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World Horror Convention 2013 GoH Interview #7: Ramsey Campbell

Photo by Peter Coleborn

The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention and the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild.

HWA President Rocky Wood said, “Ramsey is a truly a legend in horror. As one of our Lifetime Achievement Award winners we couldn’t be more pleased to confirm him as our first Guest of Honor for the Weekend. He has kindly agreed to participate in all aspects of the Convention, including a one-on-one in-depth interview, panels, our mass signing, and presenting during the iconic Bram Stoker Awards® Banquet. It is also pleasing that we continue our expanding international focus with a major British Guest, building on such innovations as hold the Awards Banquet in England in 2010, Canada in 2007 and significant membership growth in countries such as Italy and Australia.”

Among Ramsey Campbell’s novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain and Ghosts Know. Forthcoming is The Kind Folk. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead and Just Behind You, and his non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably. His novels The Nameless and Pact of the Fathers have been filmed in Spain.

His regular columns appear in Prism, All Hallows, Dead Reckonings and Video Watchdog. He is the President of the British Fantasy Society and of the Society of Fantastic Films. Ramsey Campbell lives on Merseyside in the UK with his wife Jenny. His pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever’s in that pipe. His web site is at www.ramseycampbell.com.

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Over the course of the coming months leading up to the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana, I will feature a series of interviews with each of the Guests of Honor.

Darkeva: To quote the Oxford Companion to English Literature, you’re “Britain’s most respected living horror writer,” which is a great esteem. What do you feel have been some of the great honors of your writing career so far?

RC: Well, that was certainly one. The Lifetime Achievement awards from HWA and WHC were two spectacular ones, and some years ago I was honoured in Rome at the Fantafestival with a similar career award, together with the great Ennio Morricone, no less. But having my own issue of Weird Tales – a magazine that had been magical for me ever since I coveted a copy I saw in a shop window when I was seven – was special, and so of course was being published by Arkham House all those years ago, alongside such heroes of mine as Robert Bloch, John Metcalfe and William Hope Hodgson. I’ve had quite a lot of dreams come true over the decades. May more do so!

Darkeva: Have you ever been to New Orleans? What do you like most about the city? What were some of your favorite places or things you did?

RC: I’ve been there several times, but not since Katrina. I love the place – among other things, it’s one of my favourite places to eat in the world. Over the years we’ve had breakfast at Brennan’s (Jenny and me and our children, then quite little) and I’ve experienced some of the delights of the splendid Commander’s Palace. Jenny and I very much look forward to finding new places too, not least to sampling Chris Debarr’s cuisine at Serendipity. And we’ll be off to the French Quarter again for sure.

Darkeva: What’s on your reading list right now?

RC: I’m writing the introduction to a reissue of Thomas Hinde’s splendid comedy of paranoia The Day the Call Came, so that’s what I’m reading at the moment. Next up may well be some E. M. Forster, since I recently reread Howard’s End for the first time for almost fifty years and was amazed by its concision and inventiveness.

Darkeva: What part of being a Guest of Honor at the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 are you most excited about?

RC: Meeting all you folk.

Darkeva: What other projects do you have on the horizon?

RC: I’m just rewriting a new novella, The Pretence, and should be working on the rewrite while I’m in New Orleans. After that a new novel, Bad Thoughts, though I mean to write at least one short story first.

A huge thank-you to Ramsey Campbell for agreeing to be part of this feature. Be sure to visit his website.

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HWA Announces our YA Horror Section

The Horror Writers Association (HWA) recently announced that they have just launched a Young Adult Horror section on their website, which they will begin to populate shortly. To launch, they have the input of acclaimed comic strip writer and HWA member Ray Billingsley as they look to use YA horror to improve the uptake of reading and of literacy generally.

All YA material that appears on their ‘Dark Whispers’ blog will be duplicated on the YA section, so that librarians, parents, teachers and young adult readers can find their YA material in one easy place. They’ll soon add last year’s Bram Stoker Award® nominees for Young Adult Novel and the winners of the Award for this category in previous years. There will be a selective addition of ‘iconic’ and notable YA works from past years at some point also.

