Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scary writing.

It has become a tradition for me to read a book of horror or ghost stories during October--the month of Halloween.  This year I have chosen 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories, edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenberg. Some of the authors are famous in the genre, like H. P. Lovecraft, O. Henry, and Sheridan LeFanu, but most of the names are completely unfamiliar to me. As a former bookstore owner, an unknown author used to be a kind of a rarity. Just for grins I looked up a few of the strange names on Advanced Book Exchange and was only mildly surprised to find that many have no book publications. One author, Thorp McClusky--who has written the best story I have come to so far--has only one and it is a book on chiropractic medicine.

Looking at the publication history of these stories, I began to understand. Many of the stories were first published in cheap horror magazines with names like The Popular Fiction Publishing Company or Weird Tales--both of which were published in the 1930s. In other words, pulps. During the 1920s-1940s, pulps came in many genres--western, action-adventure, romance, and horror. They were purchased by the masses because they were so cheap and because they were sometimes so outrageous that tired working people could lose themselves for an hour or two and forget about the Depression or the conditions in the factory. But lots of magazines meant that there had to be a lot of writers and many young writers published their first stories in pulps--Ray Bradbury, for instance, and John D. Macdonald. Some, like these two, became famous later, most did not. In fact, I suspect that a great number of pulp writers published less than a handful of stories in their lifetimes.

The advent of the e-book is changing all that, yet I can see similarities between some of the stories I look at on Smashwords and those in 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories. For one thing, most of them are, well, ghastly. The fact that many of the authors in 100 Ghastly Stories do not have full-length books tells me that they were beginning writers who never made it. But the writing tells me the same thing--poorly thought-out plots, thin characters, and abrupt endings are the products of writers who don't know any better. The same is true with most of the e-book stories I read or sample, but with one difference: the paper-published stories have been gone over more closely by a professional editor and proofreader. Many of the e-book stories or novels or poems or whatever have not been gone through at all, except maybe by the author's brother--who is generally less educated than the author. But like I said in my last post, it is the duty of everyone who reads e-books to let the author know about silly misspellings, bad grammar, incorrect descriptions, or even stupid dialogue.

Although I am still halfway determined to get many of my novels into print via agents and editors, I am taking steps to make sure that all of my work--which includes 10 novels, three books of short stories, five books of poetry and more--will all be available as e-books before I die. That will ensure, to hopefully a greater extent than those writers whose only story was published in Weird Magazine sometime in the thirties, that my work--all my work--will be available to whoever is willing to search for it.

Hats off, then, to the editors of 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories, for doing their homework and bringing back to life so many forgotten authors. I only wish that electronic book publishing had been available for writers like Edith Lichty Stewart, Otto E. A. Schmidt, or Harold Ward, who continue to haunt the existing issues of pulp magazines and horror reprints, but nowhere else. What of the hundreds of stories that they wrote that ended up in an attic--or in the fire on a cold night? I wish I had them now.

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