Post by Michael West on May 19, 2008 16:20:17 GMT -5
* STEFFEN HANTKE11Sogang University, Seoul
1Sogang University, Seoul
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, horror fiction experienced a dramatic decline within commercial publishing. Bad news circulated through the professional and the fan community; an article in the October 1990 issue of Locus magazine with the headline "Tor Drops Horror Line," for example, reports on a typical case: "Five years ago [i.e. 1985], Tor was the first company to start a separate horror line," but now horror's decrease of market shares in the late 1980s is responsible for the company's decision to move each month's lead title from genre to mainstream (5). In March 1996, publisher and editor Dean Wesley Smith shut down Pulphouse Publishing after producing a total of 230 books and magazines. In its November issue of the same year, Locus magazine reported that Zebra, "the last existing genre horror line in US publishing," had been discontinued, its horror titles "still being published, but mostly as general fiction, romance (!) or suspense." The same article announced that in Britain, "the Creed horror imprint from Signet was also dropped" (8).1
The downward trend still continued by the mid-1990s, and was in fact so prominent that Edward Bryant began his "1996: The Year in Review" with the wry comment, "Okay, okay, so horror is still dead. Or dying …" (38). Ellen Datlow, in her summation of the year 1997, went into more detail, eschewing Bryant's matter-of-factness but, by the same token, underscoring Locus's rhetoric of crisis: "The horror market is still in very bad shape. Although commercial publishers have been publishing a few anthologies and single-author collections, it's merely a trickle and I predict this trend will continue for the next few years" (Eleventh Annual xlvii). Though Datlow concedes that the "small press continues to take up some of the slack" within the slow economy, she goes on to lament that a publisher like White Wolf, which entered the market when it was already in decline and thus could have been more attuned to the economic requirements for survival, has not lived up to its early promise either. The rest of the industry, according to Datlow, is best represented by publishers who either lean toward "high concept/celebrity/media-related or erotic horror," churn out "mostly mediocre products," or "run on [their] own inertia." This is a grim diagnosis indeed.
What prompts these critics to resort to such a rhetoric of crisis is the memory of the heyday of literary horror in both paperback and hardcover publishing in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Ellen Datlow's and Terri Windling's massive annual anthologies The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror started in 1987, right around the time when the Horror Writers of America incorporated (Datlow, Tenth Annual xxxviii). Both event signaled the genre's economic health, internal consolidation, and drive toward canonization. "The early eighties was a boom time in horror," editor Jeanne Cavelos says, "with the number of books being published quickly rising to ten times what it was a few years before (mainly due to Stephen King's influence)" (Dark Echo Interview). King's career kicked off with Carrie (1974), Salem's Lot (1975), and The Shining (1977), while Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976) and Peter Straub's Ghost Story (1979) helped to accelerate the commercial viability of the genre. In the wake of these bestselling authors came a host of writers who were not necessarily second-rate but remained limited to a genre-specific readership and so failed to cross over to the mainstream audience that had made King, Rice, and Straub household names. The presence of mid-list writers like Frank de Felitta, Ken Eulo, Chet Williamson, Sean Costello, or J. N. Williamson, to mention just a few, made horror not only a profitable marketing niche but also a vital, thriving literary genre.
Behind Bryant and Datlow discussing the crisis of horror in the mid-1990s stands primarily the disappearance of these mid-list authors, "quality writers who were underappreciated in a genre that was dominated by the commercial giants like King and Koontz," as Mike Arnzen puts it, looking back on the period (Dark Echo). While some writers' farewell from horror had reasons unrelated to the state of the market—Robert McCammon, who abandoned writing altogether in 1991 and returned to it in 2002, comes to mind—others were casualties of cutbacks. Their career changes are symptomatic of the market's ebb and flow. Michael McDowell, before his death in 1999, switched to mysteries, as did Norman Partridge and Craig Spector. John Maxim switched to thrillers. Ray Garton kept writing horror but made a transition from his early splatterpunk work, which, by its very nature, was always limited to a small fan audience, to the mainstream thriller. Sherri Tepper started writing science fiction, and Felice Picano abandoned genre fiction altogether and moved on to the literary mainstream. Joe Lansdale, working in several genres simultaneously, consigned his horror output to small presses, as did many others. Trademark writers like King, Straub, Koontz, and Rice prevailed, writing the blockbusters which, according to Joe Moran, generate the profits that, in turn, finance the roughly "80 per cent of the titles produced every year [that are] commercial failures" (38).