You can help them to populate the YA section by doing some of these things:

  • If you have a YA blog, particularly with a focus on paranormal fiction, you can submit by following the guidelines (scroll down for more info)
  • If you’re an author and you have a YA book coming out, don’t forget to use the New Release form
  • The intended audience isn’t necessary other HWA members, but rather librarians, parents, teachers and Young Adult readers

Submission Guidelines:
Size limit: 1000 words for articles, 200 words for the bio.
Please keep in mind the HWA administration reserves the right to reject any submission for any reason. Only HWA members may submit directly, but non-members should send a query first to this email address.

They’re accepting 2 types of submissions: non-fiction articles and recommendations. Articles can be about anything related to the horror genre, the horror industry, horror writing, or the HWA. Keep your audience in mind. If in doubt about whether your topic is appropriate or not, you can query at this email address. Word limit: 1000 words; 200 words for bio (total of 1200 words max).

1. No profanity.
2. No slander.
3. Spellcheck and copyedit for punctuation and grammar. They will reject a sloppy article.
4. No line indents. No tabs. Put a blank line between paragraphs.
5. Indicate links by putting the URL in parentheses after the text you want linked.
6. If you have images, please note that in your cover letter and they’ll contact you about them. Images should be no smaller than 500px wide. JPG format only. They’ll crop it. Images must not be copyrighted by anyone other than you.
7. HTML: If you know HTML and can appropriately format the article, please do, and submit it as a .txt file.
8. You receive no payment for your article or recommendation. It will stay live on the site until you ask them to take it down, until they decide to remove it, or until the site becomes defunct.
By submitting, you agree that the material submitted is your own work and that you have the right to let them publish it on the HWA website and blog. Send submissions to this address.

Announcing Halloween Haunts (HWA)

Ah, Halloween. It’s the favourite time of year for many a devoted horror fan, and something we lovers of the macabre look forward to months in advance. There are always so many fantastic Halloween themed events and parties that happen each year, with so many options to choose from, ranging from the more family-friendly fare such as trick-or-treating or visiting a pumpkin farm to more decidedly adult fare including costume parties, haunted theme parks, ghost tours, and the like.

This year, the Horror Writers Association is doing their second annual Halloween Haunts online blog event. Throughout the month of October, horror and dark fiction fans will be able to read posts from horror authors on the HWA’s blog, Dark Whispers, every day from October 1 to October 31, and you should definitely hop on over to the blog as there are tons of giveaways and prizes that will be announced daily.

Halloween Haunts is designed to help connect horror writers with readers, share some Halloween fun (and a few good chills), and showcase the benefits of HWA membership. If you want to see some of the action from last year, visit this link.

More about the HWA:
Founded in 1985, the Horror Writers Association exists to promote and protect the careers of professional horror writers, to mentor those seeking to enter their ranks, and to raise the profile of the horror genre in the publishing industry and among readers. The HWA gives the iconic Bram Stoker Awards® for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, Dracula, and organizes The Bram Stoker Awards Weekend®, a conference for horror writers, which occurs every two years, with the next one scheduled for New Orleans in June 2013 (which, by the way, is going to be freakin’ awesome).

I will most definitely be supporting Halloween Haunts, which I think is a fantastic idea, and to show my support, I’ve added the handy little badge in my sidebar for Halloween Haunts. There’s a code under the image for you to grab the badge for your own site, should you be so inclined.

As well, I’ll be participating in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, hosted by Kathy at I am a Reader, Not a Writer blog and Rhiannon from The Diary of a Bookworm, so I will have an awesome giveaway prize pack up for grabs this year, as well. So many cool things happening this year for Halloween–I’m stoked :-)

The countdown to Halloween 2012 is on! :-)

WHC2012 Live Coverage: Day 3

Greetings once again, faithful readers! Pardon the lateness for my post of Day 3 of the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, which was on March 31st, and what an eventful day it was! I was in transit for most of yesterday going between two connecting flights that took the better part of ten hours, and didn’t have much luck with connectivity in the air. I also experienced quite a bit of jet lag and other travelling maladies. As well, this is the reason that I was unable to attend any of the programming on Day 4 of WHC, which included panels on screenwriting techniques, Lovecraft’s short stories, residual hauntings, collecting horror, writing groups, paranormal romance, classic horror, and the ending ceremony, which included gothic belly dancers, which would have been interesting to see for sure.

