I love it when truly talented and exceptional "mainstream" and "literary" authors jump into the horror pool.
Justin Cronin's The Passage was thoroughly engaging and much better written than your average post-apoc-genre tale. Scott Smith made the shift from his debut blockbuster commercial thriller, A Simple Plan, to the truly horrifying horror novel with The Ruins. I haven't analyzed all such efforts, and surely there are hundreds, going back to Henry James. And I am willing to bet the results are, more often than not, really fun for the author and rewarding for readers. World-class quality writing is welcome in any genre, or should be, and--as a lifelong horror reader--I appreciate contributions to the genre by writers who have proven their chops in what have been, traditionally more, ahem, elite categories and genres of the novel.
Which is why I was excited beyond all reason to learn that one of my very favorite authors, Scott Spencer (Man in the Woods, Willing, Endless Love, A Ship Made of Paper, etc.), has a horror novel coming later this year, titled Breed. He's apparently written it under the pseudonym Chase Novak, which, if I am correct, is the name of a character from Mr. Spencer's mega-hit debut novel Endless Love (which blew up big thanks in part to the Brooke Shields movie; but please read the novel, it’s in no way dated like that movie, and it’s crushingly beautiful and amazingly accomplished for a first novel).
Spencer is a multi-talented author, a kind of literary guy who’s never content to stick to one type of story. All his novels are gripping, lovingly crafted, and deeply humane. He’s written intelligent-raunchy comedy, a love story, suspense, and topical mainstream novels (and by that I mean novels that deal with race, class, violence, broken families, etc.). So it seems very . . . maybe not "natural", but certainly plausible and most welcome . . . that he would eventually turn his laser pen on the horror story. The blurb on the cover of the as-yet-published Breed is from Stephen King and says something along the lines of, “The best horror novel since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story . . .”
Did you catch that? Friends, Ghost Story was written a long time ago. A lot of horror novels have been written since Straub published Ghost Story.
Are you drooling yet? I am. I don't get excited for horror novels all that often anymore. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I spend my working life writing them, and by the time I finish my next one, I am a bit horror-ed out. Also, I've been reading horror for 30 years. It takes a lot to wow me.
But the idea of a Scott Spencer horror novel, under any name, is something to get excited about.
Interesting aside--why is the trend now, when using a pseudonym, to announce immediately, on that very book’s jacket, that the pseudo belongs to so-and-so actual author? The award-winning and esteemed literary author John Banville launched a detective series or noir series under the name Benjamin Black. And on that first B. Black book, we are informed that Benjamin Black is the pseudonym for Mr. Banville. This is quite different than the old days, when even Stephen King tried to keep his pseudonym Richard Bachman secret and only confessed to the crime after being outted by some nut who tried to blackmail him. I guess the dirty shame and secrecy of pseudonyms is no more.
So. Next question. If you're going to give it away straight off the bat, why do a pseudo at all? I don’t know. I should ask my agent or editor why authors are doing this now. I have a couple guesses. One, maybe it’s that horror, crime, and other genre novels are, in fact, part of the mainstream reading culture now. Maybe the stigma ain’t what it used to be. I know that publishers don’t like their authors to muddy up their brands with such complicating events as writing more than one kind of book, so choosing a pseudonym to do a crime novel or a horror novel might be one way to telegraph to the reader/consumer not to expect the same type of “literary” novel from John Banville this time around. Warning: he’s gone dark and violent. Buyer beware. Etc.
My other guess is, the idea behind confessing one’s pseudonym up front is a shrewd way to capture both audiences. A way to attract new readers who don't know Chase Novak from Scott Spencer from Santa Claus, as well as Spencer's loyal readers who might otherwise not pick up his new horror novel without knowing he is at the helm. “Oh my, isn’t this interesting,” the shopper in the bookstore thinks. “I don’t usually read this sort of trashy thing, but I love Scott Spencer/John Banville/Justin Cronin’s other novels, so maybe I’ll give this one a shot.”
Hey, it worked for Anne Rice when she went and published or republished those dirty romance novels. But that was a long time ago. When dirty sex was still dirty, crime novels were drugstore trash, and horror was a genre reserved for deranged teenaged boys. Nowadays, the pornographic fan fiction 50 Shades of Mr. Grey is in My Vagina with Whips and Chains and Leather books are holding spots 1 - 4 on most of the bestseller lists, have sold a bazillion copies, and were printed by Knopf, of all publishers.
What shame, then, could there be left in Mr. Literary going capital-H horror?
Not much, it would seem. And that’s a good thing for readers, a good thing for horror.
I'm off now to think up a pseudonym for that literary novel I've had brewing for years . . .
*this is my actual, given, real name, and says so on my birth certificate. It's not a pseudonym and in no way was made up to sound cooler, look good on my book covers, or in any way further my publishing career.