by Rebecca Forster
I love to read. Books, newspapers, magazines and food labels are all on my TBR list. Horror has been in the mix with popular authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz, but I didn’t know what a great horror read was until I read a short story collection by Anoynmous-9 (aka Elaine Ash) presented under the umbrella title of Hard Bite & Other Short Stories. Here was horror at its finest: edgy, scary, fascinating, the stuff bad dreams are made of. While I celebrated the book, I also lamented that this author might never be embraced by the mainstream despite her talent. Why? Because Anyonymous-9 is what I call an X-treme novelist - a writer who does not poke at parameters, but boldly shreds them. Think Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and his brand of hysterical realism. Hunter S. Thompson and Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas. My favorite, Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange. The X-treme novelist is often ignored, ridiculed, or, even worse, published only to languish in a no-man’s land of genreless books.
Yet when a reader discovers them - or they become bestsellers in spite of the system – there is a sense of uncovering a jewel. They keep us thinking and questioning and curious about what they will come up with next. If their work is done well, their sense of time and place, characterization and plot will challenge the reader in a way traditional novels never do; if crafted poorly, their work is merely sensationalism without direction. The challenge for the X-treme novelist is to direct themselves without editorial help or an agent cheerleader because their vision is uniquely their own.
Some of my favorite, recently-read indie works by those I consider X-treme novelists include:
Hard Bite & Other Stories* by Anonymous-9: A viscious, bloody, twisted tale that left me fascinated because of the author’s complete faith in the vision of her characters and their motivation. I applaud the sheer inventiveness of the world she created.
Johnny Oops by Arthur Levine: A fanciful tale of a teenager who believes himself to be a prophet. It is a sexual, angst filled romp that is told with an unapologetic abandon and marvelous style.
Detroit Daze by Conrad Johnson**: A hard, brutal, desperate tale of a teenager’s life in Detroit that seems to lead to the same nowhere the teenager believes is his destiny. Johnson’s deft communication of humanity within this harsh world, his use of music lyrics, is like poetic graffiti.
The Santa Shop by Tim Greaton: An unsettling, emotionally wrenching story that has little to do with jingle bells and everything to do with despair, self recrimination, and redemption. It is so well written I was actually angry that the book was not what I assumed it would be and then grateful that it was not.
X-treme authors are not pioneers; they are explorers. They are not dreamers; they are trippers. X-treme novelists are vital to the creative process. It is usually through their efforts that new genres are born and fashions are created. Sometimes we just forget those fashions began with writers willing to put themselves on the line with something new, fresh, and often delightedly unsettling. If you are one, embrace what you do because there are readers like me who will appreciate it and writers (like me) who will be inspired by it.
*Also look for Hard Bite the Novel.
**Conrad Johnson is the pseudonym for John Byk. Check out his live contemporary author interviews on 2012 Writers Alive