The book comes with warnings of explicit sex, violence, gore, and objectionable content. These are brutal stories but each has a special reason for being in the book. The writers dared something. Mr. Pratt has a lead female character that readers will never forget, Ms Lyons runs with a lesbian main character who is heart-wrenching, and Mr. Arkham lets a female character go wild. I think that is interesting, to see how the writers dared something new for females in literature. Mr Johnson and Ms Dabroski are sarcastic and witty, and Mr Woods delivers a story that is funny and horrific at the same time. If a reader enjoys a little dark poetry, Mr. Eyenot, Ms. Fox, and Mr Jansson are chillingly brilliant. Pachyderm is the most bizarre piece and haunting. Ms Simone, Mr Fisher, Mr Misura, and Mr. Lipp are simply astounding in their prose; their stories are not what they seem to be! Mr. Keane and Mr. Carbunkle contribute pieces that have to be read twice to get the underlying messages and both write with strong imagery. Mr Goforth entertains...there is not a single dull moment. I often brag on Mr Ropes because he took a difficult idea, one that could go wrong easily, and carefully controlled it...no, he manipulated it into an ending that is almost too intense. Mr. Hughes adds a story that should be rejected. It should be hidden and never read, because, sadly it is much too real, and it will bother readers terribly. It upset me; that's why it had to be here. It carries a strong message. Finally, The Editor's Choice was by Mr MacLeod and was one of the most professional, unusual stories I have ever read. I thought about stopping several times as I read. I couldn't believe he dared to write as he did but the end is perfect and it all comes together in a cacophony of emotion. Yes, I was shocked at most of these. I was nervous about accepting them, I was surprised at how smart the works were, and I was stunned by the talent. If nothing else, the bravery of these writers is to be applauded. Is it for everyone? No! Are the stories glorified violence and sex? No/ I think Mr. Lipp's story gave me direction. It was very brutal, but I think it is real. Maybe we don't all want to know these are the things that go on at the fringes of the world. We don't want to know this is real life and that we are under censorship and never hear about these atrocities. Not a one glorifies anything evil; in fact. each author makes it clear, in underlying tones, that these things are repulsive and not good. If anything, these are warning of what dangers lurk and what is out there; we can be thankful we read about these things and not experience them.
Above all, while these writer write mainstream horror as well, this was their chance to be a little wild and break rules. Some readers will never finish this book. They may not make it 1/2 way. I get that. I think some will get the messages and understand that the world is scary. I hope some will be so scared they never sleep again...but then...isn't that was extreme horror is all about?
You can stop reading now. If you wish to understand why I wanted to do this book...read on. The below is the forward I wrote for RFC1
Devils, Details, and Tequila
I have to share something, so bear with me.
When I was young, I was sick a lot and so I read. In a few years, I was finished with classics, so I started on modern fiction. My mom would take me shopping and leave me in the book section (it was safe then) and I would pick a book to buy. One time, I found my book and the title escapes me, but I happened to see this book by a new writer named Dean Koontz and I began reading. Wow. I was hooked. I also felt that Mom wouldn’t let me read such a book, so it took several trips back to the store before I finished the book.
Each time, I found what I wanted to buy and then escaped into the scary stuff, and yes, I ear-marked the pages, and no one bought “my” copy.
About this same time, several things happened. One was that my aunt shared her books with me and they were short stories that were “Presented by” Alfred Hitchcock. It was a gold mine of horror by new names (to me). At the same time, my mother belonged to The Book of the Month Club, and she ordered what was trendy; I doubt she read half of those books, but she allowed me them all. I read The Graduate, Flowers for Algernon ,Valley of the Dolls, Midnight Cowboy, and Rose Mary’s Baby.
First, I was young, and I didn’t understand everything in those books, but I understood that within the non-horror ones, there was absolute horror! This was why Mom didn’t censor my reading; I really got that there was scary stuff in the world.
About this same time, a book came out that was said to be “horrifying,” “perverted,” “scandalous,” and worse. That was The Exorcist. I read it and a light went on in my young head. I took the sum of all my reading and understood that there was scary writing all over the place but there were levels. I liked all levels. And like a reader possessed, I didn’t stop with the devil in Blatty’s book but forged on, reading all of the horror that I could find.
A note here: My mom knew I was reading Mr. Koontz’s book but she was so glad she had a reader that she didn’t force a battle. I did eventually buy the book so we are all ethical here.
Those are the details. And they are the devil.
I have written horror for about thirty-five years now. I read all I can find. I also work with many horror writers as friends and as part of J Ellington Ashton Press. We talk often about authors and books we love. We say the same names often: King, Barker, Laymon, Lovecraft, Shelley, McCammon, and more. Moreover, to me, as rowdy as these can be, they are our steak and potato dinners. Not fancy? Have you never had a perfectly cooked, rare steak and a loaded baked Potato? Nectar of the gods, I say. In fact, that is such a classic dinner, that it’s a gold standard, and that is what those authors I just listed are: classic writers of horror.
Occasionally, it’s nice to add a perfect Caesar salad to the dinner. I love authors’ books that add a little more spice but are still classic and brilliant. We all know those stories with a bit ‘o the devil in them; we read and re-read them.
