New Blood


October 30, 2014 by Laird

In his introduction to A Book of Horrors, editor Stephen Jones asks, “What the hell happened to the horror genre?”

Considering that we live in a small press horror renaissance, this gambit seems a sort of peevish rhetorical device more concerned with preserving a narrow slice of tradition, and Jones’ related curatorial credentials, than raising a legitimate question.

I recently sat on the Shirley Jackson Awards jury and subsequently edited, alongside Mike Kelly, the inaugural volume of Year’s Best Weird Fiction. I’ve read a staggering amount of contemporary dark fiction these past several years. Stephen Jones, Paula Guran, and Ellen Datlow continue to put forth year’s bests without substantial overlap. In the case of Year’s Best Weird Fiction, a second volume could have arisen from the 2013 crop. A crop that contained a lot of horror. So, yes, I take strong exception to Jones’ rhetoric. It raises the question of why he bothers with his own best of if the situation is so dire. If anything is wrong, it’s that the tide might be rising too high for some who find themselves stuck in the mud.

Horror is ascendant, if not on the New York Times Best Seller List, then in quality and abundance throughout the industry. It is written by established pros, as A Book of Horrors ably demonstrates, and it is written by a slew of emerging authors. Look no further than the changing ToC of Datlow and Guran year’s bests, or recent anthologies by Ross Lockhart and Michael Kelly.

I don’t have to point to veterans such as Gemma Files, Joe Pulver, Paul Tremblay, or Nathan Ballingrud to bolster my case that horror is in good hands. I need not resort to other big guns, such as John Langan, Kelly Link, or Michael Cisco, or stalwarts such as Brian Keene, Conrad Williams, and Norm Partridge. I can show you fear in a handful of authors who’ve appeared on the scene in the last ten years, and in some cases far more recently–these are writers who are already helping reshape the contours of modern horror.

S.P Miskowski

Kaaron Warren

Damien Angelica Walters

Livia Llewellyn

Nate Southard

Steve Duffy

Simon Bestwick

Mike Griffin

Scott Nicolay

Richard Gavin

Ian Rogers

Simon Strantzas

TE Grau

Stephen Graham Jones

Pearce Hansen

Mike Allen

Chesya Burke

Molly Tanzer

Lynda Rucker

Sofia Samatar

A.C. Wise

This isn’t comprehensive, it barely nicks the surface. These writers are attacking the genre from different angles. Some of them venerate tradition, others remold it, and a couple upend it and shred it completely. We live in a time of plenty, my friends.

What the hell happened to horror, Mr Jones? Apparently it’s moving on without you.

Six book recommendations:

Burnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas

Ana Kai Tangata by Scott Nicolay

After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones

The Moon Will Look Strange by Lynda Rucker

Engines of Desire by Livia Llewellyn

Knock, Knock by S.P. Miskowski

28 thoughts on “New Blood

  1. Sean Hoade says:

    Reblogged this on Sean Hoade — Puttin' It Out There and commented:
    Laird always hits it on the nose.

  2. griffinwords says:

    I think I’m going to come back and read this blog every day. Thanks, Laird!

  3. T.E. Grau says:

    I truly appreciate the mention, Laird.

  4. Laird, I really think Steve makes it quite clear on the first page of his introduction what he’s attacking – not the new writers of real horror fiction at all, but specific trends in publishing. After all, he has anthologised quite a few of the writers you yourself list above.

  5. Laird says:

    Hi, Ramsey. Jones might have done a better job of it than simply slapping a broad brush across the works. Of course there is more context than his intro to ABoH. We have his recent interview where he whinges about awards juries and refers to certain parties as “pygmies.” We have a record, albeit voluminous, of a certain type of special interest horror, few women, few minorities, Euro centric, straitlaced anthologies, dominated by reprints as opposed to original efforts. In some respects, if Jones wants to know what happened to horror, he can look in the mirror.

