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May 15, 2004

Of Awards, A**holes, and Assorted Aggravations: Part Three 

Okay, before moving on to the third and final part of this three-parter, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who e-mailed me after Part Two; some of you offered thanks for making you aware that not all writers have the luxury of writing one book a year and then sitting back and waiting for the fat royalty checks to come a-rollin' rollin' rollin' in; some of you wrote to tell me that I was full of sh*t because there's nothing wrong with downloading music and movies (even though I made it abundantly clear that I was discussing only written copyrighted material, which led me to think maybe a few of you might benefit from cracking open a book once a decade so your comprehension levels might rise to slightly above that of an amoeba); still others wrote to offer financial assistance should I need it, and while I was and am deeply appreciative of the sentiment and concern, I'm in no immediate danger of becoming homeless or starving. I won't be flying to the Bahamas or buying an LCD widescreen television any time soon, either, but we all have our burdens to bear.

However, there is something you can do for me, if you'd like: if you really want to hop onboard the "Help Gary Stop Being A Janitor And Return To Writing Full-Time" bandwagon, then walk into your local bookstore and just buy one of my books. Barring that, you can click over to the Links section here, and from there surf on to, say, Shocklines, Earthling Publications, Borderlands Press, or Cemetery Dance, and pre-order one of my upcoming collections or novels. You'll get a good read for your money, I think, and each sale gets me that much closer to parting ways with my mop bucket, toilet brush, and bottles of Windex (the smell of which I used to find pleasant but now just makes me want to let fly with a massive Technicolor Yawn).

And in case my saying it outright last time wasn't clear enough, I want to reiterate, re-phrase, and repeat that I was in no way, shape, manner, or form attemptiong to speak for Harlan Ellison, nor was I attempting to represent or (as one friend accused me) misrepresent his fight; the only thing I was representing in Part Two was my opinion about Ellison's ongoing battle against internet piracy.

Are we clear on that? I speak here for myself and only for myself.

So...we've now covered Awards and A**holes, so that leaves us with (drumroll please):

III. Assorted Aggravations

As you may have correctly inferred, this last part is going to be a bit scattershot, jumping and tumbling about like a paper cup caught in the wind. I'm going to cover a handful of things about the horror field that bug the living sh*t out of me on an often daily basis, but individually don't have the makings of a full column in them.

Take, for instance, 1: The Look Of Most Horror-Related Web Sites.

You may have noticed that, with the exception of the gravestones and angel statues (which are few and kept in the background), there is nothing about this site to overtly announce it belongs to a horror writer; this is not because I am embarrassed to be a horror writer (you should know better by now); it's because:

A) I write things other than horror, and sometimes even the things I write that are horror don't fit neatly into the popular conceptions most people have of the work being done in the field;

B) Deena Warner, this site's designer and web master, has a deft and subtle touch with visual elements; she knows how to convey the spirit of my work with the placement of a single image, the use of a specific font, the balance of a particular color scheme: if there is such a thing as a definitive visual representation of the basic nature of my work, the design of this web site (Flash intro included) is it;

C) The visual design of most horror-related web sites I find to be either self-conscious, juvenile, or so over-the-top as to be laughable. A lot of times you will open a horror site to met with SPOOOOOOOKY MUSIC (usually of the too-loud Omen-type, Gregorian chant variety), onyx-dark backgrounds, animated GIFs of burning candles, skulls with glowing red eyes (or that f**king rotating 3D skull that I know you've all seen), bats flapping their wings, horizontal rules that appear to be dripping blood, carved pumpkins with fire flickering behind their eyes and smiles...I have even come across more than a few author's web sites where the author's photo shows the author him- or herself spattered in blood. (Ooooh, I forgot to mention the blood spatters; you have to make sure you've got plenty of blood spatters all the hell over each page, to give it that always tasteful post-Manson-Family-visit look.)

For the record; yeah, the Flash intro of this site includes music, but it is not a piece of music that is self-conscious or over-the-top; I wanted something that was more disconcerting and quirky than SPOOOOOOOKY, and this particular piece of music (royalty-free, which I purchased) fit the bill; if you listen to it, you'll find that it never does quite what you expect it to (kind of like -- if I am to believe my reviews -- my own work). It was chosen very carefully, and part of the criteria was that it not sound like every other piece of music used in a horror site Flash intro.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that horror-related web sites that get so far up in your face they're practically halfway down your throat from the opening page bug the sh*t out of me. If the above-mentioned elements are being used in a tongue-in-cheek way, that's cool (a couple of my links go to sites that use them for just that purpose), but the majority of them are actually trying to be scary, and it doesn't work; it just makes them look like unimaginative, bloody-minded, ham-fisted juvenile con-artists who think Last House On The Left constitutes a genuine cinematic achievement and booger jokes are the height of wit.


