, gets tagged paranormal romance.  This always stuns me.  The book is very bloody and filled with not so nice scenes.  Glynis suffers horribly at the hands of her creator and the whole plot is about her trying to escape his brutality.  There is an element of romance, but its not her abusive creator she falls for, but another person altogether.  I have always understood a romance novel to be primarily about the romance, the plot being secondary.  In THE VAMPIRE BRIDE series, the focus of the story is Glynis and her desire to be free of the constraints of her new nature and her creator.

AS THE WORLD DIES (THE FIRST DAYS, FIGHTING TO SURVIVE, SIEGE) have been tagged as Urban Fantasy, Post Apocalyptic Fiction, and sometimes, yes, Horror (yay!).  But more often than not it is tagged as Zombie Fiction, or Apocalyptic Fiction.

As people categorize my novels in their minds, bookshelves, and reading lists, I have to wonder am I the only one classifying myself as a horror writer?  Is horror in literature now something to be avoided and reclassified as something else? Is it wrong to want to wear the "horror" label with pride and avoid the nicer, friendlier ones?

This is my conundrum.

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