This consolidation of production around a limited number of trademark authors, and the simultaneous elimination of mid-list authors, contributed largely to the decline of literary horror. In other words, fewer publishers published fewer books by fewer authors. The genre suffered both quantitatively, falling out of favor with large audiences who would occasionally make forays into the horror genre, and qualitatively, as the disappearance of so many authors from bookstore shelves brought with them a loss of variety and internal differentiation. As a popular genre, a concrete manifestation of the "transferable condition of [any]medium's content and structure" that Clive Bloom calls "pulp," horror lost exactly that which made it "loud, brash, sexy, violent, passionate and unlikely" (152). Though horror may be, as Bloom puts it, "
rotean in its forms, although constrained by a limited number of scenarios and plots," the tendencies in the market at the end of the horror boom put an unfortunate emphasis on horror's predictability "on the level of genre" rather than on its ability to surprise "on the level of manipulation of reader expectation" (Bloom 152).
To consider this monocultural monotony, this slash-and-burn exploitation of the generic soil, the only reason for the decline of the horror genre is, however, an oversimplification. Most likely, several separate developments were converging. By the mid-1980s, cyberpunk had started taking off, appropriating some of the high-tech and body horror elements that had announced themselves in horror cinema with Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and that had been virtually the exclusive territory of horror fiction. Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs was published in 1988, triggering a cycle of serial killer fiction in which authors like Michael Slade (Ghoul was published in 1987) blurred the boundaries of horror, detracting from its generic integrity, by merging it with police procedural, hardboiled detective fiction, gothic romance, and thriller. There were novelizations of horror films, like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Dead and Buried, to mention just one of countless forgettable products, and the occasional media tie-in, like William Peter Blatty's Exorcist. But on the whole, marketing across media boundaries had not yet reached the commercial momentum with which endless paperback installments of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or X-Files were returning horror to profitability by the end of the 1990s. And then there was, according to editor and marketing insider Ellen Datlow, a larger economic recession in the publishing industry, of which, already maimed by the problems I mentioned before, the horror genre bore the brunt.
One might also want to consider the possibility that the rhetoric of crisis dissipates as soon as the genre label is seen separate from the fiction it claims to identify. After the sarcastic aside about the death of horror I cited before, Ed Bryant notes, "I find myself swayed by writer/editor Steve Rasnic Tem's argument that horror is a form of writing informed by tone and attitude rather than plot—and that it's something that doesn't fit into a neat genre slot, much less constitute a marketing category" (38). Together with Clive Bloom's observation that horror is "
rotean in its forms," or Douglas Winter's "argument that horror is not a genre but an emotion," (Crime Time), Bryant's comment suggests that a transformation of marketing categories is taking place during the 1990s, and not an actual decline in production, quality, or profitability of a certain kind of fiction.