In any case, what follows is my recap of Day 3:

Dacre Stoker, (pronounced like “acre” or “baker” and so named for an ancestor), the great grand nephew of Bram, did a presentation called “Stoker on Stoker” about a recently uncovered journal of the author’s, of which entries were taken and published in The Last Journal of Bram Stoker: The Dublin Years from Robson Press, released a month ago.

Dacre began the presentation by discussing some of Bram’s most direct relatives who are still around, including three great-grandsons who are, in Dacre’s words, “very British” and don’t want to make a big fuss about their famous relative. Two are retired accountants, and the other one sails around the world in his boat. One of his boats sank with family memorabilia in it, although thankfully not too much. Dacre also explained that he found the lost journal during his research in a cousin’s attic, which was an astonishing discovery as Bram’s wife, Florence, sold a lot of his collection off after his death.

Before launching into the journal, Dacre covered off some of the basics that are known about Bram. The family history and the way Dacre explained it was fascinating, because he provided a social context not only about Bram’s circumstances growing up but also about Ireland at the time.

Bram started writing the journal at age sixteen when he went to Trinity College, which is also when he worked as a civil servant. The journal lends many interesting insights into his family life, including the conflicts he had with his father over pursuing a life in the arts and literature, and his mother being a staunch advocate for women’s rights, which may have influenced his portrayal of Mina Harker in Dracula.

There are so many interesting facets to Bram’s life at this time and some clarifications as well, including that Bram did not die of syphilis as attested by biographer Daniel Larson. The official Bram Stoker estate website has some interesting documentation relating to this; check out their website for more info. Among some of the other interesting things mentioned during the presentation: Bram had terrible handwriting and wrote on whatever he could find; more reviews of Dracula have recently emerged in recent years showing that the book was positively viewed during the time that Bram was alive, and that he would have seen this praise (there are rumours that he died not knowing how well-loved Dracula was). Bram was also quite the athlete, contrary to the image of the usually reclusive and athletically challenged writer.

On to Dracula, Bram didn’t start writing notes for the novel until 1890. One of his notes is so cool–he wanted to make the character, Dracula, a “quatorzieme” (if you had thirteen people for dinner, you had to invite a fourteenth because otherwise it was bad luck). Bram was thinking about having Dracula as the fourteenth guest at a dinner. As well, Bram never actually went to Transylvania, although he had family who did.

As if one hefty dose of vampire fiction wasn’t enough, for those eager to sink their teeth into more about the fanged creatures, the “Vampires Through The Ages” panel, which featured Hal Bodner, Leslie S. Klinger, James Dorr, Thomas Roche, and Ed Erdelac brought forth some interesting discussion as well.

Leslie Klinger set out by saying there are three big periods of vampires: the first is comprised of folk tales and legends like that of the lamia going around. The second period is the monster period, and it’s much more at home (the idea of vampires is that they’re risen from your neighbour’s grave and they’re preying on the local village, going back to their family, and they’re familiar people.) During this period, plagues of vampires were recorded in the 1600s and 1700s in Europe by the government. There was usually a problem, like cattle with mysterious wounds, someone blamed it on vampires, the townspeople dug up someone recently deceased who looked like a vampire with long nails and hair. Of course, decomposition of human bodies was little understood; people were struggling to come to terms with death. Dracula is a product of this second “monster” period. The beginnings of the third age, known as the “lounge lizard” period, see Dracula film adaptations and vampires transform into romantic, interesting, sexy hypnotic figures and, in Klinger’s workds, “it’s been downhill from there.”

Bram Stoker made manifest some very sexual overtones in terms of compulsion toward vampires. In the 80s, we began to see more sexualization of the vampire (dangerous, but sexy, like the bad boy boyfriend), followed by the 90s explosion of vampires, particularly in urban fantasy. We also started to see more of the vampire as a romantic lead with traits such as being doomed, isolated, knowing a lot about sex, etc., and gradually, the vampire became less and less monstrous. Sexual fascination with vamps amped up, and as Roche pointed out, in Urban Fantasy there’s a dichotomy of main characters having a hatred of vampires, but then they fall in love with them.

