FAITH, WRITING AND A HORROR AUTHOR’S INTENT Pt IV

Last week, I talked about how Monica Valentinelli and I (the pic is me and Monica, with Anton Strout determined to photobomb us!) were discussing faith in writing. Monica started us off, I followed it up with Part II, then she picked it up with Part III on her website.  We conclude with Part IV with her asking:

How integral to a plot is your views on faith?

MB: The weird thing is I know there are people who read about me and assume I must be cramming Christianity down my readers folks every chance I get.  And it’s true:  just the other day I was plotting my vampire story and while being chased by said vampire, my heroine turned to him and asked him if he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Or maybe I didn’t.  (Although, now that I think about that, that would be pretty funny).

My plots are integral to my plots, meaning that my job as a writer is to service the story.  Who I am is a Christian, a person of faith.  Sometimes the two intersect, sometimes they do not.  I’m currently writing a steam punk romance story.  Faith doesn’t play a part of the story because neither the plot nor the characters themselves demand them.  I’m not going to shoehorn in some Jesus just to do it.  Then again, this story began with an editor approaching me and asking me to write a steam punk romance story.

Sometimes though, my stories begin with a question, specifically some idea related to faith that I’m trying to work out in my head.  for example, what if science believed it could cure people’s “sin nature” through gene therapy (“broken strand” apex magazine) or what does a saving/real faith look like (“orgy of souls” apex books) or what if a person who thinks they have faith is confronted with the reality of their belief (“nurse’s requiem”, dark dreams III).

Then again, I’m always prone to over-sharing.

Do you think you owe it as an artist to share all parts of your life, your hopes, fears, and even your faith as a part of your art?  Is this even a struggle or tension for you?

MLV: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I went to college. The first story that I wrote in a writing workshop I pretended to be very dramatic and smart, using butterflies as a euphemism for a summer fling that never was. I was young. I was immature. And I was embarrassed. (Think sappy haute couture literary romance.) The experience taught me something. I can be inspired to write by the things that happen in my life, but I am not driven to express or share them with other people. Add social media on top of that, and I need a part of me to remain private. Especially since I’m eighty-percent introvert with twenty-percent extrovert. 😀

There are a few things that scream Monica that are found within my writing, though. Often, my stories (like “Pie” from Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas) are a “story within a story.” When you read my work, there’s always a sense of something greater, that you’re reading something in context. That is very, very “me.” The other thing about my work is that I like to venture off into new territory by experimenting with character viewpoints and formatting. When unleashed, I produce things like “The Queen of Crows.”

My struggle is more along the lines with “Does this suck?” than “What message do I have to say?” At the end of the day, no matter how much of my personality I put into my work, the only thing that matters is whether or not I told a good story. After all, the reader wears the crown.

FAITH, WRITING AND A HORROR AUTHOR’S INTENT Pt II

(Continued from part I, as Monica Valentinelli and I engage in a dialogue about our worldviews and how we approach our craft) Has anyone ever accused you of being non-Christian because you write horror? How do you respond to something like that?

MB: Honestly, my spiritual life functions pretty much the same way.  I’m a trained scientist and I know our culture swims in waters of rational explanation first.  So that creates stumbling blocks in my faith as well as strengthens it.  On the plus side, I question a lot of things and explore why I believe what I believe.  On the negative side, I wish I had more faith some days.  Faith in prayer, faith in spiritual gifts, faith in the reality of the supernatural.  I believe, but if I’m honest with myself, I wonder how much I truly believe.

So when people accuse me of not being Christian, my answer depends on what kind of day I’m having.  some days it’s something along the lines of I don’t think you can judge where I’m at with Christ until you’ve actually engaged me in conversation and gotten to know my heart.  Some days it’s something like horror is how I grapple with the reality of darkness, evil, and the supernatural in the reality of my life.  Some days it’s there’s a lot of what you call “horror” in the bible, it’s easy to label things if you don’t want to think.  Some days it’s just kiss my non-Christian black ass, but that’s not terribly helpful.  Though sometimes satisfying.

We are people of varying worldviews.  Do you think there is a dearth of spiritual or religious exploration in the genre?  Why do you think writers shy away from it?  Is it something you explore at all?