In this same market overview that notes the undeniable economic downturn, Ellen Datlow does see one reason for hope. Among the most remarkable books published in the horror genre, she lists Kathe Koja's The Cipher, Melanie Tem's Prodigal, and Patrick Gates' Tunnel Vision. What the three novels have in common is that they are published by Dell under the "Abyss" imprint. Dell's intention to publish "a new line of horror/dark fantasy books" at the rate of one title a month had been announced in a Locus article in May 1990 entitled "Dell to Launch New Horror Line." The premier title, according to this early announcement, was to be "The Funhall [sic]2 by Kathe Koja, followed by Nightlife by Brian Hodge, Blood Feast by Ron Dee, Specters by J. M. Dillard, and Prodigal by Melanie Tem. Dell has also acquired Monster/Time by Kelley Wilde, last years's Bram Stoker Award Winner" (5).3 With junior Jeanne Cavelos as chief executive editor for the series, Dell saw better chances of weathering the tough market with an entire series than with individual titles or any other form of publishing format.4 An imprint like Abyss, Cavelos explained in an interview with Rick Kleffel,
served as a signal to bookstores and the public that we were doing something new and different. With so many books being published each month, it's very hard to get attention for any one, and usually the publisher doesn't have the budget to heavily market or publicize a single title. By creating an imprint, the publishing house focuses attention on a group of books, and so can devote more money to the group than it would be able to spend on any one book. ("Importance of Being Imprints")
From February 1991 when Kathe Koja's The Cipher was published as the first in the series, Cavelos' editorial vision and personality determined the selection of texts and authors and thus guaranteed a consistent identity to the books under the Abyss imprint. To most writers she dealt with, Abyss became her series. Given this high degree of editorial attention, Abyss got off to an excellent start. Kathe Koja and Melanie Tem, two of the first Abyss authors, tied for first place in the ballot for the Bram Stoker Award in 1992. Other books published in the Abyss line were equally successful on the ballots of both the Horror Writers of America's Bram Stoker Awards and the World Fantasy Award. Abyss authors Nancy Holder, Melanie Tem, Robert Deveraux, Kristin Kathryn Rusch, Kathe Koja, Michael Arnzen all ended up on the ballot for the Stoker in 1994—the same year Kathe Koja and Poppy Z. Brite received nominations for the World Fantasy Award.5 In retrospect, Mike Arnzen, an Abyss author himself, articulates what the industry and audience consensus used to be at the time—that "the Abyss line in the 1990s […] is still the standard for cutting edge horror" (Dark Echo).
The impressive initial track record of Cavelos' line lead to plans for expansion. In 1992, Locus announced Abyss' expansion into hardcovers. With the hardcover publications of Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, Cavelos hoped to tap the distinct demographics of the market Abyss had already consolidated. "Abyss readers," she is quoted in Locus, "are an older, sophisticated audience—and that's the hardcover trade" ("Abyss Expands" 6). Another addition was the launch of a parallel series called Dell Edge. Again, here is Cavelos quoted in Locus: "Edge will publish literary books that don't quite fit into Abyss' more traditional horror market, ranging from noir fiction to dark psychological horror" (January 1994: 6). The publication schedule featured Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy, a novel by an author not primarily associated with the horror genre, followed by Tim Lucas' Throat Sprockets and Kathe Koja's Strange Angels.
However, Cavelos' editorial ambition and Abyss' critical acclaim did not translate into commercial success. After six years with Dell, and a month before the first Cutting Edge title appeared, Cavelos made the decision to leave her editorial position with Dell in July of 1994 in order to pursue a career in teaching and writing (Datlow "Summation 1994"). By that time, the industry had already begun to notice the gap between the critical acclaim and the commercial success of the Abyss line.6 "Even before Cavelos left," Leslie Schnur writes in October of 1994, "the Abyss line had been cut from monthly to nine per year. It will probably be around six now—or even less. The reviews were fantastic, but most titles were not selling well. […] In order to get more copies out, the successful authors—Poppy Z. Brite, Tanith Lee, Kathe Koja, etc.—will be published as Dell leads, not as Dell Abyss books" (8).7 Schnur concludes that Cavelos' leaving the series was the final reasons for its demise, all commercial setbacks aside. "Jeanne Cavelos was unique," is Schnur's assessment, "I don't think anyone can replace her …" (8). After forty-three titles, and with Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls as its final publication, Abyss ceased to exist in March 1998.8
What makes the Abyss line a cultural phenomenon worthwhile of study is its self-conscious positioning within the declining horror market. Its marketing strategies, text selection, and construction of a commodity identity speak volumes on the horror market and its transformation at the time. Cavelos herself describes the inception of the Abyss line primarily as a move against expectations that readers and distributors might have had about Dell as a publisher.
