Waiting for the Lights to Go Out: On the state of horror… and the world?

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

keep-calm-and-make-it-to-christmas-break-232As of the release of this post, I am officially on Christmas break!  And believe me, while it’s a break from school for the students, for teachers, it’s a well-needed break from 400+ teenagers 🙂  Over the break I plan on really digging into my WIP.  I’ve been working in fits and starts the past month or so, and it’s my goal to use this break to really get it going full steam.

What does the future hold?

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, it’s not secret that I’m not betting on the future until tomorrow morning.  So we’ll see.

However, if we make it through today, because of my drive to get things going with the WIP, I’m going to take the next two Fridays off from the ol’ blog.  But don’t worry, I have a few ideas in the can that I’m looking forward to.

“Would you like that in the can?”

“No, I’ll just have it right here, thanks.”

(Sorry, obscure National Lampoon’s European Vacation reference)

But without further ado…

Somewhere-in-the-Shadows-III-Amended-SmlSpeaking of my irrational paranoia about the end of the world, I really didn’t intend the timing of this piece with today.  It just worked out that way.  I wrote this foreword to Somewhere in the Shadows back in September and figured I’d post it on my blog to drum up some publicity for the anthology.  But here we find ourselves on 12/21/12.

A few words about Somewhere in the Shadows before I continue.  I enjoyed it.  There.  Ha ha.  Just kidding.  You all know I’m incapable of stopping there.

But I did enjoy it.  The anthology starts with a couple short-short pieces, enough to grab your attention, make you grin and grimace, and then plunges you into the longer pieces.  In addition to my foreword, Andrew Cyrus Hudson (the assembler of these authors) does a nice job giving short introductions to the groupings of the story.  I liked that he took the time to group the stories together by content, and I think his introductions lent a sense of cohesion to the anthology, whereas some anthologies feel more thrown-together with almost a jarring sense between pieces.

Like most anthologies, there were a few stories I didn’t care for, but they were for minor reasons.  While I enjoyed most of Blood Line (besides a flash piece here and there, I don’t think I’ve read a werewolf story, and this had some great stuff), I felt the ending was a little predictable.  And when it came to Going Viral, [SPOILER ALERT] while I liked the humanization of the zombies, if you have a first person narrator, you generally can’t kill him off in the end.  It’s one of my pet peeves.

However, there were some real gems.  I have to give props to Andrew Hudson, who managed to bring great tension to probably the slowest pace I’ve seen (literally… you’ll just have to read it) in his Highway.  And my TESSpecFic group mate Jonathan Allen didn’t disappoint with his eerie-then-downright-freaky On the Air.

The interesting thing is that many of the stories had open endings, and I was sad to reach the end because I had wound myself into the story and wanted them to keep going.

So it’s worth the 99 cents to pick this one up.  That is, if the world doesn’t end today.

Because, NOW without further ado…

Waiting for the Lights to Go Out: a foreword to Somewhere in the Shadows

A few years ago, a guy I went to high school with wrote his doctoral dissertation on zombies.  More specifically, on how the zombie invasion phenomenon in film and literature is a result of our shared cultural concerns and fears.  He went on to turn this dissertation into a book published by McFarland and Company (American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture).  We weren’t necessarily that good of friends in high school, but after I discovered this, I realized perhaps that was too bad.  Maybe we had more in common than I thought.  And his ideas?  Brilliant.

But with a little examination, are his ideas that new?  Well, maybe drawing the correlation between the zombies rage of the past ten years and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is unique, but it doesn’t take much scanning through the horror section of your local video or bookstore… wait, I guess that would actually be Netflix or Amazon… to see that we are living in a great (if not slightly terrifying) age for horror in general.  The stories are a mirror of our times, and what times they are.  It seems like every month there is a new potential portent of our imminent doom that we have to survive, from November 11, 2011 (11-11-11.  Yup, there are actually two movies out there with said title) to November 6, 2012 (you better believe that there are members of both political parties willing to bet the end of the world will depend on who wins this next election).