MLV: I’ve talked to a lot of writers who avoid sensitive subjects in general because they’re concerned with marketing: what sells, what their platform is, whether or not they’ll alienate readers? I haven’t read every story or book that’s out there, but I feel that

spiritual/religious exploration is affected by the current climate and the glut of tropes that are out there. Obviously, those tropes aren’t meant to be an accurate depiction of any faith, but I still feel they lurk in the background. What’s interesting to me is how these tropes affect what a reader’s preconceived notions are of a particular monster. Big difference between a Western European vampire and a Chinese vampire.

Anyway, I do explore these concepts from a character’s perspective if it fits the story. In “The Queen of Crows,” the Native American character turns his back on his faith to save his people. In a recent flash fiction piece that’s coming out, I wrote a story about a manticore set in a salt mine. When I was doing my research, apparently miners in Poland carved whole chapels into the rock salt and added saints, etc. Great setting with religious overtones built in; so I utilized that in the story’s plot.

While spirituality/religion isn’t part of my platform, it’s a part of yours. Why did you decide to go that route?

On “Killing teh Genre” and the In Crowd

Like all good cycles, every so often in horror community there arises the discussion about the death of the genre (say for example this discussion over at Shocklines) and how all the truly “good” horror is to be found in, yet ignored by, the small press. Of course this discussion is a matter of perspective, as over on the Horror Writers Association, they are arguing/wondering why the nominees for their Bram Stoker Awards are so heavily weighted towards the small press while ignoring the fact that there is so much horror to be found on the New York Times best sellers list. The scapegoat of this atrocity, of course, is that group of writers in between, the mid-listers. THOSE BASTARDS!!!

Every so often I find a quote or comment that I just like to preserve for the ages (against the perils of thread deletion), and there’s this bit of cogent sanity from Mary SanGiovanni (who I’d refer to as “the lovely and talented”* but I don’t want to offend any of my feminist friends, so instead I will refer to her as one of those many women ignored by the genre when the other cyclical discussion of “are there any women who write horror” comes up.):

I mean all this with the utmost respect.

I find that many conversations about the “death of the genre” trot out uninformed opinion, tired or inaccurate statistics, or narrow views and definitions to back their claim. And this has been going on for decades.

A hundred people could say the genre isn’t dying and people who like debate and/or controversy or even, to be fair, just have a genuine desire to fix what they see are failings in a community they love are simply never going to hear it.

The fact is that until one knows what goes into writing for a living, or completing novels, etc., one can’t really say whether the people doing those things are giving it everything they have or not. They don’t know if illness, divorce, death in the family, financial troubles, a wedding, a new baby, a new job, a new house, etc. etc. etc have contributed to a time crunch on a contracted project. They can’t tell if a person spent three years plotting out an idea they loved, and executed it at night while the new baby slept or the husband went out with the guys or the wife went to bed angry again that he wasn’t joining her. Writers are people, and many of the full-time working writers I know give everything they have every time they can, not for publishers or critics or decriers of the genre, but for themselves and their fans.

Also, seriously, this idea of an in-crowd ought to be put to rest. This is an entertainment field. You might get a chance because of who you know. But you only hold up to the fans, the critics, the test of time if you have the capacity to be good. I’ve been in the business for about a decade. Most of the people who didn’t have either talent or persistence when I started out and yet somehow made it through faded away. Even some very good folks fade away. It’s a tough life, rejection and publication. But you ask Tom or Paul or Rick or Doug how many folks they’ve seen come and go, and I’ll bet they’ll tell you the chaff falls away after a while. The wheat keeps growing. There’s this pervasive and only passive-aggressively hinted idea that Keene and Mamatas hold secret candlelight meetings of hand-picked minions, and we all get together in black robes, make fun of the little people until our thirst for meanness is quenched, have orgies to strengthen our power, and then plot and plan ways to destroy people’s careers and keep down all these folks with talent who keep struggling from the primordial sledge of slushdom to the sweet air of publication.

It doesn’t happen. Ramsey Campbell is not holding you down. Doug Clegg is not holding you down. Mort Castle is not holding you down. That sounds paranoid. The cold, hard truth about publishing is that you keep working at writing until you’re good enough to be published. Then you learn the markets and see where your work might fit. Sometimes you get a hit. Sometimes you don’t. But you keep at it. That’s how it works.

