LENORE HART – A GOOD HORROR STORY

Lenore Hart is the author of eight novels and editor of the fantastic fiction anthology series The Night Bazaar. A Shirley Jackson Award finalist, she’s also published short stories in fantasy magazines and literary journals. She’s been a recipient of grants, awards, and writing fellowships from the NEA and arts organizations in Florida, Virginia, Ireland, and Germany. Her work has been featured on “Voice of America” radio and the PBS-TV series “Writer to Writer.” She teaches at The Ossabaw Island Writers Retreat. Her most recent release is The Night Bazaar London: Ten Tales of Forbidden Wishes and Dangerous Desires. (Northampton House Press, Dec.)

“A good horror has its place in literature.” – Thomas Hardy (Tess of the D’Urbervilles)

Mr. Hardy, how right you were. I write novels in horror and several other genres: historical, literary, contemporary, horror, and dark fantasy. I’m also the editor of a fantastic fiction anthology series called The Night Bazaar. Some writers consider it odd not to specialize, much less mix several genres in one work. I see no contradiction. Reality is certainly tinged with horror at times – from the personal sort to horrific events on the world stage. And, as a category, horror has been ubiquitous in both genre and literary works, including gothic works by 19th-century authors revered in the literary canon. The genre persists and travels well.

I began my writing career decades ago, tired of passive female characters in plots (mostly) conceived by men: warm bodies who said little and screamed much, hoping for rescue by a male protagonist. I first wrote gothic fiction to create the female heroes I’d wanted to read.

I expected this choice to be questioned, but hadn’t expected to be reviled or verbally abused. But one such encounter in the mid-1990s occurred at a crowded booksellers’ conference in Atlanta. I was talking to the owner of a regional press about my first novel, which was set in Florida, where he was based. “Oh, horror. I never read it. I wouldn’t tolerate it in my office. It’s not literature but despicable junk. Morally reprehensible,” he concluded, smirking at others in the booth.

I was suddenly conscious of the people around me, a silent, complicit audience to his contempt and intended shaming. I briefly doubted the wisdom of my choice.

But he’d said, I never read it. Then how could he intelligently judge? He wasn’t merely  being sanctimonious but reveling in ignorance of the entire genre. Did he also consider Edgar Allan Poe’s works’ morally reprehensible’? Was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, one of the purest examples of gothic fiction ever written, really ‘despicable junk’? If so, then Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Sheridan Le Fanu, Ambrose Bierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Shirley Jackson must also be simply genre hacks posing as literati.

Is some genre work slipshod? Sure. As are some so-called ‘literary novels.’ I should’ve said, “Novels of horror, fantasy science fiction, or any other genre can be, and often are endowed with the same craftsmanship as ‘fine’ literature.” Over the years, this has remained the case in works by such writers as Vincent LaValle (The Changeling), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians), and Jess Kidd (The Night Ship). But I was new to publishing back then, unsure of myself, and simply departed, fuming.

Reticence is no longer the default, though – for me or for horror. Several aspects of the new ascendance of the genre are thrilling. For one, it’s been widely recognized as not just worthy and legitimate but a desirable part of the literary conversation – as should’ve been the case all along. Also, delightful is the merging over the last few years of horror with some of my own lifelong interests – myths, folktales, and fairytales – in the currently popular subgenre of Folk Horror. Those themes are timeless. Every possible plot and character type inhabits these dreamlike, compelling, archetypal stories, whatever culture they originate from.

For human beings, it seems, a bit of fright is pleasurable. Aristotle claimed we could get fear out of our systems by indulging in it safely through the arts. This may be partly why horror’s popularity persists, but it’s more complicated. As children, we experienced fear and mystery daily, inhabiting a world we did not comprehend. One built to a larger scale than we could cope with, run by strange, sometimes threatening ogres called adults. We existed at the mercy of everything and everyone: the neighbor’s growling dog and needle-wielding nurses. The darkness in the closet and under the bed. Aware of our helplessness and the frequent, patronizing refusal of adults to help or even listen. No wonder children identify with the protagonists in scary stories!

I read at adult level by age nine, and my parents were not nearly as vigilant as those of today. Also, a Saturday afternoon horror double-feature was at a nearby rococo hole-in-the-wall called the Vogue Theater. Sometimes, I went with my little sister, at others with two boys from the neighborhood who were competing for my affection. I sat in the middle, and each held one of my hands while giant grasshoppers, leech women, or triffids loomed between the worn red velvet curtains.

At home, though, I read scary fiction in solitude. I craved the barely-glimpsed terrors of an ancient manor in a Poe story, the unseen but horribly perceived presence of ghosts in Shirley Jackson’s novels. Not the bloody, ham-handed slasher plots or the laughably obvious monsters in poorly crafted paperbacks. The stories that captivated me didn’t bludgeon their audience. Instead, they lulled the reader into a sense of safe but pleasurable anticipation, stretching taut nerves until they sang, then allowing one to emerge unscathed after savoring strong emotions and impossible fears without risk.

