"My work may be garbage but it's good garbage." Mickey Spillane
I promised a rant about writing, but instead of dealing with my original topic, an interesting exchange going on at Spinetinglers has inspired me to talk again about literary ghettos. That topic that gets me banned from messageboards.
The term ‘ghetto fiction’ or ‘literary ghetto’ was originally applied to science fiction in the early 1960s and extended to include fantasy. It has since been extended again to include horror.
What defines a literary ghetto is small advances or no advances, little or no promotion and a high turn over so that the books that do make it to the shelves in bookstores never stay there long.
I have worked in bookstores. The space on the racks and shelves is limited. Except for the larger names in genre, most of the books are removed from the shelves after a week to make space for more books that have come in within those genres.
They also tend to end up in the bargain book bins.
This currently happens to horror far more often than it does sf/f. The reason is that the audience is smaller.
And the audience appears to be shrinking.
Small press publications and ‘underground’ publications are part of that ghetto.
There is more small press horror than other genres and often the writing is not as good or solid as we see in fantasy or sf. It is far too limited. This results from the fact that so much of it has become a booga-booga scary face at the window ritual dance.
Instead of seeing the full possibilities of the darkness of the human soul that characterized classic horror, what we are seeing is a shrinking pond devoted and obsessed by a need to “deliver the scares.”
For sf, the ghetto was a place hidden from the mainstream eye that allowed for extensive experimentation. It provided them a shelter where they could test and try things that the larger readership of novels was not prepared at the time to deal with.
Horror is currently very deep in the ghetto. However, instead of seizing upon its shelter as a place to test and try new things, it has become a stick in the mud. It just sits there.
The possibilities to experiement in that shelter away from the larger eyes that would love to put cages around any genre that violates its sensibilities are ignored. The possibilities are unexplored. The opportunities to be fully awake and aware and put reality under a metaphorical microscope are not fully taken advantage of.
Compare, for instance, the opening scenes in the average fantasy novel and the average horror novel. The technical skill of the fantasy novel will go way beyond the technical skill of the horror author.
This is something that does not have to be.
If the technical and stylistic quality was raised and given a dash of daring, horror would re-invent itself and become a force to be reckoned with in the halls of genre fiction.
But I am seeing very few authors do that. In short fiction, I believe that Jack Kincaid is a master. I also think that Mary Sangiovanni is a fabulous stylist. In novels, I think that Jonathan Maberry and Mark Rainey are ground breaking. They have the technical and stylistic skill to do amazing things. They also have sound characterization and are unafraid to delve deeply into the psyches of their characters. But where are the rest of the ones who break new ground?
Good horror is not scary, it is disturbing. It digs into our shadowed corners and follows us around, echoing through our minds as we go about our everyday tasks. You can’t stop thinking about it long after you’ve read it. Scares are cheap. Things that disturb us to our very roots are the diamonds in an otherwise forgettable collection of rhinestones.