A Shockingly Brief and Informal History
of the Horror Writers
BY STANLEY WIATER
As with most great ideas, the concept for a horror writers
association originated in the fevered imagination of one
individual--in this instance, one Robert R. McCammon. In an interview
with Publisher's Weekly in 1984, the author (who had already
published six horror novels) first publicly expressed his desire for
a professional organization specifically geared to the needs of
fellow writers of fear. At that point, however, his decidedly
colorful name for the then nonexistent organization was "HOWL"
(Horror/Occult Writers League.) Even so, reasoned McCammon, mystery
writers had their professional organizations, as did science fiction
writers. Wasn't it past time that the equally honorable genre of
terror, shock, and the supernatural be formally recognized?
Perhaps more than anyone, McCammon was himself shocked at the
subsequent--and often sincere--interest from the media to his
remarks, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Then
the B. Dalton and Waldenbooks chains wanted to know more. Horror
writers began to hear the HOWL and wrote McCammon to ask where to
sign up--though it had always been his intent to first survey every
writer he could contact before ever making a formal announcement
about the proposed organization. Nevertheless, McCammon was deluged
with still more letters of support from writers, editors, and
scholars both stateside and overseas...my own enthusiastic response
as a self-styled "horror journalist" included.
Before long, McCammon enlisted the support of two colleagues from
Texas who were instrumental in bringing the concept of HOWL snarling into reality: author Joe R. Lansdale and his wife, Karen. They in turn
sent out a formal letter of invitation to some 177 writers, of whom
88 subsequently responded with suggestions or a willingness to join.
Working by phone and letter with McCammon, the trio committed
themselves to the insane task of creating what they believed could be
a nationally--perhaps even internationally recognized--writers
organization. Thanks primarily to Karen's unflagging energy, they
then drew up the constitution and bylaws, formulated mailing lists,
took out ads, issued press releases; whatever it took to insure that
HOWL would be (hopefully) immediately recognized as a
professional writers organization, not "a fan club" for
side-show horror buffs.
Other new volunteers contributed in numerous ways, most notably in
the production and content of the early newsletters. We took our
organization seriously--right from the bloody start. And why not?
Stephen King and Peter Straub, among others, were becoming
increasingly known as "brand name writers." For the first time
"Horror" was being labeled as a separate category in most bookstores.
The entire field was riding a growing wave of popularity in the
Eighties; it was only logical that those of us exploring this
increasingly recognized genre would desire to have our own legitimate
The goals of HOWL were stated simply and directly in the preamble to
the constitution and bylaws: "Be it known that the Horror and Occult
Writers League is a non-profit organization of professional writers
of fiction and non-fiction pertaining to or inspired by the
traditions, legends, development, and history of horror and occult.
It's members are together for their mutual benefit in an earnest
effort to further a more widespread publicity, promotion,
distribution, readership and appreciation of the literature of horror
The lack of high profile authors like King was one of the stumbling
blocks early on, even as the organization was searching for
recognition by its peers precisely among those most successfully
working in our genre. (Dean Koontz and Robert Bloch were among the
very first to respond favorably to the concept and to volunteer their
aid and reputations.) Regardless, new members from all across the
country--and overseas-- were being added to the growing roster. And
it was obvious from the burgeoning newsletters that, for many
writers, editors, and critics, the fledgling organization was being
taken quite seriously.
Unfortunately, the "Horror/Occult Writers League" was not being taken
as seriously by some colleagues...as well as much of the mainstream
media. (If I can easily poke gentle fun at the acronym "HOWL," just
think how anyone less than sympathetic would describe the virtually
unknown group--and its membership.)
Nevertheless, history was made when the first formal meeting took
place on November 3, 1985, at the World Fantasy Convention held in
Tucson, Arizona. (Subsequent meetings have taken place at both the
World Fantasy Convention and the World Horror Convention ever since.)
A total of no more than two dozen people attended that fateful
meeting, lead informally by founder Robert R. McCammon, and Joe and
Karen Lansdale. Of course, there were literally hundreds of writers,
agents, and other professionals at the convention.
Dare I say it there yours truly took note of the small number of the
faithful in attendance that glorious Sunday morning. And so made a
brief yet heartfelt speech imploring those present to change the name
from the undeniably memorable "HOWL" to, say, the "Horror Writers of
America." With the obvious intent to bring our name recognition to
the public more in line with such well established groups as the
Mystery Writers of America and the Science Fiction Writers of
America. By unanimous vote, this small suggestion was approved.
