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Rant #2: In Which the Target Audience is Discussed

This past week, Melinda's father passed away. Wayne Thielbar was very much a self-made man, an independent farmer and former store proprietor, a Marine who'd served across the Pacific and a regular at the legendary Columbia bar The Black and Gold. He wore flannel shirts, of which he didn't have too many, and after the passing of his wife three years ago, lived alone in a farmhouse that, frankly, could have used a few repairs. Nothing fancy, mind you - just a new foundation, a new roof, new ceilings, and a few other fixer-uper items.

In short, he wasn't necessarily the sort of guy you'd expect to be a huge reader. But a funny thing happened as I got to know Wayne. I learned that he read voraciously. Every year at the Wake County Library Sale, day #3 was devoted to finding a carton's worth of books - call it thirty if you like - to send out to the farm in packages over the winter, to make sure he had something to read. According to Melinda, he didn't like any fiction set past World War II, so I sent him Michael Shaara novels, and WW II adventures, and westerns and noir and dozens of others, all in a fairly narrow genre window. It was fun, and it was a challenge finding new stuff for him, but it was an exercise in specific targeting.

Last week, we were faced with the sad task of pulling all of those books out of the house, of seeing which ones were worth keeping or donating to the local library, and which ones would have to go. Mud dauber wasps had gotten into the house, you see, and when Wayne was done with a book he just set it aside. That's a good way to get mud dauber nests all over your books - they're funny that way.

And as we excavated bag after bag of books, I got a surprise. We didn't just fine westerns and World War II. There were books by Cussler and Demille. There were romance novels (but don't tell anyone). And lo and behold, there were books by King and Koontz and Jordan and even J. Michael Straczynski.
(Don't tell him, but that one had to get thrown out. Mud daubers, you see. Honest.)

There's more to the story, of course - how the survivors of the book collection went to a double handful of Wayne's family and friends, how six bags still made it to the Callaway County Library and a librarian who remembered Melinda from when she was 8, and how many of those books found a way to come back to Carolina with us.

But the thing that sticks with me was that we found a pile of horror novels in the house. Too many horror novels, are, it seems to me, written with a specific audience in mind, one that might be described as horror novelists. How many times have we seen the writer - or even the horror writer - who goes back to the ancestral manse to discover ancient evil lurking there, some malign force that will swallow his soul, terrify his family, and cause him to miss his deadline? A lot of it is well done, certainly, but it feels insular. Closed in. Written by us, for us. For all that we're writing about universal themes of fear, for all that everyone would love to have that crossover bestseller, there's an invisible boundary that doesn't seem to get crossed as often as it might.

And that's why I think it's important to remember that a guy who drove a beat-up pickup, drank Stag beer, and had no real use for any baseball player since Enos "Country" Slaughter, read horror novels. Plural. Because if he did, some other folks might, too.


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