November 8, 2012

Mention in Guardian article

Mr. Shivers is mentioned favorably in this article on the Guardian by Stuart Kelly, where he asks why horror remains the black sheep of the genre triumvirate – whereas Fantasy and Sci-Fi try new and more complicated things, Horror is content to, I don’t know, cut people up and stuff.

However, Mr. Shivers is cited as a “worthy attempt” to up the game. This is a nice thing to hear.

To me, genre is really mostly a matter of discussion – genres are, in a way, conversations about similar ideas, using similar methods. Genres study common things and share ideas among themselves. The works talk to one another, across the years. They inform one another. They gossip.

If this theory has any merit to it at all, then I’m not convinced Mr. Shivers is part of the Horror dialogue. I went into it without Horror – any kind of Horror – on my mind at all. And though I, like dozens of people, grew up reading Stephen King, I never had him on my mind when I wrote it. If I’m trying to mimic anyone in that book, it’s Cormac McCarthy (whom Michael Chabon has argued is a horror writer – but that’s another thing altogether). I still think of it chiefly as a bleak Western with mythical elements – a weird mutt of a book that I still utterly fail to categorize to any satisfactory degree.

Peter Straub once argued that Horror is a strong, versatile genre because it’s based on reaction rather than content:

I think this absence of specificity is not at all a limitation but the reverse, a great enhancement. That no situational templates are built into horror grants it an inherent boundarilessness, a boundlessness, an inexhaustible unlimitedness. If the “horror” part is not stressed all that overtly and the author spares us zombies, vampires, ghosts, haunted houses, hideous things in bandages, etc., what results is fiction indistinguishable, except in one element alone,  from literary fiction.

In these terms, Mr. Shivers most certainly qualifies as Horror. So do many things.

However, in this age of specificity – in which genre is four thousand times more about what you are talking about than how you are talking about it – in order to maintain its market share, Horror must not spare us zombies, vampires, ghosts, haunted houses, hideous things in bandages. Genre, right now, is all about content – for better or worse. And I don’t think that’s going to change, nor did I set out to do so.

So while it’s nice to hear that some feel Mr. Shivers is trying to advance the Horror discussion, it’s also a bit amusing for me, since I never intended for it to do any such thing.

I could be quite wrong, however – no one has less authority on what a book is and isn’t than the person who wrote it. Writing exists between the writer and the work – but reading exists between the work and the reader.

I’ll be very curious to see how future readers see the book.