DarkEcho Horror
Blowgun by Rick Berry

by Paula Guran

First appeared in
DarkEcho: 04.27.00 [V.7 #15]

If the tattoo is covered and he's not wearing the big silver spider belt buckle and other such paraphernalia, you'd take Gerard Houarner as, well, a really normal sort of guy. He just got a promotion at his long-time day job working at a psychiatric facility and, along with long-time partner Linda Addison (another writer), recently bought a house in the Bronx. It's up on a hill and both finally have real offices to write in. (His has the view, Linda's has the size). "Best of all," says Houarner, "we survived the move. Moving is the final death rattle in the long process of dying called buying a house."

He's not a household name by any means and he definitely doesn't make much income from writing. But he's published scores of stories in magazines and anthologies. Back in '86, Del Rey published a fantasy novel he wrote. His first collection PAINFREAK was Necro Press's initial offering in 1996. He edited an anthology, GOING POSTAL, for Space and Time that came out a couple of years ago. He's currently fiction editor of the magazine Space and Time, which just released issue 91.

Gerard HouarnerHe stays busy. Houarner recently had a collection published by Delirium, I LOVE YOU AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. (See review below.) He sold a novel to Leisure -- THE BEAST THAT WAS MAX -- which incorporates previously published short stories and a novella centering on the nasty character of Max the Assassin. It's the "first" Max novel. The "second" Max novel, THE ROAD FROM HELL, was actually published last year by Necro Press. He's starting a third.

Houarner has a short chapbook with artist GAK coming out in June from Space and Time -- DEAD CAT BOUNCE, A FABLE FOR THE HORRIFIED INNER CHILD. (It's about a dead cat who comes back -- a kind of children's book in the spirit of Joe Lansdale's "My Dead Dog, Bobby.") He's also editing two ebook anthology projects for Glenda Woodrum at genrEZONE, MAD LOVE and RED WORK And, of course, he says, " there's the short stories being written for the same markets everyone else is trying for... "

The reason I wanted to write about Houarner is because he's NOT a jerk. I have both accepted and rejected his stories. When I've rejected, it's been with full confidence that he would not 1) hate me forever; 2) make up nasty things about me and anonymously post them on the Net; 3) laugh in my face if I were to ask for something else from him in the future; 4) make voodoo dolls of me for his cats to shred and use as litter. When I accepted something, he's been happy about it, but he realizes that it won't make him Stephen King overnight.

coverHe has...balance. A perverted sort of balance, but balance nevertheless.

You might think it's because he's done some editing himself. (As an editor he looks for "A confident voice" in a story. "A writer who 'grabs' the reader right at the beginning with the urgency of story and/or language, without wasting time on introductions, flashbacks, static descriptions. I like a sense of depth ­ a feeling that there is more going on than just the surface story. I also like exotic or surrealistic locales and situations, things that disturb and/or invoke a sense of wonder . And I like passion, as shown by imagery, attention to detail, and a personal logic system that surprises without alienating.")

...But I don't think that's it. The editing has come pretty recently and Houarner's been around this horror biz since he was 18 and Gordon Linzner (of Space & Time first published him. That was about 26 years ago. He stays at it because, he says, "I need to write...Piccasso said his art was his journal -- I think writing fiction is my journal, my outlet for things happening inside me. Even more, I have a hunger to create -- to "make" something, and to use what I make to communicate with and connect with others on some primitive, remote gut level."

coverA couple of decades (or less time in many cases) of writing with no real "commercial success" tends to make some people whiny and bitter; others seem to think the literary world (or "horror") owes them something. Why isn't Houarner that sort of misguided jerk? "Perspective. I'm not invested in writing as a way to make my living, and I'm not invested in my day job for creative fulfillment. There's a weird, tense balance in that which appears to satisfy my talents and ambition. In the broader sense of perspective, I'm also acutely aware of all the unpleasant little things that can destroy a life's time, and so I reserve the energy required for outrage and retribution for issues of life and death, not ego deflation. Time and the stupidity of others, I've noticed, often work their own consequences. A sense of humor also helps, as well as a sense of being an outsider, of not belonging not only to the mainstream but the popular fringe. I expect rejection, accept the mantra nobody knows/nobody cares, and enjoy the sense of freedom that I can do anything I damn well please because, after all, nobody is paying attention, anyway. And on occasions when others do take notice, however slight, I get my perverse pleasure in the connection, and in the knowledge that somebody peeked, after all, and what they saw caught them off-guard."

So what does he think about the jerks? "I love and cherish them as only a person with a career in mental health, a professional whose mortgage payments depends on the state of other people's sanity, can love them. But only at a distance..."

He advises wannabe horror writers: "Write from your own pain, and the terror and rage and sorrow that comes from it. Don't worry about what other people are doing, what's "hot" or being "successful." If you scare yourself with what you're writing about, you're on the right track. If you're looking to recreate something you saw in a movie or imitating the effects of other writers, you're on the wrong track."

You know, maybe nice guys don't wind up last after all.

Go to Gerard Houarner's Web site


Gerard Daniel Houarner
Delirium Books/ 170p/ ISBN: 1-929653-03-4
Signed, Limited (to 200 copies) hardcover: $25

coverStories that stay with you are the best. They may be technically imperfect, but they still work so well they can push more flawless tales right out of your memory banks. The title story of this collection is one that, despite an unsatisfactory ending, will install itself permanently in your brain. Love is, of course, dangerous and, for the most part, Houarner examines the nature of the beast to chilling effect. Not that this -- or any story here -- is not well-crafted. It is, they are. The point is that even if he occasionally stumbles as he records his explorations, he still leaves a trail worth experiencing. Instead of leading you from the unknown into the known, instead of guiding you out of the darkness, he conducts you straight into it. In these twelve stories the terrain tends to start out as mundane -- a phone call, an infatuation, middle-aged angst, the death of a mother, motherhood itself, the loss of a job, a shop full of ceramic containers, delusional psychosis, a tacky hotel -- but always twists into the surreal, the ghostly, the disturbing, the dark. He occasionally starts with the more unusual -- the ethics of the dead, the inhumanity of slavery -- but with the same result. This is a very different collection than the author's first -- PAINFREAK (I996), a teratology of the extremes of relationships and the intricacies of fetish and desire -- and a stronger one. These more moderate mappings of the darkside show an enhanced versatility and perception that is, perhaps, overwhelmed in his more extreme investigations. These tales have "staying power." And (did I mention?) stories that stay with you are the best.

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