WHAT DO FANTASY and horror authors discuss when they get together? Like most writers, they bemoan recalcitrant publishers, feckless agents and reluctant book-buyers. But, as befitting their craft, things can get a bit scarier than usual, most notably at the recent 7th World Fantasy Convention, held outside of San Francisco. There, a panel of novelists and anthologists, like so many literary werewolves, ripped into their peers. Whitley Strieber (The Wolfen), Terry Carr (Fantasy Annual III) and Charles L. Grant (Nightmares, Shadows) were among those sitting up in front of the assembled conventioneers, primed to discuss "Bad Horror Fiction."

Says Michael McDowell, another panel member, his voice conveying both shock and relish, "It was a nasty panel and it surprised me that it got so specific, naming names." John Saul (Suffer the Children), it turns out, is on just about everyone's hate list, particularly since he'd just given an interview in a fanzine that confirmed the group's worst opinions of him. V. C. Andrews and her Dollenganger family (Flowers in the Attic) were also singled out for harsh judgments. None of the characters in her books, the panel decided, "are recognizable as homo sapiens." In addition, Graham Masterson (Plague) came in for his share of derision. McDowell, whose most recent novels are The Elementals and Gilded Needles, didn't himself bring up any names during the session ("I didn't know who was in the audience") but explains the bloody proceedings this way: "We're all professionals, people proud of our field, and of course we resent those writers who're in it strictly for the money."