I used to post tirelessly about how so many writers who are successful, who are full-time, putting-food-on-the-table types are genuinely good, genuinely helpful, genuinely folks who would go out of their way to give you every possible benefit of their knowledge. But they, like me, are tired of getting bitten in the hand for it. So maybe what folks think is elitism is maybe just exhaustion, frustration, or even self-preservation. Cut them a break.

Yes, I know, all of this could just be avoided if I’d simply skip going to message boards. But, hey, I am supposed to be writing and I have to keep coming up with new ways to procrastinate. Plus, as you all know, my life goal is to become a mid-list writer who exists to keep other writers down.

*For the record, we now only refer to Brian Keene and Gary Braunbeck as “the lovely and talented”.

RaceFail ’09 – Feedback II

I’ve received a couple of really interesting responses to my RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant blog. I thought I’d share a couple. Today is from a comment left on my blog a while back which I wanted to give further exposure to. As always, I look forward to your comments:

Hello, Mr. Broaddus,

I have been keeping a somewhat distant eye on Racefail ’09 and found your blog and the relevant bingo cards via a simple google search. I am not a writer of any professional leaning, nor am I immediately aiming to be.

What I am is a woman of the Indian/Caribbean diaspora who spent some time teaching in Japan. While I was there I was immediately adopted into a tea ceremony club when the teacher decided I was just the right size for her to practice tying kimono with. She gave me lessons and my first yukata and I gave her saris in return. I wear my yukata on occasion and my teacher wept tears of joy when I gave her the first sari, so there’s no doubt about appreciation on her part. I can eat with chopsticks, knife and fork or just my fingers and view the respective table manners as useful skills under my belt.

There are things on that Bingo card that I might say myself and racefail has raised uncomfortable issues for me. Is it only cultural appropriation if it involves caucasians? If there’s a history of exploitation between groups? How much effort must go into understanding another group before people can agree it is actual cultural exchange and understanding rather than appropriation? Where is the line drawn, who draws it and why? Should I have said something to that African American girl I saw on the bus during college, wearing a bindi upside down?

My own heritage is a mishmash and a jumble, thrown together on an island and forced through a sieve of colonialism. For better or worse, borrowing and lending, adopting and sharing, adapting and evolving has been my cultural experience. Everything I am says there must be some avenue to explore this varied earth, that an upside-down bindi is a chance to educate rather than rail, but the sentiments arising from Racefail seem to acknowledge no possibility at all. Along with that is the sneaking suspicion that my post-colonial education brainwashed me better than I thought.

I hardly expect that you’d have all the answers but I am interested in any thoughts you might have on the matter. Thank you for your time.

RaceFail ’09 – Feedback I

I’ve received a couple of really interesting responses to my RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant blog. I thought I’d share a couple. Today is from the mailbag. As always, I look forward to your comments:

My name’s Hunter Eden, and I’m a young writer just new at this whole “forging the English language into something meaningful” thing. You and I corresponded very briefly a year or two ago on this same issue of race and horror, but I think I dropped the ball in responding to you, for which I humbly apologize. Point is, I had no idea that there was some kind of speculative fiction-based dust-up over race (or perhaps lack thereof).

Facts up front: I’m a white male of mixed Jewish/German-Norwegian (Hebrew Viking) descent. I don’t actually write about that many white characters, though. I finished a novel (currently with an agent but no publisher) describing the war between two ancient Mexican gods in a world where Europe didn’t conquer the Americas and Aztec gangsters smuggle contraband alcohol into Incan Cuzco. The only white character is the reanimated corpse of Charles Darwin, who probably isn’t (within the context of the story) actually human. My first story appeared in City Slab and was written from the perspective of a Mexican cabbie in a very Cancun-like city. I’ve got a story due out in Weird Tales about samurai fighting dinosaurs.

I’m not trying to brag or show off when I say all this, just that I wrote these characters because I wanted to. I hate when writers pull the Last Samurai card and go to the trouble of researching a whole different culture, but then don’t have the courage to actually go ahead and write someone from that culture as the main character (The Last Samurai particularly pissed me off in this regard because Tom Cruise becomes a better samurai than the Japanese characters).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m conscious of race (who in today’s world isn’t?), but I think the key (and I’m really not trying to land on any bingo squares here) is to remember that in the end we’re all human. That’s not to whitewash, but just to say that whether I’m writing a character who’s Mexican or American or even a Jewish Aztec mob boss, we’re all motivated by the same needs. I think a lot of speculative fiction pussyfoots around race. I especially hate the way that fantasy, even fantasy written by American authors, always seems to go back to the same Anglo/Norse/Celtic pseudo-culture. Reading Imaro by Charles Saunders was great not because it made me feel like a Racially-Enlightened Young American but because it was something new. I loved the fact that somebody had taken a part of the world as vibrant and culturally complex as Africa and given it a fantasy treatment. (The fact that Imaro is a hardcore Maasai bad-ass who fights demons and necromancers was just icing on the cake).