The most vivid, well-crafted chills have always been delivered by authors who mostly keep the horror just offstage, wisely understanding they could never create anything to outdo their readers’ personal ideas of ultimate terror. Often, they isolate the protagonist, physically or psychologically, much the way a child dwells alone in an oversized world, his warnings or cries falling on deaf ears. How much more satisfying it feels to get a handle on this fear later, after having already read and viewed it, experiencing intense dread for a limited time, yet emerging unscathed.

When I was nine, I liked being scared. Many decades later, I still do – by a well-crafted book or film. It’s cathartic. Far less frightening than the all-too-real threats of climate change, endless wars, and economic doom.

Horror fiction will endure, challenging us to safely consider the unthinkable, venture from our comfort zones, and challenge our preconceptions. There, we can confront and face down our greatest fears and yet survive. The horror authors will survive as well because readers will always need them.
I belong to the writers’ organizations below and, in some cases, serve on their boards:

The Connecticut Poetry Society
The European Writers Council
North Florida Writers
The Historical Novel Society
The Horror Writers Association
The Irish Copyright Licensing Agency (managerial board)
The Irish Writers Centre
The Irish Writers Union (executive board)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
Society of Authors (Ireland)
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (Fellow, member of Boxwood Collective)

AMAZON
Trade paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Night-Bazaar-London-Forbidden-Dangerous/dp/1950668223/ref=sr_1_1?qid=1703701296&refinements=p_27%3ALenore+Hart&s=books&sr=1-1

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Night-Bazaar-London-Forbidden-Dangerous-ebook/dp/B0CPW5SDVR/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1703701868&sr=1-1

B&NPaperback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/book/1144471075?ean=9781950668229
eBook:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/book/1144471075?ean=2940185963500

KOBO eBook: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-night-bazaar-london

INDIEBOUND/BOOKSHOP Trade paperback: https://bookshop.org/p/books/the-night-bazaar-london-ten-tales-of-forbidden-wishes-and-dangerous-desires-lenore-hart/20980323?ean=9781950668229

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Good thoughtful essay, Lenore. I agree, good writing is good writing, no matter what the genre. I just finished a novel in which I had Ambrose Bierce as a character. I remember reading “The Damned Thing” as a youngster and it scared the bejesus outta me. Congratulations on winning the Shirley Jackson Award and best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Lenore Hart

      Thanks, Michael. Bierce should make a great character!

      Reply
  2. G.M. Malliet

    Love Shirley Jackson stories. Congrats on such a prestigious award.

    Reply
    • Lenore Hart

      Thanks! She’s definitely one of my writing heroes. That made it even more exciting.

      Reply

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DAVID POYER – Naval Officer – Adventurer – Author

Nearly fifty of David Poyer’s novels and nonfiction are in print with major publishers. He’s also published oral history, travel, biographical nonfiction, and collaborated on memoirs.  He’s been translated into Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian, and rights have been sold for films. Writers he’s mentored have been taken on by major literary agencies, published by major houses, appeared on New York Times Top Ten bestseller lists, won the International Latino Book award and other prizes, and become college teachers. He currently teaches at the Ossabaw Island Writers’ Retreat.

His latest, The Academy, was published by St. Martin’s/Macmillan in December.

“The Academy, a profoundly human story, is a captivating and fitting finale to the Lenson series from David Poyer, a master in modern naval fiction.” – Quarterdeck Magazine.

“This long-running naval series continues full-steam ahead. . . [Poyer generates] top-notch suspense.” – Publishers Weekly

“The Lenson series is an intriguing alternate history saga […] Fans of the long-running series—will be well pleased.” – Booklist

David Poyer is set to captivate readers once again with THE ACADEMY, just published by St. Martin’s/Macmillan. Known for his gripping military fiction, Poyer brings to life a tale of courage, honor, and the complexities of life within the hallowed halls of a military academy. With high ethical stakes and a suspenseful past-and-present narrative, it’s Poyer’s capstone novel in the Dan Lenson series.

In his final tour of duty after a harrowing career at sea, Lenson is appointed Superintendent of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. He begins at a difficult time: Congress is cutting military budgets in the wake of a devastating world war, calls for radical reform are upending traditions, and Dan himself faces legal jeopardy for his actions during the war. And when a Category 5 hurricane threatens to overwhelm the coast, Dan must fight to rescue the Academy itself.

Parallel to this narrative runs the dramatic story of Dan’s years as a first-class mid, many years before. A plebe he coaches commits suicide, and Dan is drawn into the investigation. The decisions he makes will shape how he comes to lead troops in battle and at peace.

What brought you to writing? I’m four years old, sitting on the porch with my mother. She’s reading to me, which she did a lot, and I’m grateful! But her stock answer for my questions, and I was full of questions in those days, was “God made it.”

Where did the moon come from? “God made it.” The sky? “God made it.” I ask her, then, “Where do books come from?” And she says – a sentence that changes my life – “Writers write them.”

I realized what I was here for.

