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The Authors of 999
13 Writers Look at Horror Now & In the 21st Century

September 1999
by Paula Guran

999: NEW STORIES OF HORROR AND SUSPENSE This month, HORRORONLINE focuses on not one, but (count 'em) 14 authors -- all contributors to mega-anthology 999: NEW STORIES OF HORROR AND SUSPENSE (see review) Avon Books is launching the mega-anthology on September 9 (Get it? 9/9/99?) with a bevy of events online and off. And well it should -- 999, edited by Al Sarrantonio, is the biggest (over a quarter of a million words) collection of original horror ever compiled and a landmark in horror publishing history. Included in the anthology is a short novel by William Peter Blatty; novellas by Joe R. Lansdale, David Morrell, and Joyce Carol Oates; novelettes by Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Thomas Ligotti, Thomas F. Monteleone, Kim Newman, Eric Van Lustbader, F. Paul Wilson, and Gene Wolfe; short stories by Edward Bryant, P.D. Cacek, Nancy A. Collins, Thomas M. Disch, Neil Gaiman, Ed Gorman, Rick Hautala, T. E. D. Klein, Edward Lee, Bentley Little, Tim Powers, Al Sarrantonio, Peter Schneider, Michael Marshall Smith, Steven Spruill, and Chet Williamson. Along with presenting original new fiction, 999 also seeks to answer the question: "Where does horror stand at the start of the new century?" The contributors' literary answers are, of course, included in the anthology in the form of their stories, but we asked some of them for a personal answer to that question, as well as: "Where do you see horror heading in the next century?"

The replies, as you will see, are as fascinating and varied as the writers who gave them.

Special thanks to the authors who took their time to answer and especially to Andy Heidel of Avon for faxing beyond the call of duty.



P. D. CACEK'S short story "Metalica" won a Bram Stoker Award in 1997 and another story, "Dust Motes," won a 1998 World Fantasy Award. Some of her short fiction has been collected in LEAVINGS. Her first novel NIGHT PRAYERS was published last year.

Where does horror stand at the start of the new century? Right on the starting line, smiling and looking rather pleased with itself. Why shouldn't it? It's a natural survivor, after all. It survived two (plus) decades of hearing the "horror is dead" mantra every waking moment, and suffered (in silence) the indignity of having its very name fall under suspect. But it lived -- PC, "sanitized for your protection" labels notwithstanding -- and remained true to its nature.

It stands with us now as we look with uncertainty toward the new millennium because we're scared. Terrified. Of the dreaded Y2K bug. Of global warming. Of El Nino and La Nina. Of predictions and prophesies that happened millenniums past. Of strangers. Of neighbors. Of ourselves. We're frightened of what might come next.

And that, boys and girls, is horror -- of the most personal kind. Which is exactly where I see horror heading. Although there will always be room for the Jasons and Michaels and Freddys and young adults who drive too fast or don't know when not to visit a site of mass dismemberment and mayhem, I think horror in the new century will be a return to elements that have always frightened the child in us. Not monsters -- but the possibility of monsters. The kind of horror that is manufactured from within and keeps us from letting our feet drop over the side of the bed when we sleep. Just in case.


RAMSEY CAMPBELL has been honored with the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the International Horror Guild Living Legend Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association. His most recent novels are THE LAST VOICE THEY HEAR and SILENT CHILDREN.

While I won't presume to know the future of horror fiction, I don't mind expressing my hopes for it. I very much hope it will return to its roots, both in the classics of the genre and in the wider field of literature. It's worth remembering how many of the great tales of terror were the work of authors who didn't specialize in the genre. When I came into the field in the mid-50s two things were commoner than now: horror anthologies would include tales written by writers better known in the mainstream -- Faulkner, Balzac, Graham Greene come immediately to mind -- and mainstream anthologies would include horror fiction. I don't say this to denigrate the specialists; on the contrary, writers as different as M. R. James and Lovecraft, as Leiber and Aickman regarded themselves as writing, or trying to writer literature. These days too many writers seem to know only their own field, which then tends to implode. I believe there is no genre that can not be literature, and it's time more of ours set itself that ambition. One quotation...I've quoted it before, but it strikes me as among the most important comments ever made about our field...comes from an essay on horror by critic David Aylward in the defunct Canadian journal BORDERLANDS: "Writers [of supernatural fiction] who used to strive for awe and achieve fear, now strive for fear and achieve only disgust." Since he wrote that, we've seen a number of writers appear to strive only to be more disgusting than one another, but I doubt their popularity will last. Traditionally the field has reacted against excess by rediscovering restraint and subtlety, and I hope it will again. Add to those qualities the will to evoke awe, and you have the potential for fine work...


