Literary horror. If you google it, you will find dozens of attempts at definition and some pretty shocking answers. It certainly surprised me what people say is literary and what is not. Still, one might as well ask what is “literary” music and what isn’t.
Amazon recently listed Gary Braunbeck as a literary horror writer. Professor Braunbeck must be delighted to know this, as roughly a decade or so ago he was trying to place reads in anthologies, and working to get indie contracts. Kudos, Mr. Braunbeck !
One online publisher thought that as long as stories were not slasher and hard-core, and the writing was literate and beautiful, then it was literary horror. Well remember that Dracula took years to catch on, Poe struggled, and Lovecraft was ignored by critics. It was August Derleth who published young Ramsey Campbell, and Playboy took in an odd fellow named Stephen King.
Again, I think music is a good analogy. There are people who used to scavenge dust bins for small run blues records and swear it was the best. They probably were. They were raw, original, and creative artistic expressions. Indie horror is like that.
E Hoffmann Price and Lovecraft used to get into verbal battles. Lovecraft said the true artist was the amateur artist, while Price blurted back that professionals are always the best in every field. Would you want an amateur doctor or architect? Lovecraft shot back that professional can also mean pandering to get a buck, compromise, and churning out hack pablum to the hoi poloi. While they were on opposite ends of this spectrum, each had a point, and each missed the point.
A “professional writer” is tried by a certain kind of fire, but they have to have a training ground to try new things. If they have talent, they soon discover that they are in harmony with their generation, or they hit a special note of resonance, but they may as quickly fade. Once they make a mark, only time will tell if they were “good” and literary. The very best of Poe, Bierce, and Lovecraft eventually made the cut after a century or more of reflection. It was pretty touch and go in their lifetime though.
One of the pleasures of collecting independent horror writers is getting that new vintage of horror, to taste the sweet nectar of fear in a way that was never thought of before. It challenges one palate of tastes. Can you stomach Ed Lee, or chill through Ray Garton? Will you devour a Jack Ketchum book, or will it devour you?
Literary? It has so many meanings to so many people. It’s wonderful to read “literary” horror writers like Elizabeth Kostova (The Historian) or Alice Sebold (Lovely Bones), and grab the latest “literary” horror by Dean Koontz or Stephen King, or even enjoy the latest “literary” horror by Tom Piccirilli, or Chuck Palahniuk. However, the days to imbibe deeply in fresh, raw horror are those nights you tremble with Steven Shrewsbury (Hawg), Weston Osche (Scarecrow Gods), or Wrath James White (Hero).
If you survive.