FULL BLEED: MY OWN POCKET UNIVERSE AND THE FREEDOM THAT COMES FROM BEING LOCKED IN THERE
Yeah, that's a mouthful.
So, once upon a time, in the years between people learning how to log in to their AOL accounts and before Facebook belched itself upon the shores of the Internet, at least widely. There was a place called Delphi Forums. I think it even exists now. You could chat with like-minded folks, and it was easy to create your own forum and keep things manageable, as opposed to large message boards where things could get out of hand pretty quickly. Or social media now where people are going out of their way to get things to go out of hand. Yeah.
Anyways, you got an avatar and a screen name and could type out text and I think even include very limited graphics, but this was back when lots of folks were still on dialup so it wasn't happening as often as you'd like. They formed weird little communities that were not unlike those that coalesced out of comments sections on blogs around the same time (before blogs got run out of town on a rail in the face of social media.)
One of the several Delphi fora that I joined was started mostly as a social thing, and it was inhabited by lots of folks who I still chat with to this day. Same with the Standard Attrition message boards, where I met friends who I yes, talk to regularly even if I've never met them in person and the likelihood of that is pretty slim but who knows. One of the many discussions I got involved in came up around mapping the borders of genres, particularly science fiction and horror.
I know. There's better uses of your time. But it seemed like a good idea back then. And maybe it was, as I came to the conclusion that ultimately, horror as a genre was all about an emotional destination more than anything else. Sure, some of it was fantastic with demons and ancient gods, but some of it was straight psychological horror or maybe even weirder spaces between where things just went Wrong. So, horror is the destination. It's an effect. For instance, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD has a sort of surface science-fiction macguffin, a satellite falling back to earth waking up the dead. But it's not a science fiction story past that. It's horror. I've also since learned that these arguments are silly. I know. I'm slow.
What does this have to do with the price of squid fresh from R'lyeh? Not too much, though I suppose you could make the argument that HPL was writing science fiction that led to dreadful places. I know. Does it ultimately matter? Nah. HPL carved out his own fictional niche, or he inspired others to carve it out for them and declare that they were in the same territory, that dark cave-fungus-lit and dripping gallery of cosmic dread. As if we could pin everything he wrote to one genre or mode.
But it did get me thinking about the fiction I wrote and where it gets placed, where it belongs, if indeed it is said to belong anywhere. For instance, I wrote a comic called STRANGEWAYS, and if you're not familiar with it, you can see some samples on this site. It, on the surface, was a western with werewolves (and then subsequently vampires) in it. Which made it a weird western, only that's a terrible marketing category, particularly for comics. So it needed a new label. Really it's a fantasy that faults on the dark side of things, what with the werewolves and all. But that's a mouthful. So it got called a horror comic. Something that I wasn't entirely comfortable with, but it needed a category so that people would know where to look for it, or at least stuff like it.
Now, is either MURDER MOON or THE THIRSTY actually horror? I dunno. There's horrible monsters in it. There's people doing horrible (whether by design or inadvertently) things to other people in it. I don't feel that either of them really has that horror note of finality and upset. But... werewolves and vampires and blood and mood, beautiful spooky atmosphere. Horror.
Yes, ultimately it doesn't matter. It's all about a fictional experience. It's fundamentally not real. Yet, people get very upset about defining these experiences and marking which is what. These folks do sometimes get upset and angry online about THIS THING WASN'T LIKE I WAS LED TO BELIEVE. I know. It's silly. Oh, and then there's panel discussions about which is what genre and what isn't. I suppose that's fun to pass the time, but also pretty easy to decontextualize and make a mess of things.
But then of course, I started writing fiction. Fiction requires a genre designation, unless it's literature or literary fiction which is an assessment of perceived quality as much as anything (so is *ahem* "elevated horror"). It's okay to discuss these books because they're literature or literary as opposed to these which aren't (no matter how well they're written.) Needless to say, it's a tough thing to wrangle with. Your book's gotta be filed somewhere, right? Amazon demands it. So does your local bookstore.
So, horror, fiction leaning towards an effect. That being dread, upset, fear, upset, isolation, smallness in the face of an uncaring infinity. You know. The usual. And while I aim for moments of that in HAZELAND, since that's the stuff I'm mostly writing now aside from some short stories which might be an ill-advised side thing, I'm not going for that as the big overall mood or effect (short-term or other -- Cure fans unite!). Horrible things happen. Vastness opens up. Cause and synchrony might be messed around with. And hopefully you're concerned with what happens to the characters, maybe you get some fear from that or no, or from the implications of the things happening to them. But fear isn't the sole name of the game for me.