Now, I didn’t start right away. I felt I had to go out, live, and see the world. In 1976, I was in the Navy when an accident dictated several months of leave in a cast to my waist. So I bought a desk and a typewriter and tried to write 50 to 60,000 words and have them all be different.

The result was The Hill, a YA novel about cross-country running and a small-town scandal. No one’s ever read it, though I’m thinking about publishing a limited edition. Maybe next year?

Tell us about your writing process. I believe waiting for inspiration is unfruitful and frustrating and a self-limiting strategy for a career novelist.

A group of contractors reports to a building site. Do they stand around waiting for inspiration as to what they will build? No. They have blueprints, lists of materials, timelines, and milestones. They may change a partition wall here and there, beef up a structure, or adjust to a new zoning regulation. But in general, they know where they’re going. They can work with a minimum of stress and uncertainty.

I operate the same way. My outlines run 10 to 15 single-spaced pages, organized by chapter. That charts my course, though I’m still free. When inspiration does strike, I’ll follow. But I modify the outline as I go. This synopsis becomes a sales tool for film rights or, sequels, or promotion.

How long did it take to write your first book? How long to get it published? As I said, I didn’t send out the first manuscript. The second, White Continent, is speculative fiction about a group establishing a technologically advanced colony in Antarctica. They declare independence and then have to defend themselves. It’s a Utopia, an Erewhon. I sent it out fifteen times and got it back fifteen times. So I put it away and started on another.

But if you persist, the Universe gives up on discouraging you. A newspaper editor persuaded me to pull the manuscript out and send it to a friend at Lippincott. Lippincott didn’t like it, but my editor’s friend’s secretary read the first page while it was in the mail room getting boxed up to go out. She liked that page, so she stole it and took it home. Read it and made her boyfriend read it the next time he came over. As luck would have it, he was an agent. He sold it to the first publisher he sent it to.

Do you ever kill a popular character? I have, though not without soul-searching. One of my recurring characters in the Dan Lenson books is SEAL Master Chief Teddy Oberg. He’s captured in a raid, tortured, sent to a horrific POW camp in Xinjiang, escapes, and leads a Uighur rebellion in Western China.

Over several volumes in my War with China arc, Oberg grew steadily darker. Eventually, in Violent Peace, he had to be terminated with extreme prejudice by a CIA agent, Andres Korzenowski. (A bow to Heart of Darkness. Joseph Conrad’s real name was Korzienowski.)  Some readers saw this coming. Others, who identified with Teddy as a fighter and overlooked his misogyny and ruthlessness, protested. But an author has to be true to the fact: governments feel no sense of loyalty when their tools outlive their usefulness.

Where do you place your settings – real or fictional locations? Saul Bellow says each writer has an “arcanum,” a milieu in which they can set any story. Mine is the Navy, the sea, and diving, with a sideline in Pennsylvania, where I grew up.

The Lenson novels are the most popular. The 22 books trace Dan’s arc as he begins in The Circle as an ensign and ends – in the final volume – as Superintendent of the US Naval Academy, a vice-admiral facing retirement.

The Hemlock County novels deal with the struggle of the people against the greed that’s historically plagued the Northern Appalachians: extractive industries, organized crime, and governmental corruption.

The Tiller Galloway novels are about a black sheep diver. Tiller joined the Coast Guard, served in Vietnam, then got tangled up with a cartel and went to prison. As an ex-con, he tries to make a living as a dive boat and salvage captain.

The Whiteness of the Whale and Ghosting are sailing novels set on the high seas.

So you can see how the settings of my books have reflected my arcanum!

Do you have any advice for new writers? This spring, I pulled together a group of articles and talks I’d published over the years. I rewrote and ordered them into chapters. Writing in the Age of AI came out from Northampton House Press in July. It explains how I approach writing how the process can be made easier, and advises writers on the best ways to deal with AI technology. Everything I know about writing is in that book!

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Finishing the Lenson series feels like retiring from the Navy, which I did after 30 years of active and reserve service. Like retiring from university teaching, which I did for 16 years. But I’m not going to stop writing. A day without writing feels like a day not fully lived.

There might be another Galloway. I may have one more sailing book. A memoir? Maybe. Right now, I’m taking a year off to mull things over. Digitize my photographs, overhaul the boat, and we’ll see what comes next.

Perhaps this account will inspire a few fans of your blog. I hope they’ll also pick up The Academy and enjoy the concluding – and, I hope, satisfying – chapter in Dan Lenson’s long, star-crossed career!

GROUPS:
Naval Academy Alumni Association,
Shipmate Magazine,
Authors Guild,
Surface Navy Association,
American Society of Naval Engineers,
Civilian Marksmanship Program,
Ossabaw Writers Retreat,
Writers Conference of Northern Appalachia,
Kevin Anderson Associates,
Eastern Shore of Virginia Public Library board,
Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Buy link: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250273086/theacademy

Contact: https://www.facebook.com/DavidPoyerBooks/

 

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    Your books sound fascinating , as does your life. Thank you for your service and good luck with your writing.

    Reply

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