Religion is deeply rooted in people’s superstitions, which is why people were so fervently invested in believing in vampires in the second age. Empress Maria Theresa even passed a law making it illegal to report a vampire at the end of the second age). Vampirism, the panelists observed, is a moral contagion. The reason the Catholic Church got invested was because of the belief that spirits animated corpses to create vampires; the church never made up its mind. The Devil was blamed. The idea that vampires were demons disappeared from literature until Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The panelists also discussed one of the momentous changes in the second “monster” period being the release of The Vampyre by John Polidori, Lord Byron’s physician. It’s the first substantial piece of vampire prose; there was only poetry prior to its publication. This marked the first time in literature that a vampire’s depiction included a somewhat pleasant physical appearance, which led right up to the publication of Dracula in 1897. What’s interesting is that unlike Sherlock Holmes, which led to a string of copycats, Dracula didn’t inspire the same reaction in literature. It wasn’t thought of as a vampire story, just a thriller/mystery.

Some discussion of Interview with a Vampire and Salem’s Lot came about during the panel, and yes, Twilight was mentioned, and despite the groans it induced, one of the audience members pointed out that as much as there’s a great backlash from the horror community against the mega-successful series, in her experience, she’s seen the book bring mothers and daughters closer, and it’s turned women who wouldn’t normally be classified into readers as people who are now readers and seek out similar literature.

For more insight into the history of vampires, Bodner recommended Barber’s Vampire Burial. Overall, it was a very interesting and insightful discussion on vampires.

Next, I attended the panel on the Horror Writers Association featuring HWA president Rocky Wood, vice-president Lisa Morton, novelist Robert McCammon, and although the panel was also to have included co-founders Joe and Karen Lansdale, Joe showed up apologetically at the tail end of the panel to explain that he had some issues with the timing. This was also a fascinating glimpse not only into some of the progress that the HWA has made in recent years, including increases in membership, a boost to their social media presence, and planned additions, including an HWA booklet for new members to get when they join.

Robert McCammon had some very interesting insights into the publishing scene and horror community in the late 80s (although HWA officially came to be in 1987, then known as HOWL, talks had been underway since 1984). The genre, McCammon affirmed, was different because there were more publishers, it was a more active time, and there was a lot of output, but he felt isolated despite the conventions. He wanted to establish a community, to support the new and older writers both emotionally and financially, and in some ways, things were better, as many people fondly refer to the era as the “golden age of horror.” While publishers were spending a lot of money on some commercial hot properties, it was questionable how much cash they devoted to certain projects. There was an explosion of horror fiction, and many properties didn’t perform as well as the publishers had hoped. Now, as a result, publishers are reluctant to spend money on mid-list books that would once have garnered a higher budget. This is true across the industry, but particularly in horror.

The splatterpunk scene also started during this time, Stephen King was at an all-time high at the pinnacle of his success, and McCammon wanted a serious place for people who felt isolated in different parts of the country who didn’t have writer’s groups to come together. He wanted to reduce the combative feel of competition that happens in most genres, and to facilitate more of a “family” type of environment where writers could feel welcome and included.

McCammon also emphasized at many points during the panel that horror is literature, something I whole-heartedly agree with and have been saying for many years. But at the time, and to some extent now, horror was being ghettoized. It’s valid literature, but critical reviews, even of writers like King, treated it like garbage.

McCammon also edited the HWA’s first anthology, The Fang (1991), and hadn’t edited an anthology prior to that. The overarching concept of the anthology was that vampires had taken over the world, and some pretty big names were included. It was the bestselling anthology produced by the HWA until Blood Lite (ed. Kevin J. Anderson), which has been so successful, that Pocket is releasing Blood Lite III this summer, and there is a good possibility that the HWA will come out with Blood Lite IV in the future.

Lisa Morton delivered president Rocky Wood’s message, and the biggest change we’ve seen is the explosion of e-books, which has made more horror available. Because of an expanded web team, the HWA runs their blog, Dark Whispers, which, incidentally, many librarians read. The HWA also had a successful presence at Book Expo America next to the Mystery Writers of America booth. There are lots of new additions, and many more great things to come, including Stoker Weekend 2013, which will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city which it has been a dream of mine to visit.

The panelists also touched on the fact that the definition of what the HWA considers a professional writer tasked the organization at the time of its founding, and now it’s more difficult because there are self-published authors popping up all over the place, and it will likely change membership requirements.

