Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Response to Lisa Morton's "The H Word: The Horror of Small Town America"

I’ve never met Lisa Morton but have heard of her and known about her for a while. I reckon she’s probably pretty cool just like most writers in the horror genre are. I’d probably like her.

But she’s pretty off base with some of her comments in “The H Word: The Horror of Small Town America,” a non-fiction post last year at Nightmare Magazine that just came to my attention via Facebook. She claims that small towns are dying and that small-town horror needs to be shoved aside because “(t)he world is changing, and horror needs to keep changing with it.” I agree that the world is changing, but the small town is far from dead.

The one I grew up in is still there, as are all the many that surround it in rural southern Ohio. It’s still creepy in those places after dark and even in the shadows or sunlight during the day. My own hometown has haunted houses and tours of haunted places, and most folks there still know each other’s names. They still buy from local farmers and all get their haircuts at the same shops. And these towns, my hometown, and those around it, are far from the only small towns left in America.

Yes, sadly, some of them have died out. Some. But, then again, there are vast empty areas in some major cities, a sad fact in Detroit, for example.

To point out that a lot of horror fiction is set in small towns is one thing; to make a statement like, “Maybe it’s time to drive a stake through the heart of the small town trope in horror, and scatter those ashes far and wide” is ridiculous, though. I agree with Morton that it’s great that urban horror/fantasy is gaining wide popularity, but that doesn’t mean we have to kill small-town horror within the genre, maybe because “the characters in these books are almost solely WASPs.” That may be true, but even that is changing—the small town I grew up in is more ethnically diverse than it was when I grew up there.

I’m going to keep writing small-town horror stories. And I know there are readers for it. I hope colleagues much more widely-published than I do, too. I’d name names but don’t want to start bickering between folks. You know who they are. Because they’re popular and still widely read, even by folks in that “vanishing” small-town America.

And even if small towns had disappeared or are disappearing, why drive a stake through the heart of such popular fiction within the genre? You might have some angry redneck readers. But, of course, they must not exist, either.



  1. What's silly about saying 'small towns are dying so let's stop writing about them' is that large English country houses are no longer fiscally viable and yet Downton Abbey is a very popular series. Monarchies are no longer in fashion and yet Alison Weir and Phillipa Gregory sell truckloads of books whenever they write about them. The past is alive and well in literature and the arts. Sorry, Lisa. Small town horror stays.

    1. Great point, Curt, taking it beyond the U.S., even. I wouldn't even call it a "trope" but a sub-genre.

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  5. hey Brady, I didn't realize you had a website, wrote books and taught writing. Very cool. I totally agree with your post. My writing also focuses on "small town horror", so I guess I'm outdated and non-progressive or whatever, according to Morton. But I write what I like to read, so to that end, your stories sound a lot more interesting to me than anything she's written. The truth is that horror writers and readers consist of vastly diverse individuals with different backgrounds and interests. Anyone can post an opinion, but she doesn't speak on behalf of "the genre" as a whole (nobody does), and there's plenty of room in this world for different stories, different settings, and different points of view. And I like your point of view better than hers.

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