Have you heard the one about the author who asked his agent to send a short story to the editor of a horror magazine? The one where the story sat in the slush pile with hundreds of other stories for nearly a month before the agent chased it up? Let’s imagine the editor was Richard Chizmar, the magazine was Cemetery Dance, and the author of the short story was some guy from Portland, Maine, called Stephen King …
Why submit stories to Twisted50? Is it really that big a deal? Sure there’s a chance you might be published, but then what? It never amounts to more than that, does it? The novelty fades pretty quickly, and life goes on.
Or might there be more to it than that?
To answer this question, it helps to look back nearly a hundred years to March 1923, when the first issue of the pulp magazine, Weird Tales, was published in the United States. Weird Tales was a home for stories no other magazine would accept and it quickly established its place in the market by championing everything from ghost stories to adventure fantasy. Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of the Cthulhu” were first published in Weird Tales. Throughout the 1920s, Weird Tales’ influence was significant, and it wasn’t long before competitors were drawn to the market.
Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Mystery and Imagination soon found their way to newsstands. Dime Mystery Magazine, the first of the “weird menace” pulps, appeared in the early 1930s. Like my Twisted50 story, “Disillusioned”, the stories inside were inspired by Grand Guignol theatre, relying heavily on themes of torture and sex. The first issue of Dime Mystery Magazine was a success, inspiring even more competition and two sister magazines: Terror Tales and Horror Stories.
Weird Tales remained popular throughout the 1940s, adding Ray Bradbury to its list of contributors. Unknown was another influential pulp magazine during this time, publishing stories by Robert A. Heinlein, who wrote “Starship Troopers” and Theodore Sturgeon, while rejecting several submissions from Isaac Asimov. Like my Twisted50 story “Shadows”, these stories frequently blended elements of horror with science fiction. Unknown magazine also published eight novels by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, including “Typewriter in the Sky”, which in turn is thought to have influenced Philip K. Dick’s first published short story, “Beyond Lies the Wub”. Unknown magazine’s editor, John W. Campbell, was also a capable writer. His novella “Who Goes There” was the inspiration for John Carpenter’s movie, “The Thing”.
During the war, paper shortages meant many pulp titles struggled. Horror fiction fought on, having found an ally in books. The first collections of stories by H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Ray Bradbury appeared – including reprints of stories originally published in pulp magazines. Other notable horror anthologies published at this time included the massive volume, And Darkness Falls, edited by Boris Karloff.
Weird Tales survived the war and continued into the 50s. During this time, authors like Richard Matheson, who wrote “Duel” and “I Am Legend”, had short stories published by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Matheson became enormously influential, with Stephen King acknowledging him as the writer who “influenced me most.” Other authors who had horror stories published during the 50s included John Wyndham and two of my childhood favourites, Philip K. Dick and Roald Dahl.
Also during the 50s, horror comics became popular, including EC’s Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. Adaptations of Ray Bradbury’s stories appeared in these titles and captured the imaginations of many 1950s children, including a young boy from Portland, Maine, who has since written and published over 200 short stories, 50-something novels and 6 non-fiction books.
Thirty more years would pass before Richard Chizmar shuffled together the first issue of Cemetery Dance. Inspired by David B. Silva’s The Horror Show magazine and funded using Chizmar’s future wife’s student loan, Cemetery Dance is more than just a horror periodical, it’s a story in itself. Since the first issue was printed on college campus, Graham Masterton, Ramsey Campbell, Poppy Z Brite, Jack Ketchum, R C Matheson (Richard Matheson’s son), Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son), and too many other great writers to name have featured in its pages. Cemetery Dance won the World Fantasy Award in 1990 and 1992 and Chizmar won it himself in 1998. And on 16 May 2017, his novella “Gwendy’s Button Box” was published – a novella he co-wrote with Stephen King.
This should be a golden era for horror anthologies. The combination of social media, eBooks and online shopping has made the market accessible for anyone, like Chris Jones, who is passionate enough to put something out. Already there are too many titles in regular production to mention here, so I’ll keep it to two.
The quarterly journal Lamplight by Jacob Haddon is just entering its sixth year. Combining short stories from new and emerging authors with commissioned works from established authors, author interviews and reprints of horror classics, every volume is a treasure trove for fans of the genre. Early volumes also include the excellent “Shadows in the Attic” column by J. F. Gonzalez, which brilliantly covers – in much more detail than this – the history of the horror short story. Gonzalez’s column inspired and informed much of this blog and is recommended reading, especially if you want to know the connection between Weird Tales and Playboy magazine.
Combining consistently beautiful writing with darkly original flash fiction stories, Josh Goller’s The Molotov Cocktail is entering its eighth year. Twisted50’s runner-up, Marie Gethins, has a fantastic story (“Invasive Species”) in the first The Molotov Cocktail prize-winners anthology and I’m lucky enough to have stories (“Boleskine” and “Gettysburg”) in the second and soon-to-be-published third.
Which brings us more or less up-to-date. Trust me, this blog barely scrapes the surface of the fascinating history of horror anthologies. But hopefully it’s enough to show that Twisted50 is more than just a book. It’s part of a long tradition of horror publishing. And I’m envious of those of you with a story in the first volume. Everyone involved should be proud of what they’ve achieved.
And who knows, with talented writers like Chris Jeal, Marie Gethins, Rich “Richie” Brown, and Stephanie Hutton – along with many, many others – delivering quality, original stories, maybe Twisted50 could be the next big thing?
Or maybe not. I can’t predict the future any more than I can prove the existence of ghosts. But already these stories are influencing other writers. It’s no secret that the frenetic pace and mysterious monster of Rich Brown’s “The Cyclist” inspired my Twisted50 story “Lord of the Suds”. Perhaps one day, a Twisted50 writer will find themselves published alongside the likes of Clive Barker or Neil Gaiman. Or maybe they’ll co-write a novella with M R Carey (“The Girl with All the Gifts”) or Costa Award-winner Andrew Michael Hurley (“The Loney”).
Wouldn’t that be a thing?
Find out more about Christopher’s published and prize-winning stories in his blog, When only words are left. Follow Christopher on Twitter @allthosestrings