‘Tis the season to be thankful. As fans of horror, we've all got plenty to be thankful for. Here's my list – what's yours?
A Thriving Small Press
Apex Book Company. Cemetery Dance Publications. ChiZine. Creeping Hemlock Press. Cutting Block Press. PS Publishing. Subterranean Press. These small presses, and a hundred others like them, are the torchbearers for the horror genre. They are the guys and gals on the front lines, digging through piles of manuscripts looking for the next genuine voice, the next big idea, the next unexpected twist that will carry the genre forward. They are the ones supporting the authors with big talent but no big contract, making sure that the direction of horror isn't left solely to the New York publishing houses that balk at the idea of putting the word "horror" on the spines of their books.
These are the people we should be supporting. No, I'm not calling for an abandonment of the mainstream; after all, the mainstream brings us writers like Stephen King and Clive Barker and Jonathan Maberry, and books like The Passage and Zone One, and these are good things for horror. But it's easy to overlook the little guy, and it's the little guy that's looking out for all of you. It's the little guy that can print books that walk the tightrope fearlessly, that push against the general conventions and drip new blood onto the pages. It's the little guy that satisfies the niches, that sets the trends, that points the way to the future.
It used to be expensive to support the small presses; their books were often limited editions, meticulously crafted and pricey. They still make those kinds of books, and that's good, because a book itself can be art as much as the story it contains. But the digital revolution has paved the way to wider audiences and lower prices. You can still order those leather-bound, signed and numbered specialty items, if you have the means; but if you don't, or you don't want to risk the money on an unknown commodity, you can download the books from many of these presses for a fraction of the printed version's price. It may be sacrilege to some readers, but look at it this way – you can spend a lot less and read a lot more. You can take chances and discover new talents, new voices that you won't find on the shelves at Walmart or Target or Books-A-Million. And you can help make sure those voices continue to be heard.
Brian Keene is a polarizing figure in the horror genre. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more devoted fan base (due, in no small part, to the time Keene has spent interacting with them, not to mention his prodigious talent); and at the same time you won't have difficulty finding those who don't care for him or his work. Keene is a rarity in that he doesn't feel the need to coddle the fans or the professionals around him – he's a straight talker. Ask his opinion, and that's what you're going to get – not the version of his opinion that he thinks you're going to like, but the pure, unvarnished truth as he sees it.
I like that. It's refreshing. It's also needed in a world (and in a business) where people will tell you anything to get you to buy their product.
And like it or not, Keene is more often right than wrong. When he talks on his website about the problems facing the publishing business, or the fallacies of some message boards, or some of the failings of the horror genre, he's usually dead-on.
But the real reason we should be thankful for Brian Keene can be found here. It's the text of his keynote speech for a recent convention, and it's a clear indicator that this is a man who loves this genre, and who wants to see it continue to grow and thrive. Go and read it for yourself. Like me, you'll likely realize how you've only begun to scratch the surface of what this genre has to offer. Also, you'll realize that, in order to make sure horror moves forward, we all have a responsibility to understand where it's been.
That Van Didn't Kill Stephen King
In 1999, while taking a walk along a rural road in Maine, Stephen King was struck and nearly killed by a van. Obviously his family is happier about his survival than any fan could ever claim to be; they still have their husband, father and grandfather with them. Anyone who claims that this isn't the most important reason to celebrate his survival isn't worth listening to.
But it's still worth noting that his fans, the "Constant Readers" for whom every new book is a cause for celebration, have much to be thankful for when looking at the 12 years since his life and career were nearly cut tragically short. For one thing, he finished the Dark Tower series. Now, I realize not everyone was happy with the way he brought it to conclusion, but would you rather have had no conclusion at all? Instead of debating the ending King wrote, we'd be debating the ending we think he might have written – an exercise sure to end in madness. Besides, not only do we have seven books, including the concluding chapter, but we're about to get an eighth (The Wind Through the Keyhole) which, your thoughts on the ending aside, I can't imagine any King fan not being ecstatic about.
There's also King's heightened status in the "literary" world, that portion of the reading and writing community which frequently turns its nose up at those that write "them horror books." That elitist attitude toward popular fiction has always bothered King, and it's surely been gratifying to him to see the tide slowly turn. You can point to three post-accident novels – Lisey's Story, Duma Key and his most recent book, 11/22/63 – as being major catalysts for this change in attitude, and we can all hope that it eventually extends beyond King to give other major genre writers the recognition for their talents which they deserve.
Finally, there's the simple fact that one of horror's greatest talents and most devoted ambassadors is still with us, still writing wickedly good fiction while encouraging us all to broaden our own reading horizons. He entered that phase long ago where all it takes is his name above the title to sell books, but he's refused to coast, continuing to hone his craft and give us stories that are both heart-stopping and heartbreaking.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.