2: Horror Writers With A Self-Invented Moniker and/or "Persona"

Gimme a break. I don't know about you, but if I encounter one more writer (in most cases, new writers, which makes me despair, sincerely) who prefaces their name with "The New Bad Boy/Bad Girl of Horror", "The New Queen of Terror", "The New Prince of Dark Fiction", "The New Court Second-Scribe in Charge of Queasy Sensations at The Pit Of Your Tummy" or some-such other bullsh*t handle designed to draw attention to the writer rather than the work, I'm going to climb a tower, I swear it. (For clarification on this last, see Part Two.)

(Second parenthetical pause: wouldn't it be interesting to have someone call themselves "The Nice Guy Of Horror" or "The Courteous Queen Of Terror" or "The Really Swell Dude of Dark Fiction"? I'd actually remember that, and would probably seek out their work to read just because they were clever enough to do it.)

Sometimes -- dash, repeat, italicize -- sometimes these monikers are created not by the writers themselves, but, rather, by reviewers. The most recent case of a writer who's employed a moniker he or she didn't create her- or himself is that of John Paul Allen, one helluva nice guy and author of the novel Gifted Trust. A reviewer for that novel dubbed Allen "...the father of nightmares." An interviewer who read that review used the phrase to introduce Allen, so it comes as no suprise that Allen has used that phrase in publicity releases -- and why the hell shouldn't he? It's a terrific, eye-catching, memorable phrase that is going to go a long way in helping potential readers remember his name; he didn't come up with it and decide to label himself; and any writer who's handed an unsolicited blurb like that is a fool not to get as much mileage as he can out of it. Yes, writing a strong novel is damned important, but once the work is published, it all boils down to bid-ness and marketing, and anything that draws attention to your work can and should be used to your advantage. So, good for John Paul.

Since starting this column, I have come across (or been introduced to, unsolicited) a number of horror writers who, both on-line and at conventions, assume a "persona" not only for the benefit of their readers (assuming they actually have any, as they claim), but for that of other writers and editors, as well. When asked why they insist on assuming these personae, every last one of them (at least, to whom I have spoken) have answered with something like: "Because I want readers/editors/other writers to remember me. It's a way of making a strong impression." On the surface, it might be seem like a good answer, but it reminds me of a snippet from a Bill Cosby routine wherein two guys are talking about cocaine usage; the first guy asks the second one, "What's the attraction?", and the second guys answers, "Well, cocaine intensifies your personality." To which the first guy responds: "Yes, but what if you're an a**hole?"

If you focus the majority of your energy on perfecting a "persona" so that other writers/readers/editors/artists will remember you, then I guaran-flippin'-tee you that you'll succeed; they'll remember you; but ask them to name a piece of your work and see what happens; you could probably hear a gnat fart in the silence that will follow. Which is precisely what you'll merit; if you choose to make it all about you rather than the work, then you richly deserve the disdain and/or obscurity that is coming your way.

I can say this without fear of reprisal because I do not have a persona; I barely have a personality. Trust me on this.

Onward and downward:

3: People Who Claim To Be An "Expert" On Horror Because They've Read Everything written By Stephen King (or Anne Rice, or Clive Barker, or Robert McCammon, or Peter Straub, or Or OR...)

You get the idea. Odds are, you've met someone who's this type of "expert". You've probably had to endure their homilizing endlessly about their extensive knowledge of the field based on having read only King or Rice or Barker or Or OR...(not dissing these writers, get it? Got it. Good.); and you have undoubtedly heard these "experts" dismiss out of hand any writer who isn't King or Rice or Barker or Or OR... because these "experts" don't want to expand their understanding and appreciation of the rich diversity of fiction offered in the field because to do so would be to admit (to themselves and others) that they don't really have the slightest god*amn idea what they're talking about. For someone to claim they're an "expert" on horror based solely on having read everything written by a single author is tantamount to my claiming to be an "expert" on automobile mechanics because I've read the owner's manual that's stuffed in the glove compartment of my girlfriend's Toyota.

Try this little experiment: the next time you find yourself confronted by one of these "experts", politely interrupt them and ask them how they feel about the influence M.R. James's or Nathaniel Hawthorne's work might have had on King or Rice or Barker or Or OR..., and see how quickly that stops their lecture mid-sentence. And if they can't answer because it's obvious they've never read (or, in most cases, even heard of) James or Hawthorne or Matheson or Blackwood Or Or OR... tell them to shut the f*ck up, then go have an intelligent conversation with someone who has the brains to admit they don't know everything.


4: Rampant Abuse Of The First Sale Doctrine By Some Booksellers and Individuals

Okay, this one is a real sore spot with me, and is going to take some explaining, so get comfortable.

You have, of course, encountered on-line booksellers who offer copies of books (often-times books they did not themselves publish) for outlandish prices. I myself have seen copies of my Cemetery Dance collection Things Left Behind going for as much as $1, 750.00 (which, by the way, is a good deal more than I received for writing it; not bitching about what Rich Chizmar paid me for it, not at all, but I would dearly love to have more than one copy of my first book but that ain't gonna happen because I can't afford the prices many places are charging for it). The recent sold-out release of Borderlands 5 turned up at several on-line auctions within days of its publication with bids starting -- starting -- at between $200.00 and $500.00.