Novels like Justin Cronin’s The Passage (which has made it into my top ten horror novels) purport that our warlike tendencies will turn against us.  If it isn’t human nature, movies like M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening” try to convince us that it will be Mother Nature that will do us in.  And while there may be those who say the Mayans weren’t taking leap years into account, the abundance of movies and documentaries on 2012 tells me that many of us won’t be able to breathe easy until we’ve passed this holiday season without finding ourselves fighting to get on a modern day Noah’s ark with a bunch of rich assholes… and John Cusack.

[A related sidenote:  Speaking of rich assholes and news as fodder for fiction, as a horror writer, one of my favorite photos from the Occupy Wall Street movement was a woman holding a sign which read: “One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich.”  It was enough to spur me to write my own story centered around the movement entitled The Golden Parachute.]

So fortunately for us horror writers, the words of General Kurtz still ring true today.  “The horror!  The horror!”  The fears on which we can play are a simple click of the mouse or remote control away.  In addition, writers and fans alike are now being able to reap the rewards of the e-revolution in publishing, a movement that is giving even more fuel to the proverbial fires.  Whereas not that long ago, I would’ve said we were witnessing the unfortunate death of the short story as an art form, now I would say we are seeing a rebirth (something Stephen King made a plea for ten years ago in the introduction to his own collection Everything’s Eventual).  A recent search on Amazon for “horror short stories” brought 19,166 results.  And if you want more bangs (or fangs) for your buck, the rise in popularity of small press and independent publishing means horror audiences are getting the chance to see short stories via anthologies such as this one from fresh new talent that might not have the opportunity to get their work read otherwise.

So now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get stocked up on candles, shotgun shells and canned goods, because you never know when everything is going to go to hell, and I want enough supplies to at least finish reading Somewhere in the Shadows.

What do I want from you?

– Thoughts?  Have there been any anthologies that you’ve picked up recently that have really blown you away?  I always like recommendations.

– If you knew the world was going to end in 24 hours, what would you do? (Keep it somewhat clean, people.  My parents read this blog.  They’re not prudes, but still… 🙂 )

– Otherwise, I’ll see you in three weeks.  I promise.

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10 thoughts on “Waiting for the Lights to Go Out: On the state of horror… and the world?

  1. Ah, but we don’t know how, and in what sense, the world is going to end, do we? Environmental apocalypse? Economic meltdown? Asteroid strike? Nuclear armagedon? Zombie attack? It makes it a little difficult to prepare or know what to do.

    If ‘the end of the world’ entailed the end of all life, there’d be very little to do except perhaps get riotously drunk – but perhaps that’s just a typically British point of view (we love our booze). If, on the other hand, it meant the end of an economic or political set-up, we might have a chance, so I’d make frantic last-minute (and probably doomed) attempts to prepare myself for the worst.

    I’m glad you posted today, Paul. I enjoy your blog, and if tomorrow never comes at least I’ll have read your last post!

    1. Yes, I should’ve been more specific to either a Y2K type end, or a more apocalyptic. I would probably say riotously drunk would work either way 🙂

      Thanks for your kind words. Glad you stopped by. Hope all is going well for you.

  2. As long as we [humans] remain the apex specie on the planet which, by the way, is OK by me, the end of THE world as we know it may just be the end of OUR world as we know it. As such, with the exception of the most creative of minds, we will only be capable of forseeing it in OUR own socio-economic-religious-political terms. As the great “funny paper” comic, Pogo, once said: “I have seen the enemy and he is us.” Ahhh, but death by zombie…who’d have ever seen that one coming ? Or, is that so different from us in our worse moments? So, here’s to us in our better moments. Keep on !

    1. I’ve often wondered that myself. Back in the 90’s when bumper stickers were prevalent saying things like, “Save the Earth,” etc…, I wanted to create a sticker that said, “The Earth will take care of itself. Save the people!” 🙂

      Thanks for the comment. Sorry I’m so delayed in getting to a response.

  3. I have picked up a few anthologies lately (I got a Kindle for Christmas)–the Best American Horror 2012, etc.–but haven’t had time to read them yet. I have been reading Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood”, which is fascinating. I
    also read Robert Bloch’s “Psycho”, which is even more fascinating.

