Sunday, October 31, 2010

Guest Writer: Bill Floyd

Horror Novels and Real Terror
A Halloween Special

Bill committed to posting one piece per day on the Six Sentence Social Network throughout the month of October, all related to subjects associated with Halloween or autumn in general. All the archetypes made an appearance: monsters, ghosts, haunted houses, unstoppable slashers; there was a mix of fiction and essay and memoir, nostalgic evocations of his youth with its toxic costumes and wanton juvenile delinquency; and there were recurring themes and characters, all adding up to some ghoulish good fun in the spirt of whistling past the graveyard, which is what the season is all about.
[The preceding is adapted from his introduction to the series, and the following posted on 11 and 12 October, and 23 October, nicely sum up his influences and inspiration. –MDJB]

Paperback Horror Novels, Part 1
By the time I left for college, I must have accumulated hundreds of titles, all of them crammed into the bookshelves of my bedroom: books by John Farris, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Edgar A. Poe, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury. A boy's club for sure, and most likely marketed directly at my lonely, alienated teen-aged ass, but they did their duty, seeing me through innumerable solitary afternoons and nights, at first because I had no choice in the matter and then maybe a bit obsessively and unhealthily later on when I'd made some flesh-and-blood friends. My own nascent forays into writing were poorly disguised rip-offs of Jaws and The Shining, at first handwritten and then pounded out (and I do mean pounded) on my grandmother's old manual typewriter, one of those cast-iron beasts with a carriage that would shift the entire desk to one side when you palmed the lever to return it. Most of my work was derivative and hackneyed (and some would say not much has changed!) but I was learning to be the very thing I wanted to be, at least if I couldn't actually inhabit all those stories as a vampire-vanquishing hero. I hadn't yet realized that all those ghosts and monsters were just stand-ins for the really scary things in life. But those books helped me navigate nonetheless, they kept me from channeling the anguish and helplessness I felt into real-world violence or perversion, so seriously guys (many of whom I now realize probably did not make much money off this stuff at all) THANK YOU for pretty much saving my life.

Paperback Horror Novels, Part 2
It felt like autumn just opening one of those books, whose covers ranged from the lurid to the abstract. A company named TOR published a lot of them, although at the time even mainstream publishers were not afraid to sully themselves with a title here and there, given Stephen King's ascendency. (Another offshoot of the "King Effect" was that every other novel was entitled The ______, as in The Wolfen, The Glow, The Tribe, The Fury, The Manitou, The Cipher, The Nesting, etc.)
As for the quality of the work, well, in my memory John Farris's Son of the Endless Night and Peter Straub's Shadowland still thrill (although the less said about Straub's most recent work, A Dark Matter, the better) along with a few books by Kathe Koja and Clive Barker.
I mostly outgrew the genre in my early 20's, but without these novels to instill in me the love of prose and character and imagination, I would never have discovered the likes of Pynchon, DeLillo, Atwood, Wallace, Gaddis, McCarthy, Morrison, or Updike.
Autumn is forever calling to me, autumn echoes down the years, every night when I open whatever book I am currently reading and offer up a prayer for the mid-list and the genre aficionados whose hunger carries the rest of the industry through its troughs and then they stand fuming on the sidelines, relegated yet again to the literary ghetto when the market rebounds.

Real Terror
Of course we all know it's only cartoons. None of these movies or novels or sixes is anywhere near as frightening as what is right outside the door, or just beneath the skin.
Car crashes; cowards with guns or missiles or suicide vests and the whole world coming down around them; the tumor blotting the x-ray like a misshapen egg floating in the dark sea of the surrounding tissue.
Our cartoons help us manage the real fear so it's not so damned insurmountable and debilitating; our cathartic diversions prompt the development of tools that assist us in confronting the day-to-day world in all its dire reality. Otherwise we would be paralyzed, reduced to shambling shock-sufferers drowning in our own thousand-yard stares, because every living thing has been due its own judgment day since the Big went Bang.
Autumn calls us each in turn, and sometimes the only way to sustain the fading light is by throwing shadows.

© William Floyd 2010

Bill Floyd is a writer from North Carolina who is feeling his way around the on-line world of micro-fiction. He blogs occasionally at Six Sentences, and you can check out the rest of his terrific October Series by clicking here.

8 comments:

  1. Horror never was my forté Bill -I was too scared - but I've very much enjoyed this retrospective look at your influences and literary journey and especially the third piece putting it all into context. The lessons were especially well-learned in your case.

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed and eagerly devoured the fruits of your pounding, Bill. I, too, was smitten by the genre during my pre-driving years. My love of Hammer Films took me to King, Koontz, Saul, et al. But I never got into slasher films. With the exception of Tony Perkins, my beloved monsters had to be more than human. I highly recommend Dacre Stoker's sequel to Bram's "Dracula."

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  3. Enjoyed the series Bill- my favorite horror writers were Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson-
    then SKing's earlier work- thanks for the stories

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  4. I was never one for horror, either. Maybe because of what you said about life being scary enough.

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  5. great series, bill! as a set, they really shine!

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  6. Very interesting approach to horror in both ways. Fictional themes become scarier when real live events go beyond imagination. Good stuff congratulations!

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  7. Sorry, I'm just getting here.
    Nice sum up of the journey. I laguhed at your description of the manuel typewriter. When I saved enough money to get one everyone else had an electric. I could have built muscles with that Olympia.

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  8. Rereading through posts and enjoyed this all over again. Bill Floyd has one of the most easygoing voices I've encountered and it is always a pleasure to read his work. And here one can learn something besides.
    Thanks so much, Bill, for sharing with MuDJoB. You made October a solid treat this year.

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