Monday, August 10, 2009

With a Nod to Johnny Cash

Today's post is about writing horror. Not a how to; there are folks out there much more horrific and talented than me to make that happen. This is about writing the dark things and being okay.

I don't usually blog about rejections anymore. A waste of time, really, 'cause we all know they happen. But two I've received in the last month really crawled under my skin and laid eggs. Each was for a different story, but both mentioned bad things happened for "no reason". One rejection came from a very prominent science fiction/fantasy publication...the other from an upstart.

One rejection, for the flash story "Communion", explained (in a very snarky manner) that they wished people didn't think killing children for no reason was entertaining. For the record: I don't think killing children is entertaining. Secondly, if you've read the story (and most of you have--thanks), I think the reason was pretty clear. Lord of the Flies is a helluva good book, and a couple toddlers short of a handful get whacked in that one...but I digress.

The second rejection made me feel dirtier, to the effect of a man stalking a woman and murdering her for no reason isn't my idea of entertainment. Okay, you haven't read this story yet (and I hope you will have the chance), but the protagonist a) isn't stalking anyone; he's experimenting with his new "powers" and b) he doesn't plan on killing the woman--he's just faced with a moral choice at the end: one life for another--and he doesn't choose the woman because she's a stranger. But I still felt dirty.

"Horror writers" get a bad rap. Some of the nicest people I know are horror writers. I'm going to put that on a t-shirt.

I don't write splatterporn. I don't like to read splatterporn. I hate movies that are nothing but splatterporn. (um, Sorority Row* anyone?) Bad things happen in my stories (usually), but my goal is usually to tell a broader story than the bad things.

Look, this is life. Bad shit happens.

...and Johnny Cash makes me feel better.

*check out the trailer...didn't I see this when it was called I Know What You Did Last Summer? Oh wait--it's a remake. I want my money back.


Jamie Eyberg said...

My mom keeps asking me when I am going to start writing 'nice' stories.

Katey said...

What Jamie said, but apply it to half my friends, too. I get it-- I mean some people don't like to read unplesantness, and that's totally cool. But I'm chasing a certain gut reaction here-- often mixed with other gut reactions. Communion was a really good example.

It's weird. Sometimes I want to think publishers, editors, etc are these infallible higher-ups who understand lit-- maybe because I know so many who deal with people in a non-snarky, sensible manner. Then I see things like that and go, huh, human. So in a way, there's a silver lining here.

Cate Gardner said...

If you'd ripped the poor kid to bit - then yeah, too much. But I thought your story poignant and not in the least graphic.

Alan W. Davidson said...

I can't help but think that those two reactions are more personal bias rather than a "corporate policy". It's odd to think that an experienced publisher can not look at the "big picture" regarding what a story is really about, rather than their gut reaction to subject matter. I saw 'Communion' as a story of a parental dilemma, one no parent should have to be in. It was a short, hit-you-in-the-gut piece that did exactly what it set out to do.

As far as I'm concerned it was their loss, and "Flashes in the Dark's" gain...and if you get those T-shirt made up, I'll buy one off you!

Barry Napier said...

1 - I want one of those shorts. Let me know when you get them printed up.

2 - I still say "Cocaine Blues" is Johnny's Best. (I think that's the name of it).

Aaron Polson said...

Jamie - Mine too...they should have coffee.

Katey - Yeah, somehow we're all still people, no matter what is attached to my name.

Cate - I try to curb the gore. Gore doesn't ever really advance a tale, in my opinion.

Alan - I need to choose potential markets better. I'm working on the shirts...;)

Barry - Johnny is the Man, in black or otherwise.

Brendan P. Myers said...

Hilarious. "A man stalking a woman and murdering her for no reason isn't my idea of entertainment." This guy would never make it in Hollywood, no? Turning his back on hundreds of billions in just the last decade alone.

And don't apologize for posts like this, Aaron. Having recently posted one of my own ("I'm sorry Mr. Stoker, but a half-human who drinks blood? Really?) I know how cathartic it can be. Chin up and all that.

Fox Lee said...

I thought Communion was an exceptional story. Given the alternative, which I won't spoil for those who haven't read it, your ending was a big basket of furry kittens.

Unknown said...

I do try to live my life by the Cash.

Yeah I know how you feel. But writing about pretty kittens and puppies that live happy lives is not only unrealistic - it's boring. Horror can be extreme in it's descriptions (and I am also not a spatterpunk gal), but the exaggeration only really serves to highlight the horror of everyday life. God sometimes extreme horror even serves to take some of the tension off everyday horror.

BTW, have the publishers watched the news? Cause its not always good out there. Period.

BT said...

I'm guessing these editors also thought the ending of The Mist was completely uncalled for...

F$%K 'em!

Jameson T. Caine said...

I'm with Samantha - the news is filled with horrible things that happen with no clear reason. It makes me wonder why some editors choose to work in the field of "horror" and "dark" literature if such things offend them. Personally, as long as it is not taken overboard, I see no problem with many of the themes many editors claim they do not wish to see in a story.

As for gore - I love it. Gory films, gory stories...but there is a time and place for everything. Some tales just don't need it to be effective. I've thrown some blood around in a story or two, but have yet to go ball-to-the-wall over the top like an early Peter Jackson film. I doubt I ever will. For me horror is more about mood and atmosphere.

Oh, and Woot! Congrats on the Necrotic Tissue acceptance!

Aaron Polson said...

Brendan...ah, gotta love Hollywood, right? Right?

Natalie - but what would you do to/with the kittens?

Samantha - I think horror fiction makes real life bearable.

BT - always eloquent

Jameson - thanks. I chewed my fingers to bloody nubs over that story. (a little bit o' gore for ya)

Danielle Birch said...

Guess you just can't please some people.