I am not a fan of horror. I didn’t grow up reading it and to this day haven’t read a whole lot of it. The more time I spend in the genre, the more I feel like I’m playing catch up to even know the important works of what came before me. I am barely conversant with who my own peers are. Sometimes I think it was for the best.

There has been a lot of talk lately of horror ghettos and genre fanfic. It has finally crystallized something that has been bugging me about the stories and critiques I have been getting from some of the members of the various writers groups I belong to. They are fans of the genre, and by fans I mean they work and expectations can be fairly derivative, little more than fanfic appreciation.

The critical commentary and dialogue inherent in genre fiction–assessing and responding to the work of the previous generation–is absolutely necessary, yet it is just as necessary to provide points by which the mainstream can access genre. –Dave Klecha

While there isn’t anything wrong with fanfic unto itself, the legal and moral implications aside (I’m a recent convert to the position that it does serve some good and can be useful as a writing exercise), the genre can’t advance while chasing its own tail. What I suspect is going on is that there is a lot of trying to recreate the same stories/feelings “we” experienced when “we” first fell in love with the genre. However, chasing first loves is like chasing ghosts: dreams of what were, when in fact they never were.

The conventions of genre become mistaken for the content of the story … The genre readers and writers become more locked into the conventions of the genre and the general readers become more put off by what they (rightly perceive) as a rigid and increasingly empty ritual dance of conventions. –Janrae Frank

Okay, a lot of this is re-hashing what I was saying on the “what is horror?” panel at Context 19 as I was griping about the lack of experimentation going on in the bulk of horror. We seem to be content to play with the tropes of what make up the “genre” as opposed to experimenting with what the genre can do and offer. Too often we go for the “boo” and too seldom examine our culture, our ideas, our spirituality in the language of the genre. So when Jay Lake posits that in science fiction “we consider ourselves the literature of ideas, and a repeated idea is much harder to make interesting,” the gauntlet should be thrown down for horror also. We too should be “heavily invested in permanent novelty-seeking.” That is, if we are truly interested in growing our pool of readers.

Believe me, that accusing finger points at me first. As does the challenge.

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