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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association
edited by Mort Castle
Writer's Digest/224 pp./$17.99
ISBN 0-89879-798-5

For today's assignment, class, let's compare and contrast Writer's Digest's previous comparable book, How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by J. N. Williamson and today's assignment, Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association, edited by Mort Castle.

Both offer a number of writers with short essays addressing the theme. Both are edited by Writer's Digest instructors, gentlemen with formidable credentials as horror writers and teachers of writers. Both offer good basics, peeks into the creative process, and inspiration. The older book addresses all of the speculative field, it is still appropriate to horrorists specifically. The earlier book, without doubt, served as motivation and instruction for many of the contributors to the newer.

The essential difference can be found in the premise of the books. When the Williamson book was published science fiction (including fantasy and horror) was booming, horror was expanding, and new writers could more easily get published and paid for work in these fields than in others. "This book exists," the editor states in his foreword, "...to enlighten you about the ways you may take full advantage of such a golden opportunity." Castle makes not such statement and ends his foreword by inviting readers to "our realm of dark imaginings and enlightening realities." In other words, "we aren't in this for the money."

Although the opportunities offered writers may now be made of baser metal than gold, what WRITING HORROR gives the reader/potential writer/writer of horror something far finer -- love. The contributors to this book, all writing separately, love horror. Their passion comes through again and again. These are people motivated by the desire to create. Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association is a nonfiction love story -- bittersweet, sometimes -- but true, nonetheless.

I can't help but wonder: In what other "genre" would you find this kind of ardor?

Beyond devotion, Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association, gives straightforward, helpful advice on craft, concept, field, and marketing. Maybe because it was written by writers in the trenches -- members of the Horror Writers Association, both established professionals and struggling potentials -- the essays speak directly to a writer's needs. The book is also as current as hard copy can get, touching on erotic horror, aberrant psychology, comics, theme anthologies, juvenile and young adult horror, multimedia, small press, online resources, and visceral horror.

And, true to its subject, truer still to the underlying passion this book perhaps inadvertently imparts -- editor Castle frames the content with essays that are evocations of the art and dreams of horror writing. Joyce Carol Oates writes sublimely on the freedoms and triumph of the dark imagination, the communal nature of the art. Harlan Ellison writes obliquely on the lonely burden of offering up the dreams.

Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association profoundly reminds me of what first attracted me, personally, to this field, what keeps me involved in it -- truth revealed through imagination and the passion of the people who create it. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.