One of the strangest complements I regularly receive comes from people who have read A Wind of Knives and tell me they enjoyed it despite not liking Western fiction. To me, that’s a contrary and fundamentally untrue sentiment, because if you enjoy that particular book, you enjoy Western fiction. What they are really saying is they haven’t enjoyed certain examples of the genre in the past, but the execution of this story in particular worked for them. And though there are countless ways to tell a definitively Western story, the form has been gradually dying out for decades.
The literature and media of the Old West were a mainstay in American popular culture from the start of the Twentieth Century, with the publication of Owen Wister’s wildly popular novel The Virginian in 1902, to the late 1960s, when over a decade of oversaturation on television peaked interest, which thereafter waned exponentially. The genre survived the 70s and struggled its way through the 80s and 90s, but by the dawn of the Twenty-First Century, interest—and indeed venues—for Westerns was at an all-time low, in danger of expiring outright. For modern-day fans of the genre (few though we seem), and so much more so for writers of Western fiction, this is a sad and alarming trend. Apart from a handful of ongoing pulp book series like Longarm and the odd film or short-lived cable series here and there, the downward spiral into oblivion appears for all intents and purposes to be continuing apace. Another generation or two and the Western as we know it could well be an artifact of the past, relegated to the same dusty corners of vaguely remembered relics like Cold War sci-fi and jungle adventure stories. But whereas one can, perhaps, understand how those subgenres were a product of time and place, how can we reconcile the faltering decline of an entire genre once as ubiquitous and beloved as the literature of the American West?
Is this merely a bump in the road, or is the Western truly fated for extinction?
Twice in the last few months I’ve been contacted by editors who acquired short Western stories of mine to inform me the projects, a magazine and an anthology respectively, were going under. The stories were kicked back to me, orphaned, but worse than that these venues for collected stories in the genre were dead and buried. I do not resent or blame either of these fine editors in the least—rather, I commiserate with them. Time and again, after prolonged periods of no ongoing markets for Western short fiction whatsoever, something comes along to ignite that spark, to stir interest and excitement that, just maybe, the phoenix is being reborn…only to quickly fold due to lack of interest and sales. Whereas for most of the last century you couldn’t spit at a newsstand without hitting a periodical carrying Western stories in one incarnation or another, the form is today consigned largely to a handful of websites run and written by devoted—and typically unpaid—enthusiasts. There are always standouts like Joe R. Lansdale’s outstanding novel The Thicket and Jeff Guinn’s Glorious, but I can’t help but see these as exceptions to the new rule, not to mention few and far between. (And most major news items I’ve seen regarding the forthcoming film adaptation of Lansdale’s novel refer to it as a historical crime thriller rather than a Western, as though using the term might be considered the kiss of death.)
My kneejerk impulse, as both an aficionado and a creator in the genre, is to put forth an impassioned defense of the Western in an attempt to convince readers that by ignoring or dismissing it they are being unfair and depriving themselves of a rewarding experience. Yet this immediately calls to mind those things of which I am so consistently dismissive, myself—I refuse, for instance, to give hip-hop music a chance. I’ve heard enough of it to determine I don’t care for it in the slightest, and I honestly cannot imagine an argument that would change my opinion on the matter. I will (and often do) state flat out that I do not like hip-hop, period, full stop. So why, when I hear people tell me that they don’t like Westerns (and they often do), am I so bitterly determined to illuminate what I perceive to be their myopic short-sightedness? Is there an organic nature to the shifts in cultural tastes to which old stand-bys like Yours Truly are ridiculous to object? After all, you can’t stop a train. If the myriad vagaries of culture and history that produce such shifts should blow a favorable wind in the Western’s direction once again, that would be fantastic—and if not, maybe that would be an inevitable outcome, catastrophic as I may view it.
But I can’t really accept that. Hip-hop is in no danger of demise due to my lack of interest in the form. It’s up to somebody else to argue its merits when and where that may need to happen, and despite my feelings about it I harbor no doubts that such merits can be successfully put forth. Moreover, I hear hip-hop music all the time. I have a solid foundation upon which to build my opinion, rather than saying what I really hear when I’m told someone doesn’t care for Westerns, which is that seems like something I wouldn’t like. Based on this model, the real problem with the genre’s decline seems less like a shift in cultural mores, but instead a few generations into a population unwilling to either expand their horizons or acknowledge that maybe some of the stuff grandpa is into isn’t all that bad. I’ve felt for years the so-called “hipster” movement among American youth rests its laurels on ironically mocking anything perceived as old or commonplace—I recall Christa Faust talking about hipster kids laughing out loud during screenings of classic noir films, for example—and this isn’t really anything new. There was a recent kerfuffle over young people taking to social media in order to boldly express their rampant cultural illiteracy, having learned that Kanye West was recording a duet with Paul McCartney but having no idea who the latter is. Relating specifically to the Western, there appears to have been some forty years of young people increasingly turning their noses up at the genre without ever having given it a look, due perhaps to their forebears’ appreciation of it. And while I can’t logically or legitimately say every man, woman, and child is obligated to love John Ford’s film of The Searchers as much as I do, can you logically or legitimately say you don’t like John Wayne movies without having seen it? (For what it’s worth, it was the first Western film I watched of my own volition, at age 20, and the moment I became a fan of the genre for life. Up until then, I couldn’t have cared less about it.)