JOE R. LANSDALE is the author of the Hap Collins and Leonard Pine detective series, as well as many other novels. He has won numerous awards and recognitions (including the British Fantasy Award and multiple Stokers) for his novels and short stories, and has written tele- and screenplays, as well as comic book scripts. His latest novel is FREEZER BURN.

Horror stands where it always has as a genre. In a place of prominence. It has many faces, and after the 80s, I think it has even more. The 80s were a dynamic time for horror fiction, as it was discovered in all manner of stories not normally thought of as harbors for horror fiction; not all of the horror fiction was supernatural, not all of it had a traditional horror tone or premise.

Although as a marketing genre it may have seen a heyday during the 80s, I wouldn't be surprised to see it surge again. There are plenty of new readers waiting in the wings, plenty who grew up on films, TV shows, R. L. Stine and adult books in the 80s, and, to some extent, the 90s. My prediction is the beginning of the 21st century will be a hot bed for horror readers coming of age, struggling with the same fears and expectations that all of us have.

The only challenge is to provide good stories, as well as acquaint new readers and viewers with the good that has gone before. These readers will, in turn, provide from their ranks the horror writers of the next century.

As long as man has fears of the future, the past, the present, the unknown, or, for that matter, the known, there will be horror stories and readers and viewers who want to consume them.


EDWARD LEE is the author of eleven horror novels (including COVEN, SUCCUBI, INCUBI, GHOSTS, CREEKERS, AND THE BIGHEAD), several collaborations, a new collection (THE USHERS), sixty short stories, various novellas, and a number of comic scripts. He possess the most extensive crustacean-shell collection of any living fictionwriter and his culinary talents with seafood are legendary.

Fiction provides a metaphoric mirror to our times. And as the 20th century draws to a close, the reflection grows more disturbing; hence, so does horror fiction.

The 60s gave us a man on the moon, the 70s gave us THE COLLECTED WORKS OF SAMUEL BECKETT, and the 80s gave us the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Look what the 90s have given us: crack babies and Yugoslav rape camps, Susan Smith, Munchausen Syndrome, Oklahoma City, Internet sites for torture enthusiasts, and OJ's blood all over the place. We've got The New Heroin Look, and modeling agencies scouting anorexia clinics with 6-figure contracts. We've got convicted murderers at the U.S. Naval Academy; in the Army we've got servicemen in Okinawa raping a 12-year-old because they didn't want to spring for cab fare to the red-light district. We've got Jersey rich kids murdering their one-hour-old baby and leaving it in a dumpster, and we got Larry Singleton filleting a woman in Tampa several years after being paroled on "good behavior" (he'd previously raped a 15-year-old girl and cut off her arms at the elbows). We've got nine-year-olds gang-raping adult women in New York, six-year-olds in Richmond, CA, beating a baby to death "for kicks," another six-year-old in New York whipped, burned with cigarettes, vaginally mutilated, forced to eat her own excrement -- all by her mother who then shattered the little girl's skull against the wall -- and yet another six-year-old, in Boulder, strangled in her basement the day after Christmas. Last but not least, we've got Columbine High.

Where does horror stand at the start of the new century? The same place it's been standing at each new decade. Horror fiction steadily paces the absolute worst things that our society has to offer, via no particular designs of its authors. The authors are simply reporting back their visions.


THOMAS LIGOTTI is the author of six collections as well as the omnibus THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY which won both the Stoker and the British Fantasy Awards.

To me it seems that there's never been a better time to be a reader or a writer of horror fiction than at the end of the twentieth century, with no end in sight. The proliferation of publishers and magazines devoted to this literary genre is unprecedented, and writers have available to them, very easily available, the entire rich tradition of horror literature.