I think a lot of speculative fiction’s difficulty with confronting race is based on two factors in writers and readers very much contrary to the spirit of the genres–cowardice and laziness. I guess these points have been made before, but they bear repeating. I think a lot of white authors and readers are scared to step out and confront the Elephant because they don’t want to be labeled as racist themselves. But then, there’s also the tendency to fall back on the same garbage we’ve grown used to. If there’s a fantasy culture, it’ll be based off somewhere in northern Europe because Tolkien did that. If there’s a non-white culture, it’ll probably be based off Japan or China or some fusion of the two. Maybe, if we’re really working, we’ll get some kind of distillation of the Arab world filtered through a heavily fantasized verneer with genies and carpets and sultans with veiled concubines. But Zanzibaris or Aztecs or Australian Aborigines? Not a chance. If Aztecs appear, they exist to either be heinous blood-sacrificers or a conquered and oppressed people (don’t get me started on Apocalypto). It angers me profoundly as a writer, and I’m not in the least bit Hispanic in my descent. It’s an affront to the imagination, and frankly, an extreme marginalization of a powerful and advanced culture.

Extreme words, I realize (and don’t get me started on Ancient Astronauts, either). I guess the reason I feel strongly about this is because it’s just more evidence of total lack of imagination in what is supposed to be the most imaginative set of genres we have. I guess my thoughts on writing the Other is that this doesn’t need to be some sort of birdwatching exercise. I’ve got friends from a wide spectrum of religious and racial backgrounds and I don’t stay friends with any of them so I can write minority X better.

Sorry to carpet-bomb you with this, but I’m glad somebody is confronting the whole issue and doing it without kidgloves. Personally, I’d love to see more speculative fiction written by people who aren’t white and JewCatholiProtestant. Thanks for confronting the elephant (or shoggoth?) in the room.

Sincerely,
Hunter C. Eden

Mo*Con IV: A New Hope – Updated 5/12/09

“The Love and Business of Writing”

May 15th – 17th , 2009

What is Mo*Con?

Brought to you by the Indiana Horror Writers, Mo*Con is a friendly convention focused on conversations revolving around horror literature and spirituality (two great tastes that taste great together!). If you enjoy writing, horror, fantasy, poetry, and food, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at this convention

Who Will Be There?

Tom Piccirilli
Tom Piccirilli is the Edgar nominated author of twenty novels including THE COLDEST MILE, THE COLD SPOT, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, HELLBOY: EMERALD HELL, THE DEAD LETTERS, HEADSTONE CITY, A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, and NOVEMBER MOURNS.

Gary Braunbeck
Gary A. Braunbeck is a prolific author who writes mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream literature. He is the author of 19 books; his fiction has been translated into Japanese, French, Italian, Russian and German. Nearly 200 of his short stories have appeared in various publications.

Lucy Synder
The author the author of a trilogy of novels that are set be published by Del Rey starting in 2009; the first book in the series is entitled Spellbent. Also the author of Sparks and Shadows, a cross-genre short story collection from HW Press, Lucy A. Snyder may be most known for her humor collection Installing Linux on a Dead Badger (And Other Oddities). With over 70 short fiction sales and over 20 poetry sales, her fiction goes all over the road, although she does tend to write genre stories (science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, etc.) more often than straightforward mainstream fiction. She also writes a column for Horror World on science and technology for writers.

Linda Addison
Linda D. Addison grew up in Philadelphia and began weaving stories at an early age. She moved to New York after college and has published over 200 poems, stories and articles. Ms Addison is the author of “Being Full of Light, Insubstantial” (Space & Time Books) and the first African-American recipient of the world renowned Bram Stoker Award. She was honored with her second win in April 2008 for her latest collection.