    For the theoretical apocalypse, I would stock up on ammunition for my weapons. I wouldn’t hole up in a bunker. I think anyone who would survive would have to be mobile. Following an apocalypse, the world would probably devolve back to somthing like what it was a few thousand years ago, meaning there will be either settled agrarian communities and hunter/gatherers (though with some remnants of technology of course). I would throw in my lot with the hunter/gatherers at least initially.

    As far as the increasing popularity of short stories, small presses, and the prevalence of zombie stories, I think what we are witnessing is a reaction against the control of media by the large presses spurred on by the advent and evolution of personal communication technology. With the coming of the ability for individuals to either establish their own small presses or to publish their own works via websites or small presses, those who people who the large presses will not publish can find publication somewhere else on a smaller scale. As a result, anyone can publish any crazy idea somewhere. On the one hand, this is a boon for the creative and can lead to the spread of new ideas. However, on the other hand, most people are not as creative as they think and very often what is published in the smaller markets will be rehashings of the same tired themes such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies (I am seeing a lot of website editors in their guidelines ask writers not to send in these types of stories). Therefore, we will see an increase in stories with the same recurrent themes outside the major markets (we will probably see it within the major markets as well as those markets are about making money, which often means appealing to going with whatever has the largest mass appeal). One thing that stands out about Barker’s “Books of Blood” to me, is how the stories I have read so far are such a far cry from any of the usual horror stories and themes. He is extremely imaginative and creative. That is what makes him a terrific writer and a literary artist. Few people have his imagination however, and therefore most can only rehash the more common themes.

    Still, from another perspective I think zombie stories may be especially popular because a zombie apocolypse is an easy apocolypse to conceive (as opposed to say, the Book of Revelation) and maybe because they appear to promulgate a basic fear of being overwhelmed by innumerable relentless enemies. I would love to hear some psychiatrists speak on the psychological basis for that. A protagonist’s victory over zombies then is the reader’s/viewer’s victory over that fear (I tend to believe that a reader’s choice of reading material is a choice of the type of existence he/she wants to live vicariously–for that matter the same can probably be said of a writer’s choice of the type of story to write). In a time when the average citizen may feel overwhelmed by innumerable things such as technology, financial concerns, terrorists, etc. people may be looking for a vicarious way to alleviate that feeling.

    All in all, I think the prevalence of zombie themes may have to do more with human psychology than anything else.

    1. Phil, thanks for your excellent comments. My apologies that I am just now getting to a response. I’ve been on a bit of an internet hiatus for a couple of weeks with the end of my teacher semester and the start of a new year.

      You have some great points here. Having started to familiarize myself with the writers’ world outside of my own little computer armoire, I have definitely seen a multitude of the same classic themes in horror such as vampires, zombies and the like. And while I haven’t read most of them, I’m sure you are correct that there are probably more stories out there currently that have the same take than there are new ideas. Not that I’m any Clive Barker, but I also strive for new, fresh concepts. I’ve never written a vampire story and was actually surprised when someone called my short story, Another Oldie but Goodie, a “zombie” story. I had always just thought of it as an isolated incident of one person coming back to life with a very specific purpose. But I guess that made him a zombie?

      Anyway, at this point, while I think there is definitely a flood of garbage that is coming with the growth in self and small publishing, I think there are also some real gems out there that wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise, so I’m still in favor of this revolution. And I believe that given time, the wheat will rise above the chaff as those who are simply in it hoping to be the next John Locke will find somewhere else to make their millions.

      As to zombies, I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’m assuming that the book I mention by my friend addresses the psychological side of things as it is more of an academic take on the topic than anything else.

      Thanks again for your comments.

  4. Why we enjoy scary stuff, from horror movies to Halloween haunted houses to bloodsuckers to witches and “walkers” on TV, has inspired years of theories.

    1. Thanks for your comment. For some reason it got put into spam, but I just found it. I agree, there are tons of theories out there. As long as people continue to enjoy them (and hopefully consequently, my stories), I guess I don’t care what the reasons are 🙂

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