STARBURST: What is Horrorology?
Stephen Jones: Horrorology, as the title suggests, it is the study of horror. In the context of the new anthology, this forbidden knowledge is kept hidden away by an eldritch cult of Seekers after Truth in a vast depository called The Library of the Damned.
When one of those unholy acolytes steals a sheaf of pages from an ancient grimoire known as The Lexicon of Fear, he unwittingly releases into the world the words that comprise the language of horror itself.
In the book, some of these words manifest themselves in stories by such well-known authors as Clive Barker, Michael Marshall Smith, Joanne Harris, Muriel Gray, Kim Newman, Ramsey Campbell and Lisa Tuttle, amongst others.
How different is it from something like Dark Detectives?
Not as much as you would think. Although the central theme of Dark Detectives was markedly different, it was an anthology about psychic sleuths. In that volume I also attempted to create an over-arching mythology that the various stories would fit into.
In this case, it was the language of horror itself, as exemplified by the forbidden tome The Lexicon of Fear. I like to have fun with the anthologies I do, and I’m always looking for a ‘hook’ to hang them on. I thought Horrorology was a pretty cool word and, from there, I built up a fictional mythology surrounding the name, eventually coming up with the narrative setting that bookends all the other stories. The other great thing about the concept is that it also wasn’t too limiting for the authors – if you’re doing a book of zombie or vampire stories, you pretty much know what you’re going to get up front. But by basing Horrorology around the concept of words themselves, these became the titles for a very diverse selection of horror stories – which is something I’ve tried to do with each of my anthologies for Jo Fletcher Books.
What came first, the story titles or the stories?
It depended on the author. Some already had stories in mind that we fitted into the book by changing the titles. Others came up with a word from The Lexicon of Horror and then created their story around that. That was part of the fun of compiling the book – I never knew what I was going to get. I also defy anyone who reads the stories to guess which came first, the story or the title.
What is the role of the editor in an anthology like this?
The role of an anthology editor is always to guide and shape the book – whether that’s coming up with and selling the original concept, choosing the authors you want to appear in it, or working with those authors to make their work the best it can possibly be.
My background is in TV and movies, so I very much see my role as a director, with the stories the script and the authors the actors. I can belabour the comparisons even further, but suffice to say that there are a number of similarities between the two media, even down to considering how those stories flow in a book (which is why both share the term editor).
Are anthology’s becoming more popular?
I’m not sure they are becoming more popular, but there are certainly a lot more of them out there – especially from the smaller, independent presses.
Unfortunately, too many people see anthologies as a quicker way of getting a book out there instead of, say, spending six months to a year writing a novel. You just get a bunch of stories, throw them together and – hey presto! – you’ve got a book with your name on it with the minimum of effort.
The trouble is, as with all things, there is a skill to being an anthology editor. Not everybody can do it (just like not everybody can be an author, or an actor, or a brain surgeon). You need to be extremely well-read in your subject, you need to have more than a basic understanding of grammar and punctuation, you need to have a grasp of good storytelling, and you need to have business skills.
You need all these things to put together a good anthology.
Does this mean that the role of the modern editor is also changing?
Too many people who call themselves editors are in fact ‘compilers’ – they take the material, do the minimal amount of work needed on it, and then throw it together without any thought to how the final product will read. That’s not editing. Anybody can do that.
I’ve been doing this for nearly forty years now. I’ve learned a few things in that time (I hope). It takes a lot of hard work to craft an anthology, and most of those that I do take six months to a year to complete to my satisfaction. And trust me, you don’t earn much money from it after you’ve split the publisher’s advance with all the contributors. But, that said, I’ve never been in it for the money anyway.
What is your favourite scary story?
There are so many, but M. R. James invented the modern ghost story as we know it, replacing the Gothic horrors of the previous century with more contemporary settings and subtle terrors. And amongst the very best is A Warning to the Curious, which, with its cursed object and doomed protagonist, perfectly exemplifies everything that is memorable about the author’s fiction.
I was proud to compile the illustrated collection Curious Warnings: The Great Ghost Stories of M. R. James, a definitive collection of James’ fiction, for Jo Fletcher Books a few years ago.
Do you enjoy Halloween?
Indeed, I do. For me, it’s like Christmas. But darker. Unfortunately, my publishers all tend to bring out my books around the same time of the year (understandable, I suppose, given their themes), so I spend most of my time working away in the solitude of my office and then, come October, I have a bunch of titles all competing with each other during the same month.
This year I have something like nine or ten new titles out around Halloween, but then the fun is that I get to go along to the Forbidden Planet Megastore in London on Halloween itself and, with around another 20 other authors and artists, sign those books and meet the readers for a couple of hours in the afternoon. That’s the fun part of this job.
Which new authors do you think have the most potential?
There are so many new authors coming up all the time. I wouldn’t want to single any particular individuals out, but I would say keep an eye on such writers in the horror genre as Nathan Ballingrud, Alison Littlewood, Helen Marshall, Daniel Mills, Thana Niveau, Robert Shearman, Angela Slatter, Simon Strantzas, and Simon Kurt Unsworth, to name just a few.
Who are your favourite ‘classic’ authors?
I’ve already mentioned M. R. James. I would also add Clive Barker, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Charles L. Grant, Robert E. Howard, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Clark Ashton Smith, Lisa Tuttle, Karl Edward Wagner… the list goes on and on.
Why are the works and worlds of H. P. Lovecraft still so popular?
It’s interesting. Lovecraft is once again experiencing a resurgence in popularity – not bad for an author who has been dead for nearly eighty years!
I believe that Lovecraft’s original concepts – from the mythology and monsters to his themes of ‘cosmic horror’ – are so powerful that they continue to resonate in the imaginations of successive generations. That why he has these periodic rises in popularity, as new generations discover and then embrace his work.
I recently attended a Lovecraft-themed convention in his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, that attracted around 2,000 people for a weekend. The interesting thing for me was that many of those who were there were not necessarily into the original stories – they came to Lovecraft through the role-playing games, the movies, the artwork, the comic books, or some other way. In other words, Lovecraft is now bigger than the genre that once claimed him.
Some years ago I compiled a collection for Gollancz entitled Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft. At the time, I thought to myself, ‘Who would ever want yet another collection of Lovecraft’s stories’. Yet to this day it remains my best-selling book ever, and it has recently gone into its 20th printing, which is simply incredible.
HORROROLOGY is out now via Quercus Publishing, and is available in all good bookstores.