Gerard Houarner
Gerard Houarner is a product of the NYC school system who lives in the Bronx, was married at a New Orleans Voodoo Temple, and works at a psychiatric institution. He’s had over 250 short stories, a four novels and four story collections, as well as a few anthologies published, all dark. To find out about the latest, visit www.gerardhouarner.com, or drop by and say hi at www.myspace.com/gerardhouarner or his board at www.horrorworld.org

Wrath James White
Succulent Prey marks his first mass-market release from Leisure Books. If you have a taste for extreme fiction with socio-political and philosophical messages that push boundaries, break taboos, and leave you thinking long after the book has ended then check out Teratologist co-written with Edward Lee, Poisoning Eros co written with Monica O-Rourke, The Book of A thousand Sins collection, His Pain novella, Orgy of Souls with Maurice Broaddus, Hero novella with J.F. Gonzalez, and Population Zero. If you have a weak stomach, a closed mind, rigid morals, and Victorian sexual ethics, than avoid his writing like the plague.

ARTIST GUEST OF HONOR:

Steven C. Gilberts
Steven and his lovely wife Becky now live in a spooky Queen Ann cottage within a small Dunwich-esk village of southern Indiana, near the now abandoned ammo plant of his youth. While hiding from the townsfolk, Steven concocts odd illustrations for the small press industry. His work has graced magazines from Apex Digest to Cemetery Dance, Dark Wisdom to Shroud Magazine.

***NOTE: Due to an unexpected schedule conflict, Gary and Lucy won’t be able to make it.***

When/Where is it?

May 15, 16, and 17th

Trinity Church
6151 N. Central Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220

There are plenty of nearby hotels MicroTel has served well in the past:

Microtel Inn and Suites Indianapolis
9140 North Michigan Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268 US
Phone: 317-870-7765

There is also the Indy Hostel. This page will be updated as more guests and details are confirmed, though we’re capping the guests we can accommodate at 200. [We can also make special arrangements and point you in the direction of other nearby hotels, just drop me a line at MauriceBroaddus@gmail.com]

Programming

Friday
6:00 p.m. Doors open
7:00 p.m. Guest Dinner/Reception
9:00 p.m. Poetry Slam

Saturday
10:00 a.m. Doors open
11:00 a.m. Panels on spirituality, writing, horror, and readings. Lunch.
5:00 p.m. The Dwelling Place Gathering, featuring sermon by Wrath James White. Dinner afterwards.
[After party to be announced]

Sunday
11:00 a.m. Farewell Brunch

Cost: $35 per Person
Money will be accepted at the door or it can be sent to my paypal account [Maurice Broaddus – MauriceBroaddus@gmail.com memo: Mo*Con IV]

There will be several debut projects, so this blog will be updated accordingly. More details to come (as will a re-vamping of my web site to feature a Mo*Con page to include footage of previous Mo*Cons).

Keep up with all details on either Facebook or on MySpace.

*Hosted by The Dwelling Place and Trinity faith communities, both of whom desire to be a refuge or sanctuary, a place of rest and freedom for people to be themselves and be a place where people can connect with God and one another by joining Jesus’ mission to bless the world.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant

A few years ago, I was speaking to a fellow black horror writer and she told me that she didn’t write characters of color in her work. She didn’t think it was important, even as a black writer, for her to write black characters (and descriptions of characters with dark hair and brown eyes was enough). It was more important for her to write for her chosen audience, who she perceived as white and she didn’t want to in anyway alienate them.

This is how badly issues of race have infected and confused some people.

Yes, there is a current brouhaha brewing in speculative fiction that has since been dubbed RaceFail ’09. It started when Elizabeth Bear wrote a piece on writing the other which was then openly disagreed with. The hilarity ensued (catalogued here). I, too, wrote a piece on writing the other (in a response to something Jay Lake had written, mind you, both pieces came out a few YEARS ago) and have stayed out of this round of self-examination except to offer up a play along cultural appropriation bingo card to go along with the “fantasy/science fiction no racism edition” bingo card. And yet, as Chesya Burke laments, such a discussion has largely not reared its head in the horror community. I don’t expect it to, frankly. Not to be too pointed about a race discussion in horror, but the genre largely amounts to white folks writing about white folks for the consumption of white folks. In other words, horror circumvents the issue of “writing the other” by … not.

