Gene Stewart: Critics & Especially Horror These Days

This post was originally published July 20th 2016 on

Written in response to a writer angry about critics:

So someone sneered at your latest work of fiction, calling it “mere horror”. You immediately hate all criticism.

That leads to a problem.

You’re no good as a writer without good critics. Sorry but that’s just true. Good critics are rare. Most who call themselves that are just bullies. Louts. Dolts. But that does not invalidate good criticism, which is insightful and in context can elevate the art.

A genuine critic is knowledgeable and keeps things honest. Same with a real pundit. TV has degraded both into basically promoters of ideology or nasty carping dolts. The hypocrisy of Fox’s mincing mocking motto, “fair and balanced” when they are anything but, shows their agenda. To rape fact until truth dies murdered.

Objectivity, as Dr Hunter S Thompson howled, is bullshit smeared on subjectivity to hide agenda. What’s needed is clear positions explained clearly by those who know a given genre or field well enough to analyze it honestly from their view.

This is why word of mouth sells you books better than almost all other things; you understand your friends and their tastes and views. Trust them.

Some of the most useful critics are the ones with whom you consistently disagree. If some prissy prude is offended and hates it I know there is a good chance I’ll like it.

So remember, as C S Lewis wrote, fans make the best critics because they know the field and its major and minor works, which gives them context, and they understand what to expect from a given genre work, and whether it succeeds in its own artistic terms. Outsiders cannot fathom such things.

So if some academic pisses all over “horror”, consider the source and move on. If Harold Bloom throws a hissy fit over Stephen King getting a National Book Award, laugh at his bigoted ignorance and petty closed-minded snobbery. He’s a bigot unable to escape categorical thinking.

On the other hand, if King or Ramsey Campbell or another knowledgeable source points out lax spots or errors, you’d better learn new things fast.

Horror has as much good work as any style or genre or market category of fiction. Learn to discern good from bad criticism and we can always improve.

Turning away from all criticism merely isolated you and we all know we are among the worst at assessing our own work. Without critics we’d all be Shakespeare. – Samael Gyre

The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Gene Stewart writes horror, mystery, and all kinds of fiction, plus other things. Check his site for samples. Over the years he’s lived in Germany, Japan, and all over the US. He lives now in the American Midwestern Wilderness outside Omaha, NE with his wife and three dogs. He’s got three grown sons.

You can find read more from Gene via his official website

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