April 2022: A Month in Horror

It was quite a month. Robert Eggers’ The Northman put the legend behind the story of Hamlet on screen, full of blood and thunder. Meanwhile, the finalists for the 2022 Hugo Awards were announced, a few horror-relevant candidates among them — including Bitter Karella, creator of the Midnight Society, who is up for Best Fan Writer.

Elsewhere, Gretchen Felker-Martin’s novel Manhunt made international news because, like many other works of post-apocalyptic fiction, it included the death of a celebrity (in this case, J. K. Rowling) as part of its narrative. The Daily Mail headline “Woke NPR is blasted over gushing review for controversial transgender author’s violent horror novel which depicts JK Rowling being burned alive at her home” was typical of the garbled outrage.

In less amusing news, two high-profile Dracula films — Karyn Kusama’s Mina Harker and Robert Eggers’ Nosferatuwere both scrapped. Speaking of troubled movies, Shudder released the second series of Cursed Films, covering Rosemary’s Baby, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Stalker and The Wizard of Oz.

In the world of small-press horror, there was one story that dominated. At the start of the month, Kenneth McKinley’s publisher Silver Shamrock announced a new book by Gene O’Neill, an established author who has won three Bram Stoker Awards. Entitled The White Plague Chronicles, the premise of the novel concerned the outbreak of a fatal disease that affects only white people. A short story set in the world of The White Plague Chronicles, Darren Speegle’s “To What We Were”, had already been published.

Silver Shamrock’s bizarrely inept marketing copy for the novel was loaded with racist implications, describing the fictional disease as “far deadlier than Ebola, and even more sinister, as this horrific disease is genetically targeted to kill only the members of the Caucasian race” before detailing two protagonists as “humanity’s last hope” as they travel through various locations (including “the scorching desert outback of Tasmania”) in their quest to halt the anti-white bug. Hiding spoilers appears to have been no more of an agenda than avoiding racism: “will they succeed in stopping the madmen responsible for this atrocity before it is too late? Sadly, the answer will be no.” Finally, we were informed that the disease would lead to a “new world order”.

After the book was announced, both Silver Shamrock and author Gene O’Neill were accused of racism by various social media commentators. Speaking up on Facebook, O’Neill remarked

There are several people raising a shit storm that the title and description of the below book up for preorder is white nationalist, suggesting I am a racist. They obviously don’t know me or my work. I am not a racist! probably should look into suing these folks if it disturbs publication and sales of the book.

He then asked his Facebook friends for help:

I need some of you folks to support me here on the message board. There are several people stirring up inaccuracies about the title and description of my newest book below. They suggest, obviously without reading it, that the work is white nationalist, which infers I’m a racist. This has an impact on others, my publisher and the cover artist. If you know my work or one of the few who has read the book, I’d appreciate a reaction.

In one of his replies, he indicated that Silver Shamrock had also asked for O’Neill’s contacts to defend the book: “Publisher suggests folks drop by on twitter where the pot is being stirred.”

The affair led to some of the authors associated with Silver Shamrock cutting ties with the publisher. On 2 April, the day after the book was announced, Silver Shamrock closed down. Kenneth W. Cain, an editor and designer at the press, made the announcement:

I’m sorry I’ve been quiet for so long about this matter. I’ve been working hard behind the scenes, talking to Ken [McKinley], artists, authors, reviewers, readers, just about everyone. I haven’t slept much at all because of that, so I apologize for any typos ahead of time, but I was doing my best to do what was right by everyone involved. Here is the end result of that effort. As of now, Silver Shamrock Publishing is no more. All rights revert to the authors. Their books will be taken down at their request (staying up only long enough for them to buy extra copies if they’d like. I can be a middle person contact for that, if anyone is interested. Let me know. Please do not hold anything against the authors, especially for things that are/were out of their control. And please buy these copies as 100% of the profit goes to them). Their royalties will be paid out in full, and all Silver Shamrock books will be taken down accordingly. Please contact me with any questions you may have, but understand I need sleep and may not get back to you right away. I appreciate your patience as I worked on this. Now, it’s time to get some rest.

O’Neill commented on Facebook:

I think that Silver Shamrock is out of business. No idea where that leaves me and my book. A good piece of work with over eight years invested. Pretty sad Saturday.

In the comments to this post, O’Neill stated that he hadn’t seen the book’s ad copy prior to the backlash.

This was not Silver Shamrock’s first controversy. Back in June, the publisher provoked criticism for condemning mandatory trigger-warnings and then performing a U-turn, alienating both sides of the debate. At one point, the publisher had referred to those demanding trigger warnings as an “enemy” comparable to the Nazis.

Following Silver Shamrock’s closure this month, another small-press outlet — Firbolg Publishing — responded with a Facebook post that has definite shades of Silver Shamrock’s condemnation of “the enemy”.

“A select and seemingly anonymous clatter of nonetheless inexplicably influential cuckolds are determined to cleanse our art of, well, everything”, declared the post’s author. After listing past writers including Poe, Stoker, Shelley, Baudelaire, Byron and Bradbury, the post declared that such authors “would be canceled today” as “[t]hey don’t meet the sterilized, dead-eyed, soulless anti-art of the moment any more than Gene O’Neill, Dave Chappelle, or J. K. Rowling” (the latter two, of course, having faced backlash for their comments on transgender issues).  After the post received more than 300 comments, many criticising the publisher’s stance, Firbolg responded with another post:

To reiterate, since there have been some upset/emotional reactions to our post about censorship: We do not support a publisher pulling a book right before its release because a group of people find it offensive. We would rather the book be published and thus be open for discussion and debate. The author of said book is no stranger to our community, nor is the book some racist tract. We 100% stand by our statement and position. However, anyone is welcome to come to our page and post their opinions. Isn’t freedom of expression a great thing?

The implosion of Silver Shamrock occurred early in the month and the surrounding debate has already faded, but it seems likely that the affair will be remembered during many a small-press controversy to come…

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