I wrote my first narrative fiction in 1969 during the 8th grade, a short tale of star-crossed lovers reunited in a deserted school lunchroom as nuclear Armageddon descends. A year later the piece ran in my high school’s prestigious annual literary magazine.
For a freshman to get published was quite the coup. How did I manage it?
By tapping into my anxieties, I reflected the anxiety of my times. Then by writing to purpose, I struck a chord with the editors.
‘Horror’ is the most elastic & inclusive of all literary genres and enjoys a long, meritorious history precisely because it so often successfully reflects the collective anxieties of the time. Never in the history of horror has the genre been more popular. Variations saturate the media delivery machine, from film to television, from hard copy to e-book, from Stephan King to Sharknado.
Yet for all its market penetration, horror’s grand literary tradition feels sadly diminished.
Perhaps that’s because too many contemporary horror writers work backwards. That is, they write to the hypothetical expectations of some theoretical audience instead of writing directly to their own purpose and trusting that readers will find resonance in the work as a result.
Of course, to do that you must actually have a purpose for writing and understand what it is. The biggest surprise to me as an editor of horror fiction is that when hundreds of submissions come in over the transom, the only apparent purpose of most is merely an ambition to be published.
That’s not near good enough. And why anyone would go to all the trouble to write a story without first having sufficient reason to do it is a mystery.
For your work to gain traction in a filled to bursting marketplace that only grows more crowded by the day, first you must be brave. Pursue only your own distinctive voice in the service of your proprietary purpose and see where that leads.
The world is awash in anxiety and fear. When you sit down to write, remember what it was that first drew you to horror. Not just the delicious taste of vicarious fright but the deep down, inchoate thing inside you that horror made restless and fed back to you through cold sweat nightmare.
Then hit the keyboard and go for it, because while the beginning of the 21st Century ain't exactly the Dark Ages, we now know that Mommy lied when she said there’re no monsters under the bed and the truth of that can be made to count for something, if you try.
Besides, for all the advice you’ll get about the various paths to getting published -- the dos & don’ts and whys and wherefores -- when you write first to please yourself, you’re assured of doing your very best work.
And there’s no better, more assured formula for success than excellence.
Frank J. Hutton is a writer, photographer and editor of horror stories, including the Stoker Award nominated anthology “Tattered Souls 2”, published by Cutting Block Press. A current collection of his images and essays can be found at http://frankjhutton.blogspot.