With a few exceptions, race isn’t discussed much in the horror genre. Most folks are afraid to discuss it or admit there is a problem. With good cause: the last horror brand RaceFail discussion involved the release of Brandon Massey’s anthology series, Dark Dreams. The bulk of the discussion revolved around the series being the equivalent of reverse discrimination (because, you know, there are no all white, even more specifically, all white male, horror anthology series) or writer affirmative action (because obviously writers like Tananarive Due, L.A. Banks, Wrath James White, Eric Jerome Dickey, Zane, or, I humbly submit, myself, can’t be published elsewhere).

In some ways, I can see why RaceFail has gone on within the science fiction and fantasy genre/communities. By the nature of those genres, they explore (and are allowed to explore) big ideas. Horror too often prides itself on being the “lowest common denominator” genre, not built for rigorous idea exploration. “I’m doing an analysis of man’s inhumanity to man” usually amounts to puerile masturbatory fantasies of rape and torture justified by someone getting their comeuppance in the end.

Let’s be honest, there are two kinds of writers/readers. The first don’t want to be challenged. They essentially want Stephen King redux, rearranging the deck chairs on a familiar cruise. They cling to their comfort zone of base elements, slaves to the tropes, as they await the playing out of the ensuing hilarity. Rarely is there an examination of the human condition, existence, or the exploration of a big idea. For every Gary Braunbeck there are hundreds of … pick your blood splattered cover.

The other kind looks for a new experience. They want to go to a new place and think about things they haven’t before. Yet, when I hear horror writers talking about their craft in term of such artistic terms, there is a chorus decrying such lofty literary ideas or critical analysis. How many times have even best of the mid-list writers complained about their publisher neutering their work for the sake of reaching their market? Their lowest common denominator audience.

Right now, the genre can barely handle a discussion on women in the genre. That discussion breaks one of two ways: who are the women who write in the genre (so the discussion becomes a listing of women writers) or it centers around “can women be scary writers?” (and yes, that discussion is as ignorant as it sounds). And that’s before we talk in general about sexism in the genre or its conventions.

I was reading Kelli Dunlap’s post on diversity in the genre. Normally, when someone tells me “they don’t see race” it sets off a red flag of suspicion with me because that typically means “as long as all the people of color act and think like me, we have no race problem.” But I’m in her peer group, I look around our close circle of writer friends and I see the guests for Mo*Con, and I, too, see the diversity. I’m tempted not to engage in a discussion about women in the genre because I’m surrounded by fierce women whose talent I’d question at my own peril. But then I have to wonder if this is a chicken or egg dilemma: was there diversity in the genre to begin with or did we, The Others adrift in the sea of The Majority, simply reach out to each other?

So could horror handle a conversation involving cultural appropriation, the concept of white privilege, or even the idea of racism in the genre (much less among its writers)? The fact of the matter is that I could probably name the prominent writers of color in the horror genre, know most if not all of them, and I don’t often hear them discussed in the various horror communities. What I hear is how race doesn’t matter, all readers care about is a good yarn. Though I suspect that’s true as long as that yarn doesn’t stretch them too far. And that’s the ultimate RaceFail.

Horror Convention in Church?

I dream of being picketed.

Sometimes I think we confuse church with a building
. The church I attend, The Dwelling Place, is hosting a gathering called “Continuing Conversations” (aka, Mo*Con II) on July 28-29th. It’s a daylong event where I have invited some horror writing friends of mine (Gary Braunbeck, Lucy Snyder, Brian Keene, Wrath James White) to come and speak. We’re going to talk about how our respective faiths impact our writing, the pursuit of being better writers, and even the impact of race when it comes to writing. Religion, art, and race – nothing too controversial.

Yes, it is a “convention” of horror writers. No, not all of us are Christian or even believe in God. That’s the point – all are welcome. So I thought I’d clarify a few points.

The chief complaint is “you can’t do that in a church.” Really? As a friend of mine said, “you may want to consider taking the toilets out cause that means folks are crapping in church, too.” What is church? The building we meet in is the old Marion County Health Department building. It is a building. There is nothing “sacred” about it until a sacred space is carved out … by the people. The church is people, not a building.

Church is a communal expression of faith, to pursue spiritual formation to be the kind of people God wants us to be. To be a safe place to ask and wrestle with spiritual questions. Whose mandate should include building a sense of community, loving each other, and serving the world, all in the name of Christ. Why can’t we carve out a sacred space with horror writers? If Sunday morning we talk about doubting God and discuss that reality, is the church not the best place to do it?