I've talked about this in a couple other essays I wrote a couple years back, which you can look at afterwards, but am steering back towards these guideposts in the fog. Particularly after grappling with what I can and can't do and maybe I can't do straight horror, dig? Maybe I'm doomed to doing dark fantasy with weird and horrible pieces or stuff that only stings if you stop to think about it for awhile. This is not to say that I'm great and other writers aren't. Please. They can do what they can do and I can do what I can do. Doesn't diminish either. But you can be sure it makes me feel weird about things.
Oh yeah, fantasy. Yeah, that's a tough word to say because most people think when you talk about fantasy, you're all GAME OF THRONES or LORD OF THE RINGS and not INVISIBLE CITIES or FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM or THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (not that my work belongs in the shadows of any of those.) Makes me wish I was trying to sell into (my understanding of) the Spanish-language markets of Mexico and South America, where folks just look at fantastic fiction as a whole big sea to pick out things from, not worrying about the impermeable borders of sci-fi versus fantasy versus horror (much less the increasingly fine designations of sub-genres and constructions expected in these.) There's fiction were fantastic and unreal things happen and then there's other fiction (let's not argue magical realism because yeah that's a deep rabbit warren to start tunneling through.)
But, y'know, Bradbury wrote fantasy half the time. There's worse company to be in, I suppose. Not that I belong there, either. Seriously, just read "The Fog Horn" a little while back and it made my prose feel pretty weak. (But it isn't. It's just mine.)
Still, I feel like I should be trying harder to do the horror thing. To be more identifiably horror, terror, dread, etc. If nothing else so that maybe one day I could land an agent who opens doors for me, yeah? That's what I'm supposed to do, or so I've been told. And that's just me internalizing expectations. Expectations that my horror fiction should be darker and bloodier and more desolate. That it should be more horrible, in short.
Then my back gets up.
Mostly it does when I get told what and how to write. I suppose this is one of those times. And maybe it'll continue to be. What if I want to write Carcosa but Wonderful? Maybe I already am. Maybe I'll continue to.
It's funny. I listen a lot to the TALKING SCARED PODCAST, even though I don't necessarily agree with all of it. It's been informative and makes me wish that I had more time and money to read all these books that are coming out and it never stops, so many books. The host, Neil McRobert, asks a series of four questions every episode. And (spoiler) alert, the last of them is "What truly scares you?" Sometimes it's things that get written about in the fiction of the author being interviewed. Sometime it's "everything" or a very specific phobia. We're all different.
This diversion happened just to say that I don't really write what I'm scared about in HAZELAND. I do write what I'm fascinated by, though. That happens a lot. And maybe they're not scary books at all. Maybe they're not even horror. Maybe they don't get to build a following, particularly from folks who just want it dark. 'Cause I can't do that convincingly. Weird, sure. Off-key, you bet. Preoccupied with language and imaginary constructs and maybe even how far characters will go to succeed or triumph, always. But oblivion and doom and hopelessness? I guess I'm just not tough enough. 'Cause worlds ruled by those? Yeah, upsetting, I suppose. More accurately, limited and limiting.
I know, it's the journey and not the destination and all that. It's the experience.
I dunno. I expected to be more fire-breathing with this, and I suppose the simple fact is that I'm just exhausted by the gatekeeping and definitions, this materialist response to fiction as if debate "solves" books once and for all. As if the discourse itself is an elevated result of mere narrative fiction. I mean, all anyone ever wants out of their fiction is to have it assimilated into the critical discourse and canon, this kind of shoggoth katamari, Carpenter-THING sort of agglomeration where fiction is only useful as raw material. It's not that I reject that. It's that it doesn't matter so much to me, beyond it being like a panel discussion, an interesting diversion from time to time. I guess this is why I didn't go any further in academia than a B.A. in English, huh?
I can't tell other people what to write. I can only write what I'm gonna write. And it lives in this sort of weird interstitial, a cysted-off miniature ecosystem inside a larger body (or bodies) of genre between fantasy, horror, crime, mystery, poetry. I can fight for it. I can come not with peace but a sword. I can try to put something more aside from a beautiful experience of dread into things. There can be more. Even if it doesn't get past the walls of this particular and personal cell. I'll be over here writing stuff that I feel compelled to call horror because it is a great collection of fiction, even if I'm sure belonging is something I'm manufacturing on my own.
Here's the additional reading I mentioned. If you like. Even if not, it's still there.
Thanks to all you who boosted the postings regarding BLACK TRACE. It'll be available at $2.99 until at least Halloween, so hurry if you want a bargain.