I rode the horror bandwagon during the 1980s mass-market boom. Although I also crafted mysteries and westerns and contemporary romances and erotica and science fiction, I became known as a horror writer because my stories appeared in The Horror Show, The Arkham Sampler, Deathrealm, Masques III, and many other horror-themed anthologies and magazines. I also helped found the Horror Writers of America, now known as Horror Writers Association (HWA), which branded me as a horror writer.
I didn’t switch to horror, as some writers did, because it was the “in” thing. I wrote psychological horror and suspense because that was the kind of story I loved to read. Obviously, enough other readers loved horror to support an entire industry devoted to horror fiction. I suspect Stephen King’s success had a lot to do with horror’s popularity. Horror’s popularity began to wane when America launched Operation Desert Storm and real-life horrors were televised 24/7 by CNN and Fox.
When I returned to fiction writing in 2012, horror was undergoing a renaissance. New publishers had sprung up to take advantage of on-demand publishing and e-books. When I attended the 2014 World Horror Convention in Portland, I was introduced to Don D’Auria and Samhain Publishing. I pitched Don and he liked my story ideas (so did other editors who snatched up my novels first). When Don asked me to whittle my manuscripts down from 140,000 words to under 90,000 words, I knew Samhain wasn’t right for me. Don and I met again and talked at the Atlanta WHC in 2015. I was devastated to learn Don lost his job as editor of Samhain’s horror line near the end of 2015. Don, like David G. Hartwell, was one of the good-guys who knew and loved the genre as much as I did.
I am additionally devastated to learn today that Samhain plans to give up the ghost entirely. Samhain announced they will cease publication later this year due to declining sales.
Two of the other horror publishers who had licensed my novels in 2014 also went out of business recently. Eldritch Press published Abandoned in trade paper and e-book last March, and Eldritch shut down at the end of 2015 after publishing multiple Stoker Award nominees. Damnation Books, which contracted for Deviants in 2014, sold out to someone else who promised to publish my title but who has not remained in contact. Their new website is currently “under construction”. I suspect they won’t publish the novel before the contract expires.
Something similar happened to me in the 1990s when I sold several novels and dozens of short stories that never saw publication. Horror publishers bit the dust faster than Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers at the OK Corral, and it’s happening again.
Why is it happening now? I blame Donald Trump.
If you look at social media, you’ll notice how Trump dominates the posts, including posts by horror authors and readers. Trump has become a real-life horror that holds the attention of horror writers and readers the way the First Gulf War did, the same way Joseph McCarthy did in the 1950s and WWII did in the 1940s, when horror fiction also died from neglect.
Fear activates the fight or flight response in human beings just as it does in all animals. The human mind can only handle so much fear at a time before it seeks to escape from all fears real or imagined.
Not only has the fiction field been saturated by too much horror, so has real life.
What readers need and want now is a hero who will fight our fears for us. Like Generals Norman Swartzkopf and Colin Powell during the First Gulf War or Patton during WWII or Eisenhower and Edward R. Murrow during the McCarthy era. Mark my words, such a hero will emerge.
This is a recurring cycle, folks. It’s happened before, and it will happen again.
Horror never dies. It goes away for a while, and then it comes back.
Fortunately, I don’t depend on horror alone for my livelihood. I also write suspense thrillers with supernatural heroes and crime-suspense novels with detective heroes. I’m perfectly positioned for the superhero boom.
Writers who follow marketplace trends often find themselves a day late and a dollar short. The secret to surviving in this business is to write from the heart. Write what you want when you want, and to hell with current markets.
And, remember. Horror can never die. It returns from the grave with a vengeance.