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Changing the perception of horror

Spectral PressThere are two reasons why I am where I am now: first, I have a very deep love of genre literature, in particular horror. What got me reading in the first place was that, along with sci-fi and fantasy; whilst my reading now ranges across a broad swath of styles and idioms, I always return at some point to where I started, the literature of imagination. And, let’s be honest, this is where we as a species began too, with mythmakers attempting to explain away the phenomena they saw happening around them, as well as helping the bard to bring the tribe together, to help them cohere as a social unit, just by creating a shared history and ancestry. Without that, I would venture to say, society, or at least the beginnings of it, would never have happened in the way it has.

The other reason? That relates, in a small but still significant way, to my decision to become a publisher. Anyone who has bought one of Spectral’s chapbooks will instantly see the attention to detail and quality that goes into every one. I’ve already mentioned in a few interviews elsewhere the positive inspirations behind Spectral Press, but there’s also another reason that played a role in my setting it all up: in my time as a consumer I often noticed an alarming tendency within some areas of publishing that seemed to imply that genre fans will accept anything, no matter the quality or lack thereof. I studiously wished to avoid being lumped in with those whose productions appear to have been put together at the last minute, with badly executed covers, next to no attempt at editing and typos galore. Yes, you can point an accusing finger at the Golden Age of pulp publishing in the 50’s and 60’s, with their combination of lurid covers, racy storylines and plotting (not to mention their sometimes outlandish central conceits), and ultimately their cheap production values, but one can also say that there’s a certain charm to them, heavily steeped as they undoubtedly are in innocence and nostalgia. I myself collect Ace paperbacks from the heyday of pulps. Even so, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that the publishers still put some thought into the covers and presentation even if some of the stories themselves were forgettable. A similar charm is also evident in the older genre films, for instance, (the Universal horrors and 50’s sci-fi B-movies readily spring to mind here), but that’s simply because, in terms of special effects and film-making itself, technology had not yet caught up sufficiently with imagination – these people really WERE working with the best available to them back then, often leading to ingenious solutions to particular challenges.

However, there’s absolutely no excuse these days, especially in the area of publishing. The advent of the home computer and the consequent ready availability of desk-top publishing and graphics packages means that, with a little practise allied to a modicum of imagination, something more than half-decent can be put together, something that at the very least won’t say ‘Well, we really couldn’t be arsed to give this our fullest attention because it’s only a horror/fantasy/sci-fi story, isn’t it? Nobody will mind…’ If you can’t do it yourself, then maybe there’s a friend with the requisite knowledge or knows someone who does. When it came to Spectral Press, this was the one aspect (in addition to getting top-notch stories and authors) that I was most concerned about – pushing to get the best quality I could. Despite appearances, I didn’t have a great deal in the way of resources, so I had to find ways to get around that if I was to achieve my aims. Perhaps it’s my background in the arts, but I really can’t stand mediocrity of any kind, especially when people have all the networking tools available to them at their fingertips. I sincerely believe that there’s no excuse whatsoever for putting out second-, third- or fourth-rate material.

Kraken by China MiévilleWhat some producers (notice the emphasis on the word some) are saying, in effect, is that genre fans possess neither taste nor a developed sense of discernment. Is it any wonder, then, that there are those out there who believe that genre fiction is for the intellectually-challenged or only suitable for the social misfit? One has only to read authors of the stature and invention of a China Miéville, or an early Clive Barker (here I am talking about his Weaveworld/Imajica era), or a George RR Martin, to tear that particular absurdity to shreds. And yet, this idea that genre literature is instantly dismissible still pertains, and in large part that’s because much of what has been put out there has been (and still is) of questionable quality. Furthermore, many DO buy this species of literature (or watch films of dubious plot and quality), and then complain that our beloved corner of the cultural universe isn’t being taken seriously enough by those in certain quarters – if we want that to change (as I believe the majority of us do) then we need to change the perceptions of the naysayers by changing OUR own approach to horror in particular and genre in general. And then, in time, maybe, those with negative views of the genre might just start listening.

(Before anyone dashes in and rants away at me, I am well aware that there are many fine and enthusiastic people and producers who are doing this for the love of whatever genre they prefer, and that they’re doing their best with what they’ve got. I applaud them for doing so, but I still believe that there’s vast room for improvement. Remember, it only takes one badly produced example to be picked up on by those who sneer at us, and then the rest get undeservedly tarred with the same brush. Yes, I am very passionate about this – can you tell? Also, please note: this is a personal opinion piece, and written from my own perspective of almost a lifetime’s involvement with genre, as a consumer and, latterly, a producer.)


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