Fascinating lists!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Ed Gein Jokes: A Bizarre Example of Gallows Humor


Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman


After his father's death, Ed Gein (1906-1984) was reared by his mother, a religious fanatic with twisted ideas about sex in particular and about life in general. He was unable to function on his own, and after his brother's death (as a result, some claim, of Ed's having murdered him) and his mother's demise, as a result of natural causes, Ed was left alone on the family farm outside Plainfield, Wisconsin. A man without friends, he occasionally babysat for a neighbor, but, otherwise, didn't much interact with the community.


Left alone, he read stories about the Nazis' atrocities and became interested in cross-dressing. Some believe he attempted to bring his mother back by dressing in women's clothes and adopting her personality. To improve on his female mimicry, he added a “torso vest” made from the skinned abdomen, including the breasts, he removed from a female cadaver he'd dug up from a local or nearby cemetery.


Ed also upholstered chairs in human skin, and he made a curtain pull featuring female lips; a lampshade of human skin; a belt decorated with female nipples; masks cut from women's faces; wall hangings of women's skin, breasts, and severed fingers; dresses made of women's skins; an apron made of female breasts and women's faces; and a pair of gloves made from women's skins. He collected women's ears and noses as well.


Charged with first-degree murder in the death of shopkeeper Bernice Worden, Ed pleaded not guilty and was found “mentally incompetent to stand trial” as a result of schizophrenia. He was confined in the Wisconsin Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Waupun, Wisconsin. He was later transferred to the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, where he died. Although he was tried only for Worden's death, Gein also admitted to having murdered tavern owner Mary Hogan.


Ed Gein inspired Norman Bates, of both Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho and the 1961 movie of the same name, directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Leatherface, of the 1974 movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by Tobe Hooper; Buffalo Bill, of the 1988 Thomas Harris novel The Silence of the Lambs and the eponymous1991 film, directed by Jonathan Demme; and Dr. Oliver Thredson of the television series American Horror Story: Asylum.


There's no doubt about it: Ed was a genuinely creepy guy. In fact, he was so disturbing that, to cope with the revelation of his monstrous crimes, the American public invented Ed Gein jokes of the morbid, gallows humor variety. As the Wikipedia article on this type of humor points out, it is used to make “light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are normally considered serious or painful to discuss.” Ed's deeds certainly qualify as such a topic.
A few Ed Gein jokes can be found on the Internet. Here are a few from the Imgur website:
  • What did Ed Gein say as the hearse passed by? “Dig you later, baby!”
  • What did Ed Gein say to the sheriff who arrested him? “Have a heart.”
  • Ed Gein [was] popular with the ladies. There were always women hanging around his place.
  • Why do they let Ed Gein out on New Year's Day? So he can dig up a fresh date.
  • Customer: “Bartender, give me a Gein beer.” Bartender: “It has lots of body but no head.”
  • Have you heard the Defense Department has called on Ed Gein? They want him to ship arms to Vietnam.
Among others, the Tripod website offers these gems:
  • Why did Ed Gein's girlfriend stop going out with him? Because he was such a cut-up.
  • Why won't anyone play poker with Ed Gein?
  • He might come up with a good hand.
Finally, here are a few by yours truly:
  • Ed Gein liked to keep abreast of things
  • Ed Gein always put his best foot forward.
  • Ed Gein had a grave disposition.
  • At bake sales, Ed Gein's pastries didn't sell well: people feared there'd be a finger in every pie.
  • As a house guest, Ed Gein expected to be waited on hand and foot.
  • Ed Gein was barred from the theater after he took Mark Antony's plea to “lend me your ears” literally.
While it must be admitted that Ed Gein jokes tend to be corny (and a bit juvenile), except my own, of course, we can see how they might help people cope with the astonishingly bizarre, heinous deeds of the insane killer from Plainfield.



Sunday, April 14, 2019

Bruce Stepan: A Delightful Master of the Surreal

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

Note: Bruce Stepan is the creator of all the works of art shown in this blog post; each is under copyright protection and cannot be reproduced without his express written permission.


Annunciation. Copyright by Bruce Stepan. All rights reserved. (Click the image to enlarge it; click again to return to the post.)

It's my pleasure to introduce the artwork of Bruce Stepan. As his website, Stepan Studios, observes, his paintings and illustrations reflect “poignant storytelling” and “surreal artistry.”

His surreal oeuvre includes “a comical mix of weird paintings, pop art, scary paintings . . . creepy paintings, fine arts [sic], and art ideas.”

Educated in the arts (Stepan has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in general art studio practices and a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting), he is also an art educator, having taught studio courses at Youngstown State University and Michigan State University. Currently, his emphases are on comics and illustrations.


