THE ILLITERACY OF HORROR by Joseph J. Patchen

I am always amazed at the cruelty of editors; at the surgical precision at which they can destroy a perfectly crafted work. I am also always amazed at their contempt for writers, particularly young and new scribes as well as seasoned professionals alike, offering career advice that is akin to a stake through the heart.

Such has always been the great struggle between editor and writer since the first cave drawing. But the schism between these natural foes appears to have manifested itself in a new and yet a different form these days and in a different form in the genre of horror specifically.

Welcome to the new pigeon holes of literary horror versus pulp horror.

Many editors are now hanging their criticisms and rejections on pieces that are not ‘literary’. The technical meaning is that the piece fails publication because it lacks social commentary.

Most sheepskin hangers, particularly Ivy Leaguers, secretly look down on the genre anyway believing it to serve no other merit other than a cheap thrill. Some of these editors are writers themselves whose offerings are akin to a poorly executed New Yorker cartoons.

Literary horror is an ‘in’ thing like smart girl glasses and ridiculous beards and sandals. Literary horror is a secret handshake from one member of the fraternity to the other. Literary horror is a class thing; an upper class thing where people in this club tend to look down on those less fortunate, like pulp writers.

I am a pulp writer and proud of it. So were Bradbury, Bloch, Matheson and Beaumont. What literary types fail to remember, so was Lovecraft before Arkham re-issued his works.

I have run into many writers who are concerned about this; have taken the rejections to heart, but look—before writing this article I finished a science fiction story. I have never been accused of being ‘literary’, but in the four years of this writing ‘career’ I have over one hundred pieces published. I also teach writing, so I must be doing something right.

I stopped listening to people with degrees long ago. People who told me I would never publish. People who told me early on I should turn my attention to bartending or sweeping hair in a barber shop.

But in general, once searched, many of these editors have never published anything outside a grad school journal. I have degrees too—just not in literature or English. I have a doctorate but who cares. I just write.
I write to tell stories, to entertain, to chill, to scare, to make people laugh. Anyone who has ever studied any piece of literature knows that meaning is generally tied to the experience of the reader. So let’s get over it.

I once met Ray Bradbury who told me the key for any writer is to just write and write and keep writing—period.

And who should know better, some recently graduated editor with a bibliography as thin as square of Charmin or Ray Bradbury?

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Joseph J. Patchen stories have appeared in print, on the web and in podcasts. He is the literary critic for www.lurid-lit.com and has own website his own josephjpatchen.weebly.com. He write horror and humor and sometimes doesn’t see the difference between the two.

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