After that initial gathering, others were inspired to make our new
organization a truly viable-and far more visible--one. McCammon then
formed a steering committee with Melissa Mia Hall and Joe R. Lansdale
in order to be successful in (as described in an open letter to
members) "the toughest part of putting the HWA together--the trial by
paperwork, if you will--and after these hurdles are overcome with
your help and support, we'll have a stronger organization that will
benefit authors in our field for generations to come."
Dated July of 1986, Volume 1, Number 1 of the official newsletter
appeared. Entitled "Our Glass" (after a famous medieval statue in
which a corpse is admiring itself in a pocket glass), the
professionally printed first issue was a total of eight pages in
length. It featured timely news items, a letters page, a market
report, the first ballot for the formal election of officers, and
brief interviews with artist Phil Parks and founder Robert R.
McCammon. Only two issues appeared with this title, even as a search
was launched for a permanent logo for the organization. (While the
admiring corpse was suggested as one possibility, the logo would
ultimately be a tastefully stylized haunted house.)
Later that year, early supporter Dean Koontz was chosen as the
organization's first president. In a statement to the membership,
Koontz declared his belief that the HWA could "add dignity and
publicity to the field, as well as giving horror fiction a focus."
Koontz further suggested an annual anthology to be composed of
contributions from the membership ranks. (The first of several such
anthologies to subsequently appear would be Under the Fang,
edited by Robert R. McCammon.)
Through the volunteered help of legal counsel Sheldon R. Jaffery, the
HWA was legally incorporated in March of 1987. The initial board of
trustees was also in place, which included at that time McCammon,
Lansdale, and Koontz. The HWA was formally on its way, anxious and
ready to makes it unique voice heard.
Koontz was instrumental in furthering the idea that the Horror
Writers of America was a serious organization for writers, and damn
well should be taken seriously by all concerned. Before he left
office, there were some 300 members. With many of them are among the
most popular and respected authors in the business. (As most everyone
is aware, the most recognized horror authors in the world have since
become members, including Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Peter Straub,
Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell.) Indeed, Koontz's
considerable contributions to the newsletter alone would help any
writer thrive, no matter what the genre.
It was also under Koontz's administration that the formation of an
annual award for "Superior Achievement" was initiated. At the time,
Koontz was chief among those who believed the award be named after a
famous--and deceased--writer. His short list of dead-on
recommendations: Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft--and
Bram Stoker. The membership ultimately voted on the "Bram Stoker
Award," to be issued in the form of a magnificently wrought haunted
house designed by Stephen Kirk.
Charles L. Grant ably succeeded Koontz as president (as he would be
succeeded by such acclaimed authors as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Craig
Shaw Gardner, Dennis Etchison, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and Brian Lumley)
In 1988, the first Annual Bram Stoker Awards Banquet and Business
Meeting took place in New York City. Since then, the officers have
attempted to satisfy both the West Coast and East Coast members by
swapping coasts from time to time.
In 1993, to further involve its international membership, the name of
the organization was changed once again, from the "Horror Writers of
America" to the "Horror Writers Association." Whatever the name, the
horror genre it proudly champions continues to be further recognized
and increasingly appreciated as we approach the millennium.
Just as the HWA continues to flourish--and be taken seriously--by
both publishers and the public alike.
If I may close on a personal note, its been my singular pleasure to
be a dues-paying member from the earliest origins of the Association.
My highest honor in the literary field has undoubtedly been to win
the Bram Stoker Award in 1991. Without the Horror Writers
Association, it's difficult to say where the career of at least one
writer might have ended up. In fact, one might be sorely tempted to
say it's too damn frightening to even contemplate...
This article originally appeared in Writing Horror: A Handbook
by the Horror Writers Association, edited by Mort Castle.
Copyright © 1996 by ShadoWind, Inc. Used with Permission.
Statistics (updated March 18, 2001):
- Membership: HWA currently has 865 members in four categories:
- Lifetime: 14
- Active: 280
- Associate: 41
- Affiliate: 531
- Past Presidents:
- Dean R. Koontz: 1986-1987
- Charles L. Grant: 1987-1988
- Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: 1988-1990
- Craig Shaw Gardner: 1990-1992
- Dennis Etchison: 1992-1994
- Lawrence Watt-Evans: 1994-1996
- Brian Lumley: 1996-1997
- Janet Berliner: 1997-1998
- S.P. Somtow: 1998-2000
- Richard Laymon: 2000-2001
- David Niall Wilson: 2001-
We welcome corrections and additions!
Please send any suggestions or corrections to HWA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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