My earliest published fiction was fantasy and horror. I stopped writing horror in about 1980 as I started to get my head up from Viet Nam.
The horror boom of the ’80s that followed the success of Stephen King didn’t tempt me back in, despite the urgings of my agent and others. I was writing to stay between the ditches, not to make money. I didn’t want to put my head back in that place (though in truth, the places it was were bleak enough anyway).
Beyond that disinclination, I was by no means sure that I would make money in the horror genre. The problem that I saw was that my horror was really horrible.
My agent (who also represented King, Peter Straub, and many horror writers whose names were well-known 30 years ago) was really bothered by some of my stories. He says today that they were brilliant, but at the time they were just too harsh and uncompromising for him. I’m pretty sure that readers in general–the readership of the horror field struck me as being interchangeable with that of the romance field–would have been even more put off by my work than my agent was.
I continued to write occasional fantasy stories. All told, fantasy, horror, and heroic fantasy (sword and sorcery) make up quite a chunk of my short fiction.
These stories have been collected three times: first, in the Tor paperback From the Heart of Darkness in 1983. Second, with expanded contents and lengthy notes on each story, as Balefires from Night Shade in a 2007 hardcover, followed by a mass market paperback which sold only a fraction of the hc numbers. And now third, an omnitrade paperback from Baen Books under the title Night and Demons, with four more stories and notes added.
The Tor cover was stock art by Michael Whelan; very good (as Whelan can be expected to be) and sort of a hard-edged takeoff on Hieronymus Bosch. The Night Shade hc was a version by Richard Pellegrino of a Goya painting, mystical and effective; my friends gave me the original for my birthday and I’m proud to have it on the living room wall. The mass market cover by David Palumbo is less striking.
The Baen cover is by Alan Pollack. It’s the first real horror cover that the collection has had. It is perfectly in keeping with the tone of the contents (though it isn’t an illustration of any particular story). It is one Hell of a cover, if you’ll permit me a small joke.
Which is an important thing to keep in mind about this collection: I don’t pull punches here, any more than I do with my Military SF. These aren’t gross-out stories, but some of them are genuinely shocking. There’s also in the order of 10K words of autobiography and background to my fiction.
Let the reader beware.