Communion. Copyright by Bruce Stepan. All rights reserved. (Click the image to enlarge it; click again to return to the post.)

His website features copies of several of his paintings and illustrations (there's also a link to his fabulous blog). The paintings are colorful, vibrant, and either comical or unsettling—sometimes both at once. The drawings, executed in graphite on a variety of surfaces, are unique, detailed, intriguing, fun, and sophisticated.

I have always appreciated surreal art. A favorite among the painters whose work I admire is Renee Magritte, but I also enjoy both popular surrealism and so-called lowbrow art, including paintings by Marion Peck, Mark Ryden, Michael Parks, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Tetsuya Ishida, and many others. Now, I am pleased to add another name to this illustrious roster, that of Bruce Stepan.


Graveyard. Copyright by Bruce Stepan. All rights reserved. (Click the image to enlarge it; click again to return to the post.)

One of the things I like most about Stepan's art, some of which is inspired by one of the most celebrated authors of horror fiction, is its allusive, metaphorical, and symbolic character. Another is the multivalent potential each painting or drawing offers for interpretation, speculation, and inspiration. One of his works, Dark Shadows, is, as his website declares, a “space . . . filled to the brim with hidden meaning,” which invites each viewer to “search out the objects” in the room the painting depicts “and piece together” his or her “own narrative.”

One of the features of his website is a magnifier associated with the cursor function. By hovering over a painting or drawing, one can focus on each part of the work, discovering its rich detail and a lot more surprises than might otherwise meet the eye. It's almost as if each work contains a series of interlocking pieces that, together, form a seamless, coherent whole. His artwork is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also a puzzler's delight!

Here are a couple more of the other works currently exhibited on Stepan's website:


Dark Shadows. Copyright by Bruce Stepan. All rights reserved.
(Click the image to enlarge it; click again to return to the post.)


 Trick or Treat. Copyright by Bruce Stepan. All rights reserved. (Click the image to enlarge it; click again to return to the post.)


Plotting by Phrase

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman


Language is the chief connection between our minds and the world at large. It is the means by which we perceive and conceive ideas, interpret experience, and communicate our attitudes, beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and values. In civilized society, it takes the place (at times) of assault and warfare in which not discussion of differences, but might, makes right.

In addition, language contains nuggets of wisdom, encapsulated knowledge, hard-won understanding, good advice. Often in the form of clever or pithy phrases, language is a reminder of what has been found to be true or useful, and, with some thought and imagination, offers a treasure trove for writers in search of ideas. Since Chillers and Thrillers is devoted to horror fiction and to, well, thrillers, this post considers a few of the phrases that could inspire plots for stories in these genres.


The first is “Nantucket sleigh ride,” which is defined as:

An obsolete and dangerous method of whale hunting in which a small boat manned by rowers and a harpooner, or a series of small boats tied together, would be attached to a whale by means of a harpoon and would then be towed by the creature at high speed across the water's surface, until the whale eventually became exhausted.


Although it's unlikely that such a technique is used today, it (or something similar to it) could be used, with a gargantuan monster of some kind substituting for the whale. Think of a group of sledges, instead of boats, fastened together and attached, perhaps by a harpoon, to a Tyrannosaur rampaging across eastern Alaska, western Canada, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California, Arizona, or western Mexico (areas all once part of the island of Laramidia).


The object of such an enterprise might be the same as the Nantucket sleigh ride of yesteryear: to tire one's prey so that it could be killed (or captured, perhaps). How'd the T Rex come to reside in modern-day western North America? That's a matter for a different post, although the cloning of dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park certainly might point the way, as could the discovery of a live specimen tucked away in the corner of some as-yet undiscovered niche of Canada, Alaska, or Mexico (id such a place still exists).


The term “miner's canary,” referring to “a caged bird kept caged in mines because its demise provided a warning of dangerous levels of toxic gases,” also suggests so,me plot possibilities. In a horror story or a thriller, the canary, of course, wouldn't be a canary; it would be a person or even a group of people, maybe a whole town of people. Unknown to them, their community might be located at the edge of a dangerous area, perhaps one that is radioactive; perhaps one in which a group of hostile extraterrestrial creatures are held captive; perhaps one in which the portal to another dimension exists, leaving he earth at risk of invasion by the bizarre, but highly developed, inhabitants of this otherworldly plane—or whatever other scenario one's imagination develops.


My spider sense is tingling,” a phrase that has entered the language courtesy of Marvel Comics's The Amazing Spider-Man, also suggests a possibility or two—for me, alas, just one: suppose a person had a “spider sense,” an intuitive perception that danger was nigh and that this sense had a physical way of conveying its impressions, such as causing—I don't know—say, a tingling sensation?



