Monday, November 14, 2011

How I Want to Be: AnthoCon Retrospective, Part 1: Thank You, Brian Keene

Before I say another word, at this point, every horror/speculative fiction fan should memorize the following equation:

Shroud Publishing and AnthoCon = Absolute Quality and Awesomeness In Every Way

Now that we have that out of the way, go buy tons of Shroud stuff while reading this blog.  First off, a truly awesome weekend with awesome people, too many to name here.  A great way to end the Con season.  And not only did the Four Horsemen of Shroud put on a simply awesome gathering, but I experienced a few revelations this past weekend when it came to whatever future "career" I might have.

But you want to write horror? Do you? Really? In that case, go read Brian Keene's keynote address for AnthoCon right now.  Know why?

Because this post typifies my journey as a writer this past year and a half.  Basically, Brian Keene was speaking about me (and many other horror writers, also).

So, to the point (and this is like confessing at A. A.): "Hi, my name is Kevin Lucia, and I used to think horror was only blood and guts and demons and the only horror I read is Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Peter Straub.  Wait, other people have written/write horror?"

This would've been me a few years ago.  Admittedly, I hesitated to call myself a horror writer, and those were the only three horror writers I ever read.  So, I was TOTALLY that young writer completely uninformed of the genre's history, and because of that, I didn't want to own up to the label "horror writer".  Well, actually, I hate labels PERIOD, and have come to believe I write lots of stuff, some of it horror.

But I digress.

Anyway, my reading tastes were rather narrow.  Things got better when I started reviewing for Shroud and got on the Leisure Fiction reviewer list (before they went all sploedy), but even then, still narrow.  

This started changing when I read Norman Prentiss' Invisible Fences.  Quiet, haunting, atmospheric, artful, built on quality storytelling, indepth character study NOT hinging on overloads of gore, I thought for perhaps the first time: "Hey. I think I can write this. THIS is something I really LOVE, and would LOVE to do."

Some compared Norman to this guy named Charles Grant.  I thought: "Well, I liked Norm's work, let's check out this Grant guy."

And, phase one was complete.  From the word go, the respectful restraint of Grant's prose, its flow and beauty, it's insightful storylines....THIS was something of SUBSTANCE (for me, anyway).

Then, wandering through a used book vender at Necon, I grabbed a book called The Place, by some guy named T. M. Wright.

Phase Two, complete.  T. M. Wright has been called a "one man definition of 'quiet horror' ". And lo, I suddenly saw a glimpse of what I'd want to do with my future.

Quiet horror. 

Now, Hiram Grange isn't quiet horror, but it's not straight up horror, either.  Neither is the current project, being a HUGE genre-blend.  But quiet horror.

It struck deep resonance, with me.

The final phase occurred when I spent an evening with legends Tom Monteleone and F. Paul Wilson. If you don't want to read the whole thing, here's a snippet:

"Their first night in Binghamton, Tom and Paul invited me to hang out.  That in itself blew me away.  I mean - they're tremendously friendly, giving, wonderful guys anyway - but even so.   That they thought of me means the world, especially because, in Paul's words, he'd said to Tom before calling me: "Gotta get Kevin over here.  He'd love this."

They were visiting Stuart David Schiff, editor of the legendary Whispers horror/sci fi/fantasy anthologies (of which before then I'd only heard "whispers" about).  It never ceases to amaze me how many genre figures hide out in Binghamton.  Of course, as the hometown of Rod Serling, that makes sense, I suppose.

Anyway.  Stuart is not only a former editor, but a collector extraordinaire.  And that doesn't even do the man justice.  Over the years, he's jammed his basement full of collectibles, so many, it boggles the mind.

The captain's chair from the original Enterprise.  And one from a Klingon warship.  And those were two of his minor pieces.  I can't, I simply CAN'T put into words what I saw that evening.  Original prints of movie posters. Tomes of weird fiction by authors I'd only barely heard of.  Figurines.  LIFE-SIZE PAPER MACHE TIGERS FROM LONDON.  Original studio horror props.


The biggest treat of the night was sharing WONDERFUL Chinese from a place in my own town I've never heard of - Moon Star - and listening to Tom and Paul and David reminisce on the genre's early days, their own careers, and everything under the sun concerning writing, publishing, horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Tom and Paul repeatedly apologized, worried they were "waxing philosophical" and "boring the hell out of me" (an approximation of Tom's words).  They needn't have worried.  They weren't boring me.  Far from it.  They were totally, completely, taking me to school.

Faced with a basement full of absolute genre and even cultural memorabilia gold, and enthralled by their stories, I realized two very humbling, awesome things:

1. I knew next to NOTHING of genre fiction's history

2. I had virtually no genre heritage of my own.  Not as rich as theirs, anyway."

Final Phase: Initiated.

So, I've spent the time since then reading primarily old stuff, with the exception of new stuff by authors I love.  Tracked down almost all the Whispers anthologies.  Shadows.  More Grant and Wright.  Saranntino.  Ramsey Campbell.  Fritz Lieber.  Manley Wade Wellman.  John Farris. Ed Gorman. J. N. Williamson.  Karl Edward Wagner.

And I've been growing.  Realizing that half the ideas I thought were good have already been done.    And also, realizing there's plenty of room to move in the horror genre for me to write stuff I feel really good about, stuff true to me. 

So, hearing Brian deliver that keynote address?  Sounds corny, I know...but I felt like he was talking about me, to me. 

Thanks, Brian.  I'm still studying, still learning.  And, I'm a bit late.  But I'd rather read more of this stuff, and write less.  Because then maybe the stuff I do write will be a lot more informed.

Part two - something much more personal - coming soon....