The Long and Short of Horror Fiction by Paul Lonardo


For me, short stories are like appetizers. They are bite-size, delicious and fulfilling. You can even make a meal out of them, just as you would if you were dining with a group of people, each with a separate appetizer, sampling from all their plates to experience an array of savory flavors and tastes. This is what reading a good anthology is for me.

When I was a young writer, short story collections were abundant, particularly in my genre of choice, horror, and I consumed them like baked popcorn chicken poppers at a chain restaurant. To further this anthology analogy, every author is like a different restaurant, representing a wide variety of styles and literary tastes that are practically endless. Collections with names like The Years Best Horror Stories, or ones that fit specific themes, such as macabre tales with an old west premise, would feature top-name writers in the genre like Stephen King, Charles L. Grant, Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, F. Paul Wilson, and Graham Masterton. But my favorite books were always the single-author anthologies. One of the things I liked best about them was that they often included some of the author’s earliest stories, occasionally including selections that had not been previously published, which I found inspirational as a beginning writer. Also, the cover of these books had an allure of their own, drawing me in.

There are five such books that had a major impact on my writing that I wanted to briefly highlight, the first being “The Metrognome & Other Stories” (Ballantine, 1990) by Alan Dean Foster. I wasn’t aware of Foster or his work at that time, and I was not big into science fiction, but when I picked up this anthology and started reading the first story, I didn’t stop until I got through all fifteen tales, which were a surprising mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The stories were well-crafted, funny, and delightfully offbeat. I even enjoyed the insightful introductory comments that prefaced each story.

Another anthology that made an early impression on me was Joe R. Lansdale’s “By Bizarre Hands” (Avon Books, 1991). And talk about a book cover image that grabs you. This collection contains some truly disturbing and graphic horror, which could be categorized as part of the Splatterpunk subgenre that emerged in the 1980s. Lansdale’s stories are too intriguing and well-written to be dismissed simply because of their gruesome nature and other excesses. For me, this anthology delivered from front cover to back cover.

“Blue World” (Pocket Books, 1990) was a collection of thirteen diverse and imaginative tales from Robert R. McCammon. This anthology contained new and reprinted stories which varied in length from ten pages to the feature story that extended more than 150 pages. I found that very interesting, and it opened my eyes to the advantages of the novella. Rather than editing down a story that takes you in a whole different direction and winds up somewhere between a short story and a novel, Blue World helped me to see how a lengthy story that includes full character development with all their requisite background information is more rewarding for the reader than a hollowed-out version of a story. Less can be more, but sometimes more is what is needed. McCammon certainly delivers that in this collection.

An anthology that I had to include for the influence that its author had on me is “The Howling Man” (Tom Doherty, 1992) by Charles Beaumont. By this time, I was well aware of Beaumont for all the work he did in film and television, most notably for the iconic TV series, The Twilight Zone, which had a significant impact on me from the time I began watching the old reruns. To discover Beaumont’s written works in such a definitive collection was a window into the inventive mind of a man who did just about everything imaginable creatively speaking, including working as a cartoonist, an illustrator and a disc jockey before selling his first short story to Amazing Stories in 1950. This 1992 anthology featured some of his classic short stories, such as Free Dirt, The Hunger, and of course, The Howling Man. It also included five never-before-published stories. The other thing I really liked about this anthology were the introductions made by other seminal voices in the genre, such as Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Corman. Their tributes to Beaumont, who died much too young, at the of thirty-eight, and his stories, were illuminating.

What personal chronicle of 1980’s horror anthologies could be complete with mention of Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood” (Berkley Books, 1984). This series instantly catapulted Barker into the mainstream of modern horror, with Stephen King himself proclaiming Barker the future of the genre. These early stories by Barker probably shaped my writing more than any other at that time. They were visceral and haunting and poignant, stained with as much dark humor as gore. Each original tale was more darkly imaginative than the next, leaving the reader wanting more, and because the stories did not all appear between the covers of just one book, it compelled to Barker’s fans to buy each new anthology upon release, which I know I did enthusiastically.

These are just some of the anthologies that inspired me to begin writing my own short fiction, and then eventually book-length fiction, as well as nonfiction books. This spring, I am excited to announce the release of my new book, a collection of short stories titled, “The Legend of Lake Incunabula and Other Fantastic Stories.”

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Visit Paul at his personal website: The Goblin Pitcher