Another of the interesting questions that came up was whether the HWA should include authors of related genres to join, such as paranormal romance. Excluding someone is a bit defeatist, and McCammon expressed that he thinks some people have too rigid a view of what horror is (horror can also be quiet and not necessarily splatterpunk). Rocky mentioned wanting the HWA to be very inclusive–as long as they can find one element that matches the HWA’s requirements, they will let an author join, although it’s interesting that there are people on the fringe of horror who don’t identify their work as such, but the HWA invites them, as well.

Lisa mentioned having invited noted vampire scribe Charlaine Harris to join the HWA, and she’s always very polite in her responses, saying she doesn’t write horror when she declines the invitations. She’s never provided an explanation, but doesn’t think she writes horror. I found that to be an interesting point, because there are clearly some people who consider what Harris does to be horror, which is fine–everyone has their own definition of what constitutes horror–but in my view, I consider her as more of a paranormal author in the urban fantasy umbrella as her work has many elements such as fantasy, mystery, and romance. In any case, the important thing is that people who want to join should be allowed to, and if a paranormal romance author is passionate about horror, the HWA is the place for them.

One of the future goals of the organization is to organize the national chapters a bit better, as geography poses a big challenge. They also encouraged authors who are members to sign up for local appearances, particularly BEA, as many of the member authors don’t perhaps know that they have this resource to their advantage. Joe Lansdale, when he did show up, gave a hilarious but nonetheless comprehensive and sped-up version of the HWA’s history. This was a cool “retrospective plus future things to come” panel that I enjoyed.

As well, I attended a Horror Publishing panel that included Norman Rubinstein (Genius Publishing), Dawn Martin and Don D’Auria (both Samhain), Roy Robbins (Bad Moon Books), and Derrick Hussey (Hippocampus Press). They discussed the hot topic for the last few years, which is the digital age and how it has impacted sales, book releases, etc. Samhain’s feedback was that many of their horror readers prefer print books, versus the romance readers of their line, who prefer e-books. More than 50 % of all fiction is sold in e-books, and Samhain has a great track record with trade but especially e-books.

Horror is one of the best suited genres for short fiction, and the conversation steered to anthologies and collections, which generally don’t sell as well as novels across the board, but with Samhain, Don mentioned one of the benefits to him has been being able to consider novellas, which opens up a large vista for him on acquiring projects.

The editors on the panel also spoke of the importance of acquiring new authors, as although the old guard might be the ones selling the copies needed to pay for the new authors’ books, you need new authors in a consistent supply so that they can eventually become established, and then the cycle of getting more new authors is repeated, and so on.

The panel then steered into more of a general discussion about the state of publishing, and Don in particular, having started out as a sales representative for a publisher, was extremely knowledgeable in his answers about book distribution, bookstores and how book are “sold in”, books being remaindered versus pulped, and although many people in the audience (myself included, as I work for a trade publisher) already knew most of what he was talking about, it’s always validating to hear things from the publishing point of view for those who may not know how everything works.

With the evening came preparations for the Bram Stoker Awards ceremony, broadcast on the web via Ustream, where I had my first live tweeting experience. Every time someone won for a category or received an award of distinction, I tweeted about it and received a good number of re-tweets from other authors, and some people who were also in attendance at the banquet. Jeff Strand was hilarious, as always, and came up with a hand puppet this time, which I thought was great. The evening ran very smoothly, and everyone in the room was so touched when Richard Matheson, author of I am Legend, joined via video to deliver his message of thanks and appreciation for having won the Vampire Novel of the Century award, a great distinction. I kept on dreaming of one day being nominated for a Stoker, and the whole atmosphere in the room was one of great support–a place where hopes and dreams come alive, and hope in particular is amplified.

The HWA party started downstairs shortly thereafter on the first floor, while Chizine had their own party on the third floor, which was excellent–people caught up, chatted over drinks, and generally had a great time. I also got some packing done, knowing I had to leave the next morning. It’s never fun when something is over, and this particular experience at the World Horror Convention was amazing and inspiring in so many ways, but also just a lot of fun. It really did feel like summer camp at one point–a place where everyone sees old friends, makes new ones, and has a good time amid all the business parts of the weekend. I will most definitely be attending the Stokers in New Orleans next year, and look forward to possibly attending the World Horror Convention 2013, as well.

Thanks for sticking around to read my coverage–I realize it’s longer than most, and some people prefer just to do photo galleries or videos, or combinations, but in my case, I never found myself with a shortage of good things to say about this convention.

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