“I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there.” — Shirley Jackson
Horror is the “cutter” genre of fiction and film. I’m not talking about slashers; I’m talking about the act of self-cutting, by people who draw razors or other sharp objects across their flesh for the purpose of feeling something… anything… even if that feeling is pain.
I consider horror literature and horror film to be the aesthetic equivalent of this act of cutting. In their finest works, horror writers illuminate the human condition, exposing our fears and worries for the darkness that lies beneath them. At its basest level, horror allows us to feel something — even if that feeling is deeply uncomfortable.
“[Horror fiction] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” — Clive Barker
There is an organization that exists as a kind of clubhouse for scribes of horror books and screenplays: it’s called the Horror Writers Association (HWA). From an idea in the head of horror novelist Robert McCammon back in 1984, as a group originally imagined by the acronym HOWL (Horror/Occult Writers League), to a thriving membership in the four figures, the Association has represented writers on the dark side of literature for over 30 years.
The first meeting was held November 3, 1985, at the World Fantasy Convention held in Tucson, Arizona, and each subsequent year they have presented writers with the Bram Stoker Award, recognizing literary excellence in the genre. Officers, lifetime members, and working authors with such recognizable names as McCammon, Lansdale, Koontz, Straub, Matheson, King and others have graced the organization with examples of that excellence.
HWA has also set up literary programs and scholarships, along with forging partnerships with libraries that have begun to show more eagerness to stock horror books. They also feature mentoring programs, through which established writers in the field work with newer writers to help them break in and improve their writing ability along the way, as well as publishing some of their own anthologies.
I asked current HWA president Lisa Morton — an award winning writer in her own right — why there needs to be a specific group that caters to horror writers:
Horror is sometimes called the “ghetto” of the publishing world, because it’s perceived as something that’s lurid and cheap. Those of us who craft horror fiction know of course it’s so much more, but we can still sometimes feel as if we’re shouting into the wind. I think that’s why two of the best things HWA can do is provide camaraderie with like-minded souls, and educate the public about how broad and exciting the genre is. That genre-specific side of HWA is certainly the most obvious thing that sets us apart, but I also like to think that we have an exceptional group of volunteers and employees who are enthusiastic, hard-working, and innovative, all of which bring something extra to HWA. We’re always looking for fresh new ways to help our members, and help the genre as a whole.
Another focus for the association is the constantly changing technology in the publishing field, as explained on their own website:
As has been the case with all major professional writing organizations, HWA has also fought to keep up with the monumental changes occurring almost daily in the realm of digital publishing. The days when writers could count on publishers to handle all the promotion of their books are now all but gone, and HWA has offered everything from newsletter articles to a Facebook group to its widely-read “Dark Whispers” blog to assist authors in promoting their work.
If you are a writer whose interests run toward horror, do yourself a favor and get involved with HWA. Even if you’re just a fan, it’s always good to know where your heroes and the creators of your nightmares lurk.
The Horror Writers Association can be found online at www.horror.org.
Here is a list of all the presidents of HWA, starting with current President Lisa Morton.
Lisa Morton: 2014-present
Rocky Wood: 2010-2014
Deborah LeBlanc: 2006-2010
Gary Braunbeck: 2005-2006
Joseph Nassise: 2002-2005
David Niall Wilson: 2001-2002
Richard Laymon: 2000-2001
S.P. Somtow: 1998-2000
Janet Berliner: 1997-1998
Brian Lumley: 1996-1997
Lawrence Watt-Evans: 1994-1996
Dennis Etchison: 1992-1994
Craig Shaw Gardner: 1990-1992
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: 1988-1990
Charles L. Grant: 1987-1988
Dean R. Koontz: 1986-1987