In the case of Abyss, we […] needed to divorce ourselves from our own sales history. Dell had been publishing poor quality horror novels for some years—because no editor had a real interest in horror—and their sales were very low. If we were to continue publishing horror, then we had to improve the quality of our books. […] We needed to make a complete break with the past, and the way to do that was create a new imprint that would have a different identity—a new name, new authors, new cover treatments, new marketing plans, and a consistently high quality that would allow us to regain the faith and loyalty of readers. (Cavelos qtd. in Kleffel)
Though it remains unclear what exactly constitutes "poor quality horror novels" versus "a consistently high quality," Cavelos' explanation does emphasize novelty, rather than, say, genre conformity as a marker of tradition or historical and textual continuity, as the recipe for commercial success. Of course, this is not exactly a unique idea; much of contemporary marketing revolves around novelty as a key concept, regardless of whether it is a breakfast cereal or an automobile that is for sale. However, the identity that Cavelos decided on for Abyss, which was supposed to bring about the necessary break with Dell's bad publishing record, was one designed specifically against the genre expectations of horror—expectations that were increasingly failing audiences, who began to stay away, as the saying goes, in droves.
In their physical appearance, the books published under the Abyss imprint were trying to signal this emphasis on novelty visually. As Ellen Datlow put it, "The cover art and design were sophisticated, impressionistic, and sexy in a way that was worlds apart from the usual horror cover art" ("Summation 1994" xxxiv). Mike Arnzen admits, "Abyss […] had the best covers (which was, honestly, the primary reason I submitted Grave Markings to them)" (Dark Echo). Abyss titles still used "expensive foil and embossing and die-cut covers," but they generally avoided the visual predominance of black that had served as the single most important visual genre marker and marketing signal for paperback horror fiction in the 1980s (Cavelos).9 The result was a look that steered clear of the visual default of horror packaging, meeting Cavelos' requirement for novelty, and yet retained a pulpy look and demotic feel. The overall effect was artsy but loud, more reminiscent of pop art's boldness that the gothic's doom and gloom. Ultimately, the design confirmed Joan Hawkins' assertion that there is a middle-ground where, explicitly and self-consciously, "high culture trades on the same images, tropes, and themes that characterize low culture" (3).
With a blurb on the back of the each book cover, Cavelos made the break with the publishing industry's default notion of horror even more explicit. Instead of promising the reader a return to a carefully mapped territory, the text of the blurb positions Abyss carefully within a discourse of individual discovery and experimentation. Under the heading "Welcome to Abyss," it reads:
The Abyss line of cutting-edge psychological horror is committed to publishing the best, most innovative works of dark fiction available. Abyss is horror unlike anything you've ever read before. It's not about haunted houses or evil children or ancient Indian burial grounds. We've all read those books, and we all know their plots by heart.
Abyss is for the seeker of truth, no matter how disturbing or twisted it may be. It's about people, and the darkness we all carry within us. Abyss is the new horror from the dark frontier. And in that place, where we come face-to-face with terror, what we find is ourselves.10
Placed so prominently in the promotional materials of both the entire line and the individual book within it, this passage deserves closer attention.11 The advertising pitch makes an implicit claim about the causes for horror's lamentable state. It argues that horror suffers because of its readers' overfamiliarity with themes, settings, and plots. Readers abandon the genre because "haunted houses or evil children or ancient Indian burial grounds" are exhausted to the point of unwitting self-parody. A simple mention of the three themes, without much further commentary, is perfectly sufficient to evoke assorted 1970s' and 1980s' bestsellers. Unless authors begin to explore a new thematic inventory, according to the Abyss blurb, the horror genre is bound to exhaust itself in empty formulaic repetition, or worse, lapse into unwitting self-parody.
Considering the sources I have quoted in which Stephen King is directly identified with the boom of the horror genre in the 1980s, it is difficult not to see him as the epitome of what Cavelos is indicting with her strategy. After all, the Overlook Hotel in The Shining is not only the epitome of the haunted house story, but also built on an ancient Indian burial ground, and there is something decidedly creepy about little Danny Torrance and his invisible pal Tony. For argument's sake, let me continue for a moment to treat King—not in any prejudicial way, mind you—as an example of the type of horror fiction Jeanne Cavelos was trying to steer Abyss readers away from, an example of horror's golden age and the type of writing that the market had been favoring in an attempt to reproduce King's sales. In a comparison with a few writers, whose work I consider typical of the Abyss line, let me then address the facts that King is male, that most of King's novels are fairly long, and that King follows what could be described as a nineteenth century classic realist aesthetic in his writing.
