Friday, February 26, 2010

The Horror of the Horror Shelf

Posted by LD Keach on Friday, February 26, 2010

(or, Stephanie Meyer Ate My Baby.)

Listen, I’m going to confess something here that is truly, truly horrible. It is a dark secret that few souls have had the privileged terror of knowing, and one thing I don’t admit in public when I’m trying to get people to like me. It’s a monstrous secret, one I probably need professional help for, and I’m compelled today to confess in a spirit of honesty and community to my fellow writer:

I like Romance novels.

I do, I'm sorry! They’re like Feelings-porn. They’re tacky little kernels of masochistic mindlessness, with usually flat prose and ridiculous plots that are so overly sweetened with sex that it’s like eating cardboard dipped in caramel. (Mmmm, porn-caramel.) I usually pick up a pile from the clearance rack at the local used bookstore when I’m interested in really debasing myself for a whole afternoon. Romance novels are great.

But not when they’re mixed up with my Horror.

Go to any major chain bookstore and you’ll probably see what I’m talking about. The two and half shelves labeled “Horror” will have your standard trappings of the genre stocked there—a handful of Stephen King, a pile of old Anne Rice, some Poe and Matheson collections with a row or two reserved for Dean Koontz. (Oh sweet, dark gawds of doom, not Dean Koontz. But I’ll rant about that, later.) Anyway, then you’ll see a small scattering of other “real” horror writers like Bentley Little, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, et al…but all that takes up a surprisingly small section of the shelf.

What remains—what squats in the remainder of the space like black leeches on the chest of a pre-Industrial revolution cancer patient—is paranormal romance. Laurel K. Hamilton. Charlene Harris. Stephanie Meyer. Stephanie freakin’ Meyer, people! Sitting right there, next to Graham Masterson!



If that thought doesn’t keep you awake at night and haunt your every fevered nightmare…well, then, maybe you should go write a SciFi novel.

But keep in mind, I have no issue with paranormal romance itself. (The Twilight series, of course, is an abomination on this earth that needs to be exorcised, but we all know that.)  Paranormal romance is fine. I like paranormal romance—when on its own freakin’ shelf.

The fact that the major chain bookstores are compelled to stock these books as “Horror,” when anyone with a third grade education can see they are not remotely scary and not even meant to be scary, is a very bad sign. Either it’s a vast lack of vision on the part of book distributors, a sign of a changing market, or a hideous conspiracy to take the teeth out of that gory, scary genre we’ve come to know and love. I’m going to say its option one: lack of vision. Because, frankly, the other two options are just to horrifying to consider.

But, after you moved passed that horror, you might stand in front of the shelf, looking at poor Graham Masterson and the porn-caramel company he’s obtained in the bookstore just because his name starts with M. And you might have a name that starts with M yourself, which might lead you to think: “Oh, no. When I get my novel published, it might be sitting right there, next to her, and my beloved characters will be close enough to rub butts with Edward Cullen.”

Run screaming for the hills, people, cuz it don’t get any scarier than that.

4 comments:

  1. It causes the very fabric of my being to shake with terror when noting that Romance outsells all other fiction combined or at least it did at the Borders I worked at in Syracuse, NY. It was a dirty secret the way it used to be a dirty secret that video rental stores stayed in business entirely because of that creepy room in the back.

    Even if you included literary bestsellers and Oprah's Book Club affiliates, and you combine every literary novel with all of SciFi, Horror, and Western, those monthly sales would still fall below Romance sales.

    Be terrified.

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  2. Oh great. MY last name starts with M. And I'll be closer to Myers than Masterson. Le sigh.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say was, on the slim chance that you haven't discovered this yet, Harlequin now has an imprint of paranormal romance, if you're into such stuff. Silhouette Nocturne, I think it's called. Personally, I prefer my horror to be syrup-free, but hey...whatever creaks yer coffin, baby.

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  3. Oh, I agree, Shane; it's terrifying. I've read that Harlequin experienced little to no profit drop off even in the Great Recession. Porn runs our civilization!

    And, yeah, I've heard about the Harlequin imprint, Patti. (I've even read one or two...and I felt as guilty as if I'd sold meth at an elementary school playground right after. Those books are so bad. God, the horrible things I do to myself...) ;)

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  4. I really want to give Stephenie Meyer a swirly, preferably in a public restroom sink Casino Royale-style.

    She's a great inspiration, though. If there was an agent, publisher and editor all willing to represent her, there should be a perfect storm of opportunity waiting out there for me as well.

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