There are some who mistakenly think this sort of thing is illegal; it isn't. It is allowed under what is known as the First Sale Doctrine. Section 109 of The U.S. Copyright Act codifies this doctrine which, in essence, states that whomever first purchases the physical copy of a copyrighted work (a book, a DVD, VHS, CD, etc.) has the right to do with that copy whatever they want, including transfer ownership of that physical copy in any manner they choose; they can give it away, sell it to some place like Half-Price Books, or offer it up for on-line auction. The First Sale Doctrine deals with the physical object, not the intellectual expression contained within.

Here's what p*sses me off about this: there are some booksellers and individuals who will purchase several copies of a book with no concern for the intellectual expression contained therein -- they couldn't give less of sh*t about the quality of the stories or the novel, no; what they're concerned with is obtaining as many physical copies as possible because (as was the case with Borderlands 5) a particular book might sell out very quickly, and they, in turn, under the protection of the First Sale Doctrine, can then transfer ownership of this physical copy at a price that is sometimes as much as 700% higher than what they paid for it originally. When confronted with their unapolegetic avarice (and avarice it is, make no mistake about that), they will inevitably defend their actions by claiming that they've every right to turn a profit on their investment...and then probably have the nerve to bitch about having to pay two bucks a gallon for gas because OPEC are a bunch of greedy bastards. What's wrong with this picture?

Understand something: I am not condemning specialty-press publishers like, say, Donald Grant, who produce exquisite (and justifiably expensive) limited editions of books geared toward book collectors -- those rare birds who have a deep and abiding respect both for the physical object and the intellectual expression contained within and who, it should go without saying, can afford these editions; nor am I condemning any specialty-press publisher who at a later date offers up copies of a book they've previously published at a higher price: after all, it's their product, and if they can find a buyer for their product, more power to 'em; I am also not condemning those who offer up for auction or re-sale books with the intent of using the money to assist others who are struggling with financial hardship (the upcoming auction to benefit Charles L. Grant being a prime example; I donated a book of mine and hope like crazy that the bids climb into the hundreds for it because Grant is a wonderful guy and superb writer and shouldn't be saddled with spirit-breaking worries over medical bills); my problem lies with those who buy books solely for the purpose of re-selling them at obscenely inflated prices so as to fatten their personal pockets just because they can. No, it isn't illegal, but in my book it is and always will be reprehensibly and immoral...which is why I do not buy books from sellers who engage in this practice, be they on-line or in the dealers' room at a con. (As soon as I see one of my books selling at more than twice its original asking price -- I'm not completely unreasonable about this, I realize that booksellers have to make a certain amount of profit to stay in business and cover basic operating costs, so doubling the price of a sold-out or out-of-print book strikes me as equitable and fair, but beyond that -- I walk away...and God help 'em if they have the nerve to ask me to sign any books for them so they can up the price even more.)

One more, for good measure:

5: Dumb-Sh*t Things Some People Say To You At Conventions (And A Few Suggested Comebacks)

"Tell me a scary story." (There once was a writer who killed several innocent people in a hotel lobby because one person too many asked him to tell them something scary and he just snapped, like in about four seconds.)

"What's your name again? Hmm...never heard of you." (And what do you do for a living? Really? You actually made a conscious decision to make that your life's work? For the love of God, man, WHY?)

"So you, like, write that Friday the 13th stuff, huh?" (So you, like, have a reasonable dental deductable, right?)

"Do you know Stephen King? What's he really like?" (So you, like, have a reasonable dental deductable, right?)

"You write horror? Ew!" (Mostly encountered when you're stupid enough to announce your profession at a sci-fi con.) (Phuck-u barada nikto.)

"I can't write, but I've got a great idea for a book; you can write it and we'll split the money." (Oh, MAY I? How long have I dreamed of this moment, when a selfless soul such as yourself would deem me worthy to WRITE SOMETHING FOR THEM while they sit on their ass and do nothing? How long have I prayed for yet ANOTHER person who isn't me to make money off my efforts while I work 3 jobs, turn insomnia into an art form, and eat macaroni & cheese four times a week? BLESS YOU, SELFLESS ONE! BLESS YOU!)

"Why are you openly weeping?" (Usually asked after forty-seven minutes of sitting at an autograph table where the only person to approach you is an overweight drunk from the local NASCAR convention asking for directions to the "sh*thouse".) (I want my mommy; my mommy reads all my books.)

"I don't read horror." (Then WHAT are you doing here? Oh, you're a hooker? Here's a fifty -- there's a guy over at the autograph table who's openly weeping; go cheer him up, would you?)

Yes, I have more, but this has turned into a longer installment than I'd planned, so I'm going to get out while the gettin's good. The writing tips will finally return next time, so stand warned. Thanks for enduring this three-parter, and for your continued support of my writing and this web site.

Stay tuned....



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