The specialization of taste within the general field of horror is also quite incredible, including publishers that cater to aficionados of everything from the traditional English ghost story to erotic vampire stories; anthologies that pay homage work of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert W. Chambers, Ramsey Campbell, and others; and the wealth of material offered by fanatics of horror on the Internet. It almost seems like too much is going on.


BENTLEY LITTLE was born a month after his mother attended the world premiere of PSYCHO. Draw your own conclusions. He won a Bram Stoker Award for his first novel THE REVELATION and is the author of six more novels (including THE MAILMAN, UNIVERSITY, DOMINION, THE STORE, and THE IGNORED), over 100 short stories and nearly 300 articles and essays. His latest release is THE HOUSE.

For the past ten years writers have been pontificating about the "future" of horror. Invariably they mention the need for "new metaphors," and invariably there forecasts are completely off the mark, the trends they predict seldom if ever coming to pass.

And yet "old metaphors," such as vampires, are still with us, stronger than ever. I am suggesting that it's impossible to generalize, that horror fiction is too varied and diversified to legitimately support such a single comprehensive approach. The problems with making sweeping pronouncements about the entire genre is that it assumes horror is some sort of monolithic entity, that all of its literary currents run in the same direction.

I don't believe that to be the case.

To my mind, there is nothing more personal than fear. Sure, a lot of people share the same phobias and concerns, but they are also shaded by individual gradations, by readers' different backgrounds, interests and experiences. Every so often a CARRIE will come along, something that taps the zeitgeist and speaks directly to masses of people, but more often than not, the audience is fragmented. Different readers have different tastes, one preferring contemporary tales of urban alienation, another Lovecraftian mythos stories. Which is why we've had "quiet" horror and splatterpunk, small town haunted houses and big city serial killers. And that, I think, is healthy. It is why the genre will continue to be viable, will continue to matter. The term "horror" is a broad umbrella that covers a multitude of only marginally related categories. In other words, there is something to frighten and/or unsettle everyone. That's the was it always has been, that's the was it always will be, that's the way it should be.


THOMAS F. MONTELEONE is the editor of the critically-acclaimed Borderland series of anthologies and the author of more than 20 novels.

Horror is in good shape with writers because it is the heart of all dark literature such as mystery, crime, suspense, gothic romance, etc. Writers are always interested in the dark underpinnings of our pysche and I think that's what horror does best -- explore the regions of the weird, the outré, and the uncertain. Hopefully, horror as a specific genre will never be like it was in the late 80s when it attracted a lot of H. P. Novelhacks who did not respect the literature. I also hope my own Borderlands series of anthologies hinted at new directions for horror. Let's forget vampires and ghosts and serial killers, okay?



DAVID MORRELL, the creator of Rambo, is a two-time recipient of the Stoker Award. A collection of short stories, BLACK EVENING, will be published this fall.

As the present century ends with real-life horror (Bosnia, Kosovo, the Oklahoma City bombing etc.), writers of horror don't lack for something to write about. But as the new century begins, we have to remind ourselves not to cling to the outmoded conventions of vampires, werewolves, clanking chains, and Victorian haunted houses of the 19th century. We have to create our own myths, ones that address our own desperate times, that put words to the unspeakable and try to make it understandable.



JOYCE CAROL OATES is the author (most recently) of the novel BROKE HEART BLUES and the essay collection WHERE I'VE BEEN, AND WHERE I'M GOING (both published by Dutton). Her horror titles are the story collections THE COLLECTOR OF HEARTS and HAUNTED. She is the recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Horror and has received the National Book Award for her novel THEM.

"Horror" is the genre primary to all other genres. It relates to our most basic, primitive instincts, so it evolves very slowly: we are fascinated and horrified by some of the same images our ancestors were, in art and in dreams. The monsters of Homer's ODYSSEY are brilliantly portrayed creatures that embody human fears, primarily of being eaten; the nightmare tortures and death's of Ovid's METAMORPHOSES are brilliantly portrayed hallucinatory experiences that embody human fears of the loss of identity, of human shape, and of human meaning. The visits to Hades in Homer and Virgil and disturbing in ways we can't explain -- since we don't believe in Hades-- until we come to realize that they are eerily dramatized visions of paralytic states or of states of reduced atrophied consciousness like those following a stroke, or senility. At such moments the significance of the art's capacity for horror becomes unnervingly clear.