There are also times, when we like something extra. I don’t mean the truffle pudding with glittering bits that don’t scare us. We are readers and we’ve passed that stage of being a little kid who hides in the book section and gets chills (ok, and nightmares) from passages. Occasionally, we want a shot of straight tequila to knock back. To finish the good meal.
That was how Rejected: For Content happened. A round table of authors and artists were talking with me about extreme horror and those writers we read for that bit of shock, and the same names came up several times. That is our tequila shot: and we love it. We love that taste of bitter truth, nightmarish images, and of the feelings of anguish. We like being disturbed and bothered.
In secret, a few of us like something else, although we can’t explain why. Compare it again to the fine meal. It’s taking that shot of tequila and snorting it right up our noses!
I know. I already said I don’t know why we like that. Most cannot admit they do this secretly.
In Rejected for Content, we are offering that shot of booze right up in the sinuses where it hurts so good. Many readers and writers won’t get the collection. Good, because that makes me feel a little better about the world, but some will not only get why we are delivering it, but will love it. For those, we offer several shots.
Some of these are actually rejected, and all of them should be! They were rejected because they are just too over-the-top. We know that. We know how barf-a-rama they are, how vomitrocious, how revolting, but we also have no problems pouring the shots a reader knocks back, by nose or mouth.
You have the details of how this all came to be. Like so many years ago, I’m daring the forbidden and I can only say, the devil made me do it.
The devil is in the details, in the tequila, and in the stories, my friend.
I am all over the horror writing scene as a writer, an editor, opinion-giver, and more. I watch trends and try to predict them, but at no time have there ever been so many variables. Some may feel we are zombie/vamp swamped, but while those are still favorite topics, there are so many more sub-genres than ever before. It reminds me of the 60s-70s influx of new horror.
There is some badly written material, I agree, but there is just as much badly written horror from those who are with huge presses as those who self-publish. I don’t see the difference except for the ones who are getting paid enormous sums for schlock. I also don’t want to talk about the B-horror/ commercial writing (that many of us have done to support the other writing we wish to do). I want to talk about the rest. I want to talk about the ones that are tequila-up-the nose good.
I prefer these, actually. Why? Again, some are bad, some are B-list, and so on, but I like those that are spot-on, well written, and brutal. They get a bad reputation because they often contain explicit sex (and sex is so bad, right?), and because they have gore, and because of the unconventional, profane themes.
That is the real kicker. The other elements, we can set aside, and maybe complain about, but the themes are what bother us. Extreme horror magnifies the themes. I love the subtlety of The Lottery or in Frankenstein; I get the social and personal over tones, but sometimes… there are times I want to snort the tequila.
Several other presses have rejected these that I am offering. Why? Oh, the theme mainly, if the publisher is perceptive. If the one who read it was not as deep thinking, then the stories were tossed back for the content (sex, gore, language). I get amused; I get scared. That is, I get amused and scared when I read the stories and when I consider the fact that I am going to release them.
Some won’t get there. A few will get it, and they will love these pieces. They will get the message behind the horror.
I get it. I really get it. Get the devil and the tequila both. I know what the author is truly saying. I get the real message of sheer terror that is hidden in gossamer layers and tied with silken bows. These stories really scare me. They really are, at times, like snorting that tequila. They hurt.
I like the trend, but not everyone does or will. It’s way too much for some. Unfortunately, some very smart readers will refuse to read this type of story when the pieces are secretly written for the most intelligent of readers. It’s a subgenre that kicks those that it is aimed at, but isn’t that the idea? Kick and hit? Gut-punch and eviscerate?
Horror will always be fun and have the B-list, commercial fun stuff; it will always deliver the books that are excellent, classic, and literary, but there is room for a new sub-genre. There is a place for the intelligently profane. It may take a while to be recognized for brilliancy, but it is strong in a (fitting, very apt) hidden subculture of writers and readers. It’s the Jimi Hendrix, the Kurt Cobain, Elvis, Jim Morrison, and the Janis Joplin of the literary world. They were once considered “dangerous to the youth” and only admired by a few. Today, they are viewed as revolutionary. Motown was once thought to be a bad influence. None of those musical giants harmed music; they changed it for the better.
I feel the intellectual profane horror will do the same. It will take a while, but in time, names we may not know now (Goforth, Misura, Fisher, Johnson, Dabrowski, Woods, Pratt, and more) will be whispered about. They will be called revolutionary or so emulated that they may be forgotten, but I am thrilled to say I was there. No, I didn’t get to see Hendrix play live at Woodstock, but I am getting to see a few as they begin the revolution, and to me, brother, that is big time.
Horror is a’changin’.
And the best part, is, I get it. And I am there this time.
Give me the tequila. It’s time for a snort.
Alex S Johnson, Editor for Wetworks, an imprint of JEA, is busy with projects. Catch him if you can, but be careful what you wish for...his mind dwells in the darkest corners.
J Ellington Ashton is a publishing company that always goes big. We deal with quality authors and bring excellence to reading.