When I first pick up the book of an author I've never read before, I can be rather critical. My instincts are to pick at the writer's style and story-telling abilities with skepticism. My judgments can be harsh, sometimes unfair, and are often made before I am fairly into the author's piece. I guess, you might say, I can be a Critic with a capital C. My mind naturally wants to compare and contrast; to rank authors in my mind on a scale of from most-liked to total crap. As a writer, I find this process abhorrent; writers and their styles are as varied and unclassifiable as any other art form. As a reader, on the other hand, I only want to experience the best and don't want to waste time on a book that is not entertaining and that I'm not getting anything out of. It is a good lesson for writers, because the popularity and success of your own work will be determined by the readers who will be comparing your work with that of other authors they have read, many of them with more notoriety and success. It's a frightening concept for the fledgling writer (like me!), but it's also a challenge and a place to aspire to.
My point is: if you are a burgeoning writer (like me!) it is important to be yourself, be creative, and write about the kind of things you would like to read. If you try to write like, say, Ernest Hemingway (which I have seen people attempt) just because people say he is a good writer and you want to be good too, you're writing is going to be wooden and lackluster. I did this in college; I tried to be "literary" and write like Joyce Carol Oates or something, because that's the way I thought I was supposed to write and it never worked out. I'd end up with 10 pages of prose without any real story arc and without any kind of interesting premise. I could pinpoint small passages that I thought were "really well written" and that I was rather proud of, but when I went back to try and "edit" my stories I was quickly bored with my own work and lacked the motivation to do much more than fiddle around with them. It wasn't until after college, as I reached that dreadful point in my life where I had to decide what I was really going to accomplish with my time, that I began to write what I really wanted to write. The sad thing is, for me, it should have been obvious from the beginning; I was reading Stephen King voraciously by middle school; I read Tolkien's trilogy for the first time in the 6th grade; I enjoyed (even wrote a couple) stories about werewolves, and vampires, and lost buried things as a child (I was beyond fascinated with "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark"-all those twisted pictures...). Why did it take me so long to figure out what I enjoyed writing about? I guess what I'm trying to say is: be true to yourself; be proud of who you are and what you like. I like horror stories; they speak to me; I believe the genre to be one of the most honest and intriguing out there (when the writers hit the mark). Pretentious writing, with overly-flourished metaphors and high-falootin language, is not what makes a piece literary. Writing is literary when it has something important to say about the human experience. It's very simple.
The writer who comes to mind when I think of literary, but with simple, poignant language is Richard Matheson. I am Legend, I believe, should be read by every aspiring horror author (Please don't be discouraged by all the awful movies based off it that have been made over the years; none of them follow the book, even the Will Smith version, which has some merit but lacks Matheson's heart and vision). It is inspirational and a perfect example of a brilliant work that keeps language simple and out of the way of the story.
A writer who comes to mind when I think of literary-horror literally is Ray Bradbury. His language is poetic, and beautiful; sometimes sublime; and sometimes, honestly, a little oppressive. You have to put yourself in the right state of mind to read Bradbury; it's hard to simply pick up Something Wicked This Way Comes and read it casually for a couple of minutes and put it down. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Ray Bradbury is known as a science fiction guy, but he is actually a fantastic writer of the macabre. Horror can be literary, just like any other genre of fiction, speculative or otherwise.
Anyway, I've really gone off track. The reason I admire Matheson and Bradbury so much, is because their writing is true to them personally and always has been, even when publishers and the reading market refused to give horror fiction the attention it has always deserved, they wrote what they wrote. We all need to write what we wanna' write and read what we wanna' read. We should be inspired and encouraged by the things we read; we should be enriched by the entire process.
When I began this blog entry, I'd intended to discuss how critical I was when I began to read Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife, recommended by the Horror Writer's Association. I'd intended to begin by discussing how I felt the novel was dated and even anti-feminist (it was published in 1943, after all), and how much my opinions changed by the time I'd finished the book, but I'll have to get to that a little later... is engaging and has a very interesting message; it also has some amazingly suspenseful and horrific moments. [Check Out It Out Here]