In the 21st century, horror will probably not change its basic patterns, but obvious forms and details will change. We aren't so frightened today by traditional monsters, but we are frightened by the evil capacity of our neighbors and by ourselves, and this won't be alleviated. Perhaps in the 21st century, horror will take a turn inward: the dominant fear will be fear of losing one's humanity and/or sanity. Mere survival isn't enough for 21st century mankind. Life has to have some value, and civilization must endure to be livable. I hate to predict this because it's truly horrible, but I think the 21st century will unleash race wars stimulated by economic imbalance. But, fueled by the powerful instinct for DNA to reproduce itself, and to overcome all competing DNA, this seems to me tragically inevitable; and the genre of horror will embody it.


MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH is an award-winning writer with three novels to his credit (the last two, SPARES and ONE OF US, are in development with DreamWorks SKG and Warner Brothers) as well as numerous short stories and screenplays.

I believe horror will stand in a very important position at the beginning of the next millennium. For much of the last six years, the deep-level unease which has conventionally been horror's domain has often been co-opted by science fiction in near-future nightmares of technology and natural catastrophe. In recent horror there has sometimes been a feeling of treading water, of remaking past successes -- either explicitly or covertly. Once the year 2001 is behind us, this will change. We're going to realize that that the future has disappeared, because the points of reference will have gone -- and horror will expand to fill that gap. When we start writing the date "2003" on cheques for really dull things like new ironing boards and replacement shower curtains, we're going to understand we're looking at more of the same -- with all the good and bad that entails. Horror has always been the genre of real issues, the fiction of life and death and everything in between looked at unswervingly and cathartically -- and as a result has always been intimately keyed to cultural tides. Post-millennium I expect to see people turning once more to examine their own lives, the eternal verities which persist, and horror will once more stride into the fore as our best, most thoughtful and entertaining way of dealing with these issues. I can't predict how these concerns will coalesce, but I know that out of the mist and fog ahead of us, new specters are shambling our way...


ERIC VAN LUSTBADER is the author of over twenty international bestsellers, including THE NINJA, DARK HOMECOMING, and the cult classic ANGEL EYES.

Not that I think vampires or zombies are going to go away in the new millennium (they are the undead, after all!) but I do think that the uptrending horror in the 21st century is going to be the one of isolation. This is because of the incredible power of the Internet, which is transforming world culture as completely and radically as television did in the 1950's and 60s. It's ironic, really -- we'll all be 'connected' in the post-modern sense of the word and yet will feel more cut off from each other than ever before. Loneliness, depression, anomie: Now that's a horror worth writing about -- again and again!



CHET WILLIAMSON is a veteran writer with scores of short stories and many novels to his credit. His latest work is THE SEARCHERS, a three-volume novel from Avon Books.

The minute that any publisher or filmmaker labels something "horror," that work is likely to be doomed. Rightly or wrongly (and most often rightly), the horror genre is associated with shoddy writing, hackneyed plots, and graphic and unnecessary violence and gore. It proved itself untenable as a genre of fiction in the late 80s and early 90s. Yet people still read Thomas Harris and Stephen King, not because they like horror, but because they like these authors, who have chosen the emotion of horror rather than its timeworn tropes to convey their messages and tell their stories. They have chosen to use horror as an emotion and part of the human experience rather than as pure sensation, and the readers have responded to that, not to dripping blood and ghosts and vampires and serial killers. It all boils down to craft, the difference between "horror writers" and writers who choose to use horror in their works, between good work and bad. As a genre, horror is dead, and let it rest in peace. As an emotion, it is stronger than ever before. In the place of the old, dying terrors and fears, new ones, far more intense and fierce, have sprung up. All the writers of the new millennium have to do is to recognize them, and use their skills to make the readers recognize them in themselves.

GENE WOLFE is probably best known for his THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN series that merges high tech with the Dark Ages.He's recipient of the Nebula as well as many other awards.

Most of the old monsters have been exhausted, or nearly so. I'm not saying it is impossible to write anything new about vampires or werewolves, but it is so difficult that few will succeed. Horror must reach into the past, and into the future, for new threats. Fortunately there are plenty to be found in both directions.
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