Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Comforts of Horror

The cloud cover rolled in this afternoon. I could see thundestorms to the north so heavy there wasn't a horizon. And now it's humid and the swamp cooler might as well be a fan. It's too hot to sleep, so I'm going to post this now instead of tomorrow. In the profoundly mortal words of Prince Rodgers Nelson, forgive me if this goes astray.

Last week, at the recommendation of Suzy Charnas, I picked up a copy of Chirstopher Golden's _The Boys Are Back in Town_. If y'all aren't familiar with Mr. Golden's work, he's done a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer work (including it appears some collaborations with Amber Benson) along with his own original stuff

I read The Boys in about four sittings, which given how more or less nosebleed busy things have been is actually saying something. I wasn't moved or shocked, my world wasn't changed, but it was a decent little story, well told. The horrific parts were indeed icky (morally and graphically), I wasn't sure what the resolution would be until I got there, and the parts that were supposed to be mildly titilating were mildly titilating. Everything Golden promised me, he paid off, and if he didn't promise me that he was going to redefine the horror genre, well good for him.

Looking back, the best description I have of the novel is that is was comfortable. The experience of reading it reminded me of taking a long, warm bath with one of the early Laurel Hamilton books (The Lunatic Cafe or the appropriately named Guilty Pleasures -- pretty much anything before Obsidian Butterfly, where Anita Blake and I finally parted ways.)

I was recently suprised and flattered to discover a story of mine nominated for a horror/dark fantasy award, and it got me thinking about horror. I hadn't intended to write a horror story (and I could actually argue that mine was a happy wish fulfillment story and an amelioration and softening of the real world), but it was dead fucking grim. The Boys Are Back in Town -- like the Anita Blake series -- *isn't* dead grim, though. It's moralistic and predictable and pleasant as worthy of praise as any good comfort food. And I can't even say it isn't horror. It has all the hallmarks, all the genre expectations, and it lives up to them.

I just hadn't understood the idea of a horror cozy before.

When I was younger (17, say), I went through my Harlan Ellison phase. I read everything I could get my hands on by the man, and the more profoundly disturbing it was, the more I liked it. I also watched A Clockwork Orange about a hundred times.

When I hit my mid 20s, I found my tastes had changed. I like Harlan's softer, more humane peices now. I no longer enjoy rape scenes in films. I can't watch Clockwork anymore. And I find I appreciate the occasional comfortable horror story. I don't write them and I don't aspire to, but I find something admirable in them.

Given the success of Laurell Hamilton and her army of imitators (including some dear friends of mine), I suspect the rebirth of the horror genre that we're seeing now if being fueled by that sense of the comfortable and the familiar and the safe. I don't hear about book editors seeking out the kind of cruel, edgy work we saw from early Clive Barker and recent Poppy Z. Brite.

And if I'm right, how profoundly ironic.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On the Internet No One Knows You're a Dog

You know The New Yorker cartoon? The dog sitting at the computer, saying to another dog, 'On the internet, no one knows you're a dog.' It's my favorite New Yorker cartoon.

I was enraptured initially by the idea of posting as 'Onyx'. I mean, 'Onyx' is such a dorky, adolescent, internet kind of pseudonym. When I first started posting under pseudonym, I thought it would be a chance to disentangle my comments from my reputation, whatever that might be. And I was startled to find out people thought I was a clueless newbie. (And delighted to be addressed as Mr. Onyx.) I was aware that the traditional use of anonymity is to allow the writer to criticize without fear of reprisal, but as I started writing, I realized that I was no more ready to criticize someone when anonymous than I was when using my name. I know too many people in this field. But I wasn't ready for some of the stuff I did hear. I was startled to hear, for example, that Onyx had 'gone after' Christopher Rowe. (I heard this or read it in a couple of places. Luckily, Christopher did not appear to feel savaged.) More importantly, I just don't feel right posting critique without owning up to it. So I pretty much vowed that I wouldn't say anything as 'Onyx' that I wouldn't say under my own name.

I always suspected that anonymity wouldn't last. Too many people are in the Cabal and conspiracies, even light-hearted ones, don't hold up for long.

But I was naively unaware of how the pseudonyms would becomes such a lightning rod. And it I didn't anticipate sending 'Onyx' emails to people I knew, pretending not to know them, or even weirder, listening to people talk about Onyx while I was there, and they were unaware of who I was. And it never occurred to me (although it is obvious in retrospect) that people would assume we have a united agenda. I knew we didn't have a united agenda. (Of course people assumed we were united. And had an agenda. We're a Cabal for God's sake.) Well, we don't have a united agenda. I have a lot to say about why we should write novels and stories exploring gender. I write novels and stories exploring gender. Although I'm pleased to discuss what's valuable about that. (Okay, not a lot. Literature is not without importance, but it's also not terrifically important. On Maslow's hierarchy of needs it comes way after food, water, security, all that good stuff. But that's another post.) In retrospect, I really should have suspected the result, but I guess I wasn't even remotely prepared for it. I wasn't even sure anyone would find us.

Mostly I had real reservations about posting as 'Onyx'. It seemed dishonest. So much so that I promised myself that I would out myself if someone asked me to or if it even seemed to be obscuring a conversation. So I did (although my unmasking was inevitable considering that immediately afterwards I screwed up sending an email and sent it out under my regular address. That's me, Maureen McHugh, mcq@en.com, although I'll get your emails at keymaster, too.) I'm told that my identity is common knowledge in much of the blogosphere.

I am officially throwing off my mask and cape and coming out of the shadows. I'm not going to expose the rest of my fellow cabalists and actually like the idea that they are still cloaked, if only for the sake of the betting pool. (Okay, partly because I can't always remember who is who.) I'm going to keep posting as Onyx, but I'll update my profile to reflect who I am.

But I'm sure glad to come clean.