With the notable exceptions of Anne Rice and, to a lesser degree, V. C. Andrew, males dominate the list of trademark and mid-list horror writers in the 1980s.12 Besides King, Straub and Koontz in the top selling positions, writers like McCammon did well in the mid-list, or writers like Thomas Tryon or T. E. D. Klein landed a one-time bestseller. No one denies that female writers were around, but one look at the list of Abyss authors makes it clear how significantly they were under-represented during the horror boom of the 1980s. Abyss featured the following female authors over the course of its existence: Kathe Koja (two novels), Melanie Tem (four novels, plus one cowritten with Holder), Lisa Tuttle, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Tanith Lee (two novels), Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Gail Petersen, Nancy Holder, and Poppy Z. Brite (two novels). Clearly, Jeanne Cavelos' intention was to break up the horror genre as a boys' club, and give female authors an opportunity to publish in a mass-market format.
Thanks to the influence of Stephen King, the blockbuster novels of horror's golden age, or those novels that are still remembered as memorable or outstanding, tend to be long. Though few novels can measure up to the complete and uncut re-release of The Stand, Robert McCammon's Swan Song and Peter Straub's Ghost Story come close. Except for the slender If You Could See Me Now, which predates Ghost Story, Straub has gone on to specialize in long novels. King's numerous novels, with the exception of the recent The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, are all on the hefty side. Abyss, in contrast to such verbal inflation, showed a clear preference for shorter, more concise novels.13 For authors like Kathe Koja, whose The Cipher stands emblematically at the beginning of the series, brevity and concision are essential. She states, "I always feel that most books, novels, could be shorter by a third (mine included, in retrospect!) without compromising the narrative thrust and drive" (Hantke 308). Koja's aesthetic, it seems, was perfectly attuned to Cavelos' editorial vision. Though individual Abyss titles might stray from the median, on the average, books in the series suggests stay between 300 and 400 pages, in a double-spaced, large-print layout. For the reader accustomed to King's output, most Abyss titles were at most an evening's read.
The issue of length may appear trivial at first glance, but the third point at which King's type of horror fiction and that of Cavelos' Abyss line diverge from each other reveals more significant aesthetic differences that are directly related to it. In order to write novels like The Stand, Swan Song, or Ghost Story, horror writers often resort to large casts of characters, which they move around among a variety of locations, fleshing out background stories, sometimes across several generations. Multiperspectivism (King's The Stand), parallel linear development of several intersecting plotlines (Klein's The Ceremonies), framed and inserted narratives (Straub's Ghost Story), as well as the slow, incremental buildup of suspense and the detailed description of setting, all require, or allow for, long, sprawling narratives. The purpose of narrative volume is, according to Stephen King, the reader's absorption in the narrative universe. King describes his own fiction as primarily driven by situation and character (On Writing 159–60), postulating that people who buy books "aren't attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel: book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep turning the pages" (156). The more pages there are, the better. The more densely and "realistically" this universe is developed, the more perfectly reader absorption can take place. For a horror novel to be effective, verisimilitude and narrative plenitude are essential. In other words, most of the horror novels of the 1980s follow an aesthetic that, roughly speaking, applies classic nineteenth-century literary realism to commercial genre fiction.
In contrast to these Dickensian, or rather, Trollopian novels, Abyss shifted the site of horror from public to private, from outer to inner space; as its advertising blurb announced, it concentrated on "dark fiction," "cutting-edge psychological horror," and on "the darkness we all carry within us." Because the element of the supernatural is eliminated from the writing, or at least severely de-emphasized, most texts published by Abyss are, in Todorov's often quoted taxonomy, either uncanny or fantastic, providing a rational explanation for mysterious events or forcing the implied audience to "hesitate between a natural and supernatural explanation of the events described" (33). This also means that the antiquarian element, in which the supernatural survives even in twentieth-century horror fiction as a remnant of the gothic, is eliminated as well. The source of disruption and anxiety is not located in the historical staging of "the return of the repressed" (e.g., an Indian burial ground in King's The Shining or a haunted Nazi submarine in McCammon's The Night Boat) but relocated into the space of individual psychology.
Given this agenda, King's social realism, which is concerned with the body of a community, fades into the background. Psychological realism, or a kind of realism that sees the individual physical body as its primary link of reader identification, takes center stage.14 "The body is an immediate vehicle of identification between the reader and the text," is how Abyss author Kathe Koja puts it when asked why bodily functions like defecation or urination are so prominent in her fiction (306). Koja's statement that our "bodies are our homes, and their internal weather's our climate" emphasizes a privacy of bodily experience that aligns itself with the process of reading fiction itself ("an immediate vehicle of identification") but screens out, for the most part, the larger social dimension into which writers like King or Straub integrate the bodily experience.
The strong emphasis on private rather than public spaces, on the personal rather than the social experience, does not require a large cast of characters. Consequently, many authors published by Abyss managed to keep the length of their novels down, restricting themselves to a relatively small cast of characters. Kathe Koja, for example, explicitly refers to the triangle as the crucial compositional principle in her fiction; "I find its [i.e. the triangle's] combinations inexhaustible. Multiple triangles within a framing triangle: that's my MO" (Paradoxa Interview 307). The reorientation toward interiority allows for shorter, more tightly constructed narratives with relatively few characters, whose inner lives are being explored in intense, often surreal detail.
This emphasis on interiority, in turn, provides a rationale for a more idiosyncratic style capable of accounting for experiences beyond the realm of the social. Separated from the social realm, the experiences of dream, hallucination, or sickness, all phrased in intensely bodily terms, demand a different rhetorical register. "I do feel most at home in the house of the grotesque," Kathe Koja admits (Paradoxa Interview). Mike Arnzen, emphasizing the experimental quality of his work, states: "I play with form a lot and I think liking my work requires having a weird sense of humor and a high threshold for grizzle" (Dark Echo). Michael Blumlein's writing, often "insistent in its technical accuracy and seriousness" pushes the envelope by foregoing the "tongue-in-cheek play with anatomical metaphors" likely to appear in more conventional horror fiction in favor of a self-consciously austere, and thus more recognizably "literary" or "difficult" style (Thacker 119). In other words, readers of this type of fiction were required to adopt a reading strategy different from the one that had worked well with the horror fiction of the boom years.15
Taken together, these shifts among Abyss authors in terms of subject matter and style indicate, roughly speaking, a tendency away from an aesthetic model based on nineteenth-century realism toward one based on twentieth-century modernism. Invested with such serious intentions, horror fiction was to participate in the accumulation of the reader's cultural capital, harking back to a genealogy of horror that circumvented the demotic pulp tradition from the 1920s to the 1950s and, instead, went straight back to the nineteenth-century tradition from Poe to James or Wharton, elitist or avantgarde models like fin de siecle symbolism, surrealism, and modernism as represented by writers like Kafka or Beckett. Broad as the strokes may be with which I am trying to delineate this paradigmatic shift—I am, in fact, using the terms and dropping the names more to evoke than to describe or define a sense of the writing collectively published under the Abyss imprint—they capture Cavelos' intention to move from the formulaic to the idiosyncratic, from the low- or middle-brow to the highbrow, or from entertainment to Literature with a capital "L." In order to rescue horror from its commercial failure as a demotic form of entertainment, Cavelos' editing and marketing strategies tried to resituate it within a more respectable literary tradition.
As an episode in the development of popular genres, the Abyss line constitutes an interpretive statement by a later stage about an earlier stage of the same genre. The question that remains is how we are to assess Jeanne Cavelos' experiment. It is difficult to judge whether her interpretation of traditional horror fiction can ultimately be considered correct or not. The validity of her interpretation is diminished in its persuasiveness by the fact that, eventually, Abyss became a casualty of the weak market itself, just as many of its precursors had. But while the line's demise suggests that Cavelos misread the market's susceptibility to her editorial concept, or the readiness of a mass audience for horror fiction to adapt a more idiosyncratic and less demotic set of aesthetic standards, the series' reputation among readers and professionals in the field, even many years after the final Abyss title was published, would skew assessment in her favor. If forty-three titles published in a slow market to great critical acclaim constitutes success, then Cavelos was successful. If gaining a mass audience outside of fan communities and specialized readerships, and holding this audience's attention for long periods of time, constitutes success, the Cavelos failed. Judging by Cavelos' comments on the demographics of taste I quoted earlier, there is a middle ground where readers are willing to adapt a new set of aesthetic standards, and yet remain loyal consumers of the very genre that their newly adopted reading strategies are calling into question. Apparently, though, she did not hit that middle ground, perhaps because she could not resolve the problem that you cannot deny genre conventions aesthetically but rely on their appeal to an audience commercially. Cavelos may have underestimated the antagonistic relationship between her aesthetic and commercial agenda; the fact that the "autonomy of the modernist art work, after all, is always the result of a resistance, an abstention, and a suppression—resistance to the seductive lure of mass culture, abstention from the pleasure of trying to please a larger audience …" (Huyssen 55). A move toward the paraliterary aesthetic of camp and trash, or toward a more self-consciously postmodern aesthetic, may have been more successful. With hindsight always being 20/20, perhaps the final word should belong to Mike Arnzen, one of the authors who got their start with the late great Abyss imprint and who sums up what many readers still feel about Jeanne Cavelos and her brain child: "The genre really needs another publisher with the courage Dell had with Abyss."
1. The Creed imprint was owned by UK Penguin (Signet) and came into existence in April 1995, publishing one book per month.
2. For information on the changed title of Koja's first novel, see "Paradoxa Interview with Kathe Koja," 309–10.
3. Incidentally, the Kelley Wilde book was never published as an Abyss book.
4. In 1983, Michael McDowell, for example, published six novels, collectively entitled Blackwater, as an experiment in serialization. Not until Stephen King's The Green Mile, however, was this idea to turn a profit—an example that seems to indicate that the author's name-recognition overrides any other factor in an audience's purchasing decisions.
5. Holder was nominated for Dead in the Water, Melanie Tem for Revenant, Robert Deveraux for Deadweight, Kristin Kathryn Rusch for Sins of the Blood, Kathe Koja for Strange Angels, and Michael Arnzen for Grave Markings.
6. After leaving Dell, Jean Cavelos launched Jean Cavelos Editorial Services, after her seven years in publishing, moving from New York to Francestown, NH.
7. Cavelos herself mentions that the "Abyss books were modestly successful; most of them made money, though certainly not on the level of John Grisham" ("Abyss, Odyssey & Beyond").
8. Brian Hodge's novel Prototype was the final acquisition for Abyss, but was instead published by Dell in March 1996 outside the series.
9. In the same interview, Cavelos adds, "I think our readers didn't really care that much about those things."
10. This passage is immediately followed by a promotional blurb of roughly equal length from Stephen King, again praising the entire series for its innovative character and consistency in "terms of quality, production, and plain old storytelling reliability (that's the bottom line, isn't it?) …," a blurb followed by another page or more of additional blurbs from individual writers or the press.
11. The identity of the series is also confirmed by the fact that, beside the Stephen King quote accompanying the blurb, other current Abyss titles are listed on the opposite page, i.e. the inside page of the front cover.
12. I am exempting V. C. Andrews because the author herself died in December of 1986 at the age of 62, leaving her name and late fame to the capable hands of Andrew Neiderman, the family-appointed ghostwriter. "In 1984 she was named ‘Professional Woman of the Year’ by the city of Norfolk, VI. However, she earned an even greater achievement when in 1986 the American Booksellers Association named her ‘The Number One Best selling Author of Popular Horror and Occult Paperbacks’ beating out Stephen King" (Casteel).
13. On the whole, the majority of the Abyss publications are novels. Only two short-story collections, Dennis Etchinson's MetaHorror ( July 1992) and Post Mortem: New Tales of Ghostly Horror, edited by Paul F. Olson and David B. Silva ( January 1992) stand out as exceptions.
14. It is important to note that, of course, there are notable exceptions to this generalization (e.g., the novels of Brian Hodge), and that this shift occurs within the framework of a popular genre, most of which are, by virtue of their commercial orientation, formally conservative.
15. For a discussion of the term "reading strategies" in regard to the political and social implications of taste, see Joan Hawkins, Cutting Edge (14–18).