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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