By Gary Kemble
Originally posted Sunday, April 16 2006, to the ABC’s Articulate Arts Blog

The “Dark Fantasy or Horror” panel discussion decided more or less that “horror” isn’t the best description of the “horror” genre, and that genres are by and large the product of publisher’s marketing departments.

Robert Hood says “dark fantasy” was born when the Stephen King bubble burst.

“I remember halcyon days when you could walk into a bookshop and find not only that there was a horror section that was marked horror and had horror books on it, but it was up the front of the store. They didn’t hide it in a cellar guarded by two leopards.”

He says that when Lothian started developing its horror series, he was negotiating with Teresa Pitt and they were talking about aspects of how it could be done.

“I was talking with Garth Nix, who’s fairly knowing about how to sell books from that marketing point of view and the first thing he said was, these books can be horror novels, they can look like horror novels but never call them horror novels because you won’t get pre-sales, because booksellers don’t want horror.”

Shane Jiraiya Cummings says he’s a horror writer who doesn’t write horror.

“I probably write dark fantasy or dark speculative fiction or dark wankification,” he joked, to which Jason Nahrung quipped, “You’d find that in the self-help section, wouldn’t you?”

He says he’s seeking a branding for himself.

“My kick is dark fiction, which is a term that’s more politically correct these days, perhaps because horror is often tied to the tropes of the ’80s, the Stephen King boom, the slashers and the serial killers and blood and guts.”

Nahrung agrees that dark fantasy was adopted to escape the “horror sludge” that came from authors jumping on the coat-tails of King and Dean Koontz.

Hood says “horror” has never really been a good word to define a genre.

“Unlike all the other genres it describes an emotional response, whereas the other speculative fiction genres describe a mode of working and an environment.”

Kim Wilkins says trying to slot books into genres is a trap.

“The problem is we’re going to keep falling into a hole if we try to draw boundaries around a genre. Genres don’t work like that – they’re structured by people’s expectations at certain times, in certain places. It’s not possible to say, here’s a circle, put this text in and this text out. If it horrifies you, then for you it’s horror.”

Gary Kemble is a Brisbane-based writer and journalist. He also runs the news blog Horror on the Vine. For more information, check out his web blog.