    ETA Giving credit that Jones intended no slight to the authors of “real horror” laboring in the trenches, his thesis is dismissive of the authors who are indeed performing such work. It is also presumptuous of him to imply his editorial vision would show everyone the true path. The kids are all right, really.

  6. […] number two, in other Laird Barron related news, is Laird’s latest blog post, New Blood, in which he lists a number of emerging writers who are constitute a sort of new generation […]

  7. […] Laird Barron posted “New Blood,” calling out some of the current leading lights of horror, springboarding off of an […]

  8. Fenris Technique says:

    Seems that the book was published in 2011 . . .? Is this a recent discovery, or have you been quietly simmering over this intro for three years?

  9. Sean Wallace says:

    It probably is a response to a recent Jones interview, actually.

    • Laird says:

      Yep, the recent interview was inspirational.

    • Fenris Technique says:

      I agree Ramsey. The focus should remain on the art, not the artist.

      • Laird says:

        That’s a fine notion. However, when one sets forth to editorialize it shouldn’t be a shock if there’s a reciprocal reaction. Frankly, in Jones’ case, the gauntlet should’ve been picked up long ago. ETA–I don’t buy the notion that an editor with access to the whole of the field can’t do better in regard to diversity.

      • Fenris Technique says:

        Sure, anyone who editorializes should expect to receive feedback.

        Yet what would you say is the relationship between author diversity and story quality? Is it pragmatic to weaken an anthology for the sake of being inclusive, or should all art stand on it’s own? I’m not trying to troll here, it’s something I’ve honestly wondered about as I see LightSpeed, Nightmare, Lovecraft E-zine, and others launch their ‘Women/Queers Destroy ‘ campaigns. My feeling is that if women write all the best horror/sci-fi this year, then I’m absolutely happy to buy and read it. Yet what purpose does serving up less than the absolute best fiction for the sake of diversity serve?

        I ask because you obviously see things from your position that aren’t apparent to ‘Joe reader’ like myself when it comes to these issues.

      • Laird says:

        You take the best stories for a year’s best. If it skews, it skews. If it skews radically over time and volume, then it warrants a look. “Best of” is subjective, let us not kid ourselves. Jones has demonstrated a relentless preference for white European male authors over his career–I suspect there’s a bit of confirmation-bias at play in selecting the “best” stories of the year.

        However, best-of is a digression from the point of my essay wherein I quote Jones’ introduction to an original anthology. The picture is bigger than best-of anthologies. His bellicose declarations illuminate a rather hidebound stance.

        Ultimately, I find the dearth of diversity in his mountain of themed reprints and handful of originals to be inexplicable. Albeit, the picture comes into focus once you absorb a bit of Jones’ rhetoric.

      • Fenris Technique says:

        Cool, I appreciate the insight.
        I see where you’re coming from more clearly now.

      • Laird says:

        And to address this:

        “Yet what purpose does serving up less than the absolute best fiction for the sake of diversity serve?”

        That would certainly be undesirable if it were put into action. It’s an argument that is deployed whenever the subject of diversity is broached. I believe it’s fallacious. Gender in horror/weird fiction skews toward white males, but in reading for Best Weird Fiction and the Jackson Awards, I ran across plenty of great work by a spectrum of authors. In fact, the more I ponder that, the more I’m tempted to pop the buttons of my collar and shout, “Bullshit!”

        ETA not directed toward you. This tactic has been used countless times in hostile circumstances. I see our discussion as a reasonable one.

  10. Laird says:

    Ramsey–I am critical of Jones, but the cancellation of BNH would be an unfortunate loss.

  11. Could you point me in the direction of the offending interview, Laird?

  12. […] Laird Barron lists new horror writers and recommends a few specific books.  He says that wasn’t too tough to do, given that we’re in a renaissance of sorts for the genre, especially through small presses.  I don’t suppose anyone will be surprised to know that I own all six of the books Barron mentions, as well as his new anthology, Year’s Best Weird Fiction.  Barron’s own work is astonishingly good; try Occultation some night when you don’t care if you get any sleep. […]

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