But then, this person develops paranoia (backstory needed; see the video clip, above), which sets his or “spider sense” tingling for any, all, and no reason, so that he or she constantly perceives him- or herself to be in imminent danger. If this person is also a highly trained assassin or warrior, danger might well ensue—but because of his or her paranoia; in other words, this character becomes the source of danger he or she perceives.

Plenty of the other phrases listed on the Phrases website, mixed with a bit of imagination, can produce similar ideas for plots. Visit the site, and dig in!

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Etymology of Horror

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman



The Online Etymology Dictionary is not only interesting in itself, but it is also a reminder of the beliefs, attitudes, and, yes, fears (among other influences) that inspire words associated with language and, in the case of the topic for this post, horror.

 
Troll,” for example, originally alluded to a “supernatural being in Scandinavian mythology and folklore and derived from the Old Norse troll, referring to a “giant being not of the human race, evil spirit, monster.” Its first recorded use, the Online Etymology Dictionary states, was in a court document concerning a case associated with witchcraft and sorcery. Allegedly, “a certain [witch named] Catherine” witnessed trolls rise from a churchyard in Hildiswick.” First conceived as giants, they were later believed to be “dwarfs and imps supposed to live in caves or under the ground.” Moreover, these formerly fierce beings became “obliging and neighbourly; freely lending and borrowing, and elsewise keeping up a friendly intercourse with mankind,” their thieving ways notwithstanding.


The dictionary's entry concerning the werewolf indicates that belief in these creatures, as people “'with the power to turn into a wolf' . . . . was widespread in the Middle Ages.” Apparently, it was also widely believed in Persia, where present-day Iran's ancestors named the October Varkazana, or the month of the “Wolf-Men.” 


Teratology, once the study of monsters, is now the study of physical abnormalities, such as those resulting from birth defects and “reproductive and developmentally-mediated disorders.” Its previous subject matter provides some interesting and, indeed, surprising insights into the origin of the concept of the monster as a horrific figure. Originally, a monster was an omen, sent by God to warn humanity (or a nation) of his displeasure; if the people didn't repent of their wickedness, God would follow his warning with punishment. Thus, for example, a pair of conjoined twins or a hermaphrodite would be taken as an admonitory message to be ignored at a people's own peril. As the Online Etymology Dictionary entry for this term reads, in part, “monster” derives from “Latin monstrum,” referring to a 'divine omen (especially one indicating misfortune), portent, sign; abnormal shape; monster, monstrosity,' [and means a] figuratively 'repulsive character, object of dread, awful deed, [or] abomination.'” Writers and readers of contemporary horror fiction might do well to keep this history of the word's meaning in mind the next time they take up a copy of Frankenstein or The Island of Dr. Moreau. Couldn't the scientists' monsters have been warnings sent by God, through the labors of Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau?




The lamia first seems to have been envisioned as a mermaid-vampire hybrid, but was later envisioned as a half-woman, half-serpent vampiric creature. Interestingly, the transformation of the lamia from mermaid to serpent-woman might have been suggested by the word lamia's association with “swallowing,” just as her erotic charm might have been suggested by the word's original link to lechery and her sorcery to the term's original connection to sorcery: “female demon, late 14c., from Latin lamia [meaning] 'witch, sorceress, vampire,' from Greek lamia [meaning] 'female vampire, man-eating monster,' literally 'swallower, lecher,' from laimos 'throat, gullet.'” The snake-like form of the lamia might have been based upon the idea that she was something of a personified gullet, since a snake has such a form.

Alluring, the lamia enthralled men with her charms (and, perhaps, with a bit of witchery, but, when her beauty and magic were no longer strong enough an attraction, she would kill and devour him, as the following passage suggests:

Also kynde erreþ in som beestes wondirliche j-schape, as it fareþ in a beest þat hatte lamia, þat haþ an heed as a mayde & body as a grym fissche[;] whan þat best lamya may fynde ony man, first a flatereþ wiþ hym with a wommannes face and makeþ hym ligge by here while he may dure, & whanne he may noferþere suffice to here lecherye þanne he rendeþ hym and sleþ and eteþ hym. [Bartholomew Glanville, c. 1360, "De proprietatibus rerum," translated by John of Trevisa]

Translation: An error among some kinds of animals sometimes results in a wondrous shape, such as that of the lamia, which has a woman's head and the body of a horrible fish. When a lamia finds a man, it flatters him with its beauty and makes him linger beside her until her charms no longer enthrall him, whereupon she slays and eats him. [Bartholomew Glanville, c. 1360, the Property of Things, translated by John of Trevisa]

Many other words associated with horror fiction also have interesting origins and histories, some of which could suggest new takes on old topics or altogether new approaches to such fiction.

Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.


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