This is how we are working out being a missional community: us inviting people in and those people actually coming (and made to feel welcome). We get to see “their” world and they get to see “ours”. So feel free to protest.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Diversity in Horror


So with the upcoming release of Whispers in the Night: Dark Dreams III, again the issue of what purpose does an anthology like this serve comes up. Granted, I wrote once about what the genre could learn from Dark Dreams, and that was before I was in the series. Now the issue comes up again as discussions in the genre blogosphere has turned to the topic of diversity within speculative fiction. Tobias Buckell, Angry Black Woman (aka K Tempest Bradford), Jay Lake, and Nick Mamatas have all weighed in already, and each of their blog entries is worth checking out – so what’s there left to add?

For a start, it sounds like black folks may be better off in horror than we are in SF/F. I have to actually use two hands to count the number of black professionals working in horror (although, it still reminds me of the Chris Rock routine about “if you know exactly how many black people you’ve had over to your house, you’re racist like a …”).

I’d like to believe that submissions are blind and that only the story matters. The race of an author is almost impossible to discern from a story, so let’s talk about the diversity of the slush piles. I was intrigued by Nick Mamatas’ gender-dropping experiment. It’s harder to do with race, especially in horror. Of course there’s going to be an inherent bias to the stories. Markets want to see characters like them, that they can relate to and most of the core horror market is white males.* This might speak to my naivete of the genre, but the bulk of horror tales strikes me as blue collar white folks going through life when suddenly “horror” breaks in on them (or, to use ABW’s translation, “Blandy McWhitey White in Blandy McNeighborhood in America or Blandy McMedieval Europe or Blandy McDefaulty Man in any setting anywhere.”)

My gut tells me that editors want more diversity, that they too are tired of the same characters and settings. But don’t talk to be about how Dark Dreams is exclusionist because the phrase “by Black writers” is on it and that all of society’s ills would be cured if it wasn’t there, because “by white writers only” isn’t on any other anthology I’ve bought in the last year and that hasn’t changed the reality inside the covers.

I realize that over-priced limited editions and small press runs are de rigeur for the seemingly slimming genre markets, but rather than raking your core audiences over the financial coals, maybe there are audiences out there that go untapped. The fact of the matter is Dark Dreams seeks to grow the horror market pie by servicing an under-appreciated (if not outright ignored) potential market. It’s a guarantee that Kensington markets the books in different venues than, say, a Cemetery Dance would. Looking toward the future, as the writers in the Dark Dreams series build our audiences, there will be more writers of color, going to Ralan’s, checking out markets, putting more stories in those slush piles.

Yes, Dark Dreams is a celebration, and people should have high hopes in that maybe by growing the market, all writers can be served. That’s my hope, but I suppose we could simply get bogged down in cries of “reverse racism” and the like. One day these sort of things won’t be an issue, but we aren’t there yet.

*Don’t give me “but Brian Keene …” I hate to break it to you, but we got Brian Keene in this year’s racial draft. It cost us a second round pick next year.

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What is Horror?

Dear Drew,

Horror is an emotive element, but it is not a genre.

Horror is the existential dread in whose shadow we all live. It is the sum of the fears of our existence and the cathartic thrill of working through those fears. Horror is the via negativa or “the way of the negative.” In many ways, horror is like an Old Testament prophet illustrating the eventual path of a negative conclusion. Horror wrestles with the reality of evil and questions why bad things happen to people.

Horror is an exploration of our terrors, encompassing our fear of Death. Many times our fears come back to the fear of death, helplessness, loss, the after life, or God (or worse, the lack of God).

A friend, in telling me her plans about coming to Mo*Con II, wrote this:

“Comic-Con is fun. Mo*Con would be about something much deeper. I believe in deep. I live for deep. At this point I’m 90% sure I want to be with you guys to explore the relationship between what we write and what we believe. For me horror is the path to truth. It is about enlightenment. Did you know a study was done that people remember more through gross and horrific events than mundane or even emotionally charged events? I believe that horror can open that doorway and if you time your message just right you can convey something powerful and meaningful to your reader.”

That’s the answer I would have given, to the question you were trying to ask at the World Horror Convention 2007, had that errant bottle of Knob Creek not been kicking both of our butts.

Love,

Maurice

P.S.

This could be some people’s idea of horror: