Is “Horror” a Genre Trap? An Anecdote by Stephen King…

Interesting, this. I love how human it makes King—he is the god of horror, after all, isn’t he? At least he’s always been to me, ever since I read my first King book (The Shining) in the early 1980s.

I also think it points out an interesting conundrum King faces, as well as a paradox the publishing world must face as it inseminates the world of (almost obsessive at times) “fandom”, via expensive marketing campaigns,  with hopefully “bestselling” works of fiction.

Pegging an author like King in the “horror” genre, results in strong financial returns for the publisher (and the author)—however, as the anecdote King shares below suggests, pegging an author in a sellable category does him or her no favors when his or her fiction wants to expand into more “genereless” areas.


Art by Vincen Tanguay. (Source: Art Station)

This is a problem that most of us writers, of course, who are NOT Stephen King, wish we had to face!


‘Here’s an anecdote too good not to share, and I’ve been telling it at public appearances for years now. My wife does the major shopping for us—she says there’d never be a vegetable in the house otherwise—but she sometimes sends me on emergency errands. So I was in the local supermarket one afternoon, on a mission to find batteries and a nonstick frypan. As I meandered my way up the housewares aisle, having already stopped for a few other absolute necessities (cinnamon buns and potato chips), a woman came around the far end, riding one of those motorized carts. She was a Florida snowbird archetype, about eighty, permed to perfection, and as darkly tanned as a cordovan shoe. She looked at me, looked away, then did a double take.

“I know you,” she said. “You’re Stephen King. You write those scary stories. That’s all right, some people like them, but not me. I like uplifting stories, like that Shawshank Redemption.”

“I wrote that too,” I said.

“No you didn’t,” she said, and went on her way.

The point is, you write some scary stories and you’re like the girl who lives in the trailer park on the edge of town: you get a reputation. Fine by me; the bills are paid and I’m still having fun. You can call me anything, as the saying goes, just as long as you don’t call me late for dinner. But the term genre holds very little interest for me. Yes, I like horror stories. I also like mysteries, tales of suspense, sea stories, straight literary novels, and poetry…just to mention a few. I also like to read and write stories that strike me funny, and that should surprise nobody, because humor and horror are Siamese twins.”‘

– Stephen King, from the opening to “Drunken Fireworks” (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stories, Scribner, 2015)


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