This month was not a happy one for the small-press horror community. On 10 June, author Janine Pipe announced that she was teaming up with Cynthia Pelayo on a book called Triple 9, which she described as “a Cop V Monster short horror story anthology”. Pelayo’s publisher Burial Day was set to put out the book. Less than 24 hours following this announcement, Pipe revealed that the project had been cancelled.
“It is with sadness I announce that this project is no longer going ahead”, she said. “Please make sure you all continue to support Cina in any way you can. I am crushed at what has happened.” The next day, Cina Pelayo published a blog post discussing the attacks that she had received, and which prompted her to cancel the anthology and end Burial Day; towards the end of the month she posted a further essay on related matters. Both posts are deeply personal pieces of writing on her part. I will offer no comment, merely encourage you to read her words which speak for themselves.
On 11 June, Kenneth McKinley used the official Twitter account of his label Silver Shamrock Publishing to discuss the topic of censorship; he subsequently deleted the thread, but it can still be viewed as an archive. There, McKinley stated that he and his company stayed neutral through multiple unspecified controversies, before giving an account of the horror genre’s libertarian and egalitarian aspect:
I grew up in the Satanic Panic era. We had nonsensical people judging us by what we listened to, what we watched and what we read. I got into horror because it felt like it was the one place where I belonged. These were my peeps. There were no rules in our world. It was horror. You threw them out the window. And we were never judged or bullied by our fellow horror lovers. Some liked splatterpunk. Others rocked out to quiet horror. Vampires were all the rage for a while. Then you had zombies. No matter who you were, horror had something for you.
We were one of the first genres to celebrate female authors (Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and hell, even Mary Shelley). We dug writing by the LGBQT+ communities. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to recognize the difference in Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Michael McDowell, and Caitlin Kiernan, but we didn’t care. Why? For the same reason we loved Freddy Mercury and Rob Halford. hey kicked ass. We didn’t give a shit about their sexuality or what bathroom they used.
And that’s the way we liked it. It was always us against them, and it was that way for my 30+ years reading/watching horror. And you didn’t fuck with our fellow peeps or you’d get yours. We’ve weathered every storm, fought off every enemy, to ensure no one messed with our genre.
However, McKinley argued, horror had let an enemy in. In his thread, he associated this enemy not only with censorship, but also with trigger warnings (a subject unrelated to the cancellation of Triple 9):
But somewhere along the line, we left the back door open. And the enemy snuck in, disguised as one of us. All of a sudden, they want to change the very thing that made horror great… No rules. All of a sudden, horror couldn’t have this or do that. They wanted to water down our utopia by putting restrictions on things they found distasteful. Now we need trigger warnings on everything, just like in their world. Trigger Warnings? On Horror? Are you fucking kidding me? You can slaughter a whole house full of humans, but don’t lay a finger on a fluffy pet. Does anyone else see a problem here? Do they not realize this is fiction, that no REAL animal was harmed?
I could go on and on, but it all boils down to the enemy insisting that we make horror… more palatable. Easier to digest. Not so offensive. Horror? Not YA, but horror? Hmm… you’d think they’d just go read something else, right? Oh no. That’s not the way it works now. They want you conform to what they want, or they’ll make you pay via a social media firestorm. Has anyone else seen an author crucified for their ideas and writing? I have. Many times. And no one says a word. Why? Because they just want to write horror. They just want to read horror. They don’t want to fight against these… well, bullies.
The thread went on to complain about people who believe that horror should be made “more palatable. Easier to digest. Not so offensive” and who “want you to conform to what they want, or they’ll make you pay”. McKinley then invoked Nazi Germany:
From this day forward, Silver Shamrock Publishing will be the voice for all horror authors. We will fight for your right to create. Censorship is a dirty word, and it’s one step away from swastikas and jackboots goose stepping in the streets,. We champion all authors. And we will not stand by and allow these bullies, disguised as horror fans that think they know more than you, get away with their bad behavior. They’re bullies. Plain and simple.
So take a breath, and go create. Create whatever the fuck your lovely, twisted mind comes up with. I, and so many of my fellow horror fans, want to read it. Because there are no rules in horror. And if someone tries to stomp down your creativity, message me. I want to know. I’ll be your voice. Why? Because, I’ve got your fucking back!
A number of Twitter commentators from across horror fandom, many of whom were likely unaware of the Triple 9 cancellation that started the dispute, objected strongly to McKinley’s stance on content warnings and the comments he made in the above-quoted thread. Particular targets for criticism were his comparison to Nazi Germany and his description of an “enemy” that “snuck in, disguised as one of us… to change the very thing that made horror great”, which some observers found uncomfortably similar to rhetoric from Gamergate and similar movements. These particular parts of the thread were preserved in screenshots and disseminated after the thread was deleted.
The Twitter backlash prompted McKinley to close the entire Silver Shamrock Twitter account. When it returned on 15 June, McKinley offered an apology for his earlier statements:
This has been a tough weekend for many of us, and the blame falls squarely on my shoulders. In my attempt to reach out in solidarity to authors that may have felt bullied or censored over the content of their writing, I lashed out at trigger warnings without fully comprehending the subject. I’ll be honest, I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around the importance of them. I’m fortunate, I don’t have trigger issues (at least I don’t think I do). It wasn’t until a kind soul reached out to me behind the twitter world and compared them to how the MPAA rates movies. That’s when something clicked in my head and it all started making much more sense.
First and foremost, I want to apologize sincerely to anyone that I affected with my comments. I take full responsibility for the mess I created. Starting in July, all future Silver Shamrock releases will use a trigger warning system that I hope everyone can benefit from. My goal has always been to bring the horror community together, to have a safe and inclusive environment where we all can thrive and enjoy some amazing stories. I’ve never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I promise to work hard and learn from my mistakes. Thank you to all of you that have reached out with support and guidance. It really does take a village sometimes.
The debate over content warnings rumbled on, achieving a far higher profile than the fate of Triple 9. Amongst those to weigh in was Silvia Moreno-Garcia, whose book Mexican Gothic won the Locus Award for Best Horror Novel this month; her contribution was to describe the negative impact of inaccurate or misleading content warnings. Jason Sanford collated various posts about the controversy in his Genre Grapevine column.
This month it became public knowledge that filmmaker Milton Moses Ginsberg had died on 23 May, aged 85. Amongst other projects, Ginsberg wrote and directed the oddball political satire The Werewolf of Washington, which I recently reviewed. An article by Ginsberg on the making of the film can be read here.