Then again, I’ve never read a proper romance novel in my life, and it’s not too likely I ever will. In this analogy, I’m just as guilty of dismissing something with which I have no personal experience, apart from assuming that it’s not geared to my tastes. No one is obligated to like anything, nor to try anything that doesn’t appeal to them. If we’re being completely honest, I don’t need to read a dozen Danielle Steele novels to determine whether or not that’s my thing; I am confident without ever having read any of them that it’s not. Which brings us right back to the idea of shifts in cultural trends and public consumption—if there exists an active public interest, there will exist a market. If not, the product will wither and die. And old curmudgeons like me will stand on the sidelines, shaking our fists at the whippersnappers with their newfangled passions and interests, little of which make any sense to the old timers whose time has come and gone, right along with the books and stories we read and wrote.
Every so often there is a resurgence in something nearly forgotten, a renewed interest in swing dancing or big band music or new wave synth pop. It lasts a few months or a few years, or in rare cases re-roots and sticks around for a while, having only gone into temporary cultural retirement. There are far more factors involved in the rise and fall of trends like this than I’m prepared or capable to discuss here, but suffice to say if the American Western has got what it takes to stay the course, it will, one way or another. I happen to be of the opinion that the Western inherently holds clues to our national and cultural identities, large-scale and in microcosm, which are worth continually investigating from countless perspectives. Stories big and small that help us understand who we are and how we got that way, the things we think we’ve worked out but really haven’t—and also what I see as a paring down of the narrative instruments, the way punk rock reacted to prog and arena rock by bringing everything back to the basics. In the Western, the hierarchy of needs is made simpler and more immediate, the conflict necessary to storytelling stripped away to the bare essentials of human life and desire, survival and fear, love and hate. It’s about opportunity and competition, greed and revenge, racism and war and civilizations at dangerous odds. It’s about crime and mystery, endurance and shifting perspectives on life and its meaning, willpower and desperation. The Western is about the human spirit—not just Americans, but people in general—both good and bad, extraordinary and mundane, what makes us tick when you really get right down to it.
If you ask me, that’s not only thoroughly contemporary and fit to our Twenty-First Century tastes and interests, but definitively timeless. But what do I know? I’m just a fan and an author who earnestly hopes more readers will fall in love with Westerns as I did, half my life ago, before it molders in an unmarked grave on Boot Hill.
Needle honcho Steve Weddle asked me to talk about my story “Falldown Church” in the latest issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir. Here’s what I had to say, and be sure to visit the Needle site for more from Paul Garth and information on getting the issue.
Originally posted on Needle: A Magazine of Noir:
Ed Kurtz’s “Falldown Church” appears in the Winter 2014-15 issue of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, our 10th issue. We asked him to tell us how he came to write the story.
By Ed Kurtz
Having grown up between Virginia and Arkansas and spent the preponderance of my adult life in Texas, I’m quite fond of writing dark, pastoral stories set in the rural South. Most of my published short work (including novellas) so far can be thusly characterized, though for some reason my novels tend to end up in places like New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. Why that is would be fodder for another essay, but between novels – or indeed when I get stuck in one – I turn to briefer venues and almost always end up in small towns. “Falldown Church” is no exception, though unlike so many of its predeccesors the protagonist is not some…
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My new mystery novel Angel of the Abyss is out today from DarkFuse. It’s a Hollywood noir about a legendary lost silent film that resurfaces and causes an awful lot of trouble and quite a few murders. You can find it on Amazon or the DarkFuse Shop.
When Graham Woodard is hired to restore part of a previously lost silent horror film—Angel of the Abyss—the last thing he expects is the first in a series of murders clearly meant to keep it lost.
With one-time friend Jake Maitland in tow, the two must now navigate the treacherous enigma that is the lost film, while piecing together the story of the film’s ill-fated starlet, Grace Baron, who vanished in 1926. The closer they get to the truth, the more blood is spilled, and it soon becomes apparent that there is much more to the lost film than anyone expected, as there are still forces that will stop at nothing to keep it and its star buried. The darkness the strange film conjured all those years ago has come alive again with its discovery, and now everyone from Graham’s own estranged ex-wife to the LAPD is getting involved.
And the body count is growing.
From the burgeoning film studios of 1920s Hollywood to the perilous streets and dark underbelly of modern-day LosAngeles, Angel of the Abyss is a dangerous tapestry of cinema, history and murder, at the center of which stand two men with everything to lose.
The lovely blokes down under at The Crime Factory are publishing my Texas noir novella Freight as part of their marvelous Single Shot series. This is the third in the line after Jedidiah Ayres terrific Fierce Bitches and Jake Hinkson’s Saint Homicide. The book drops on October 12th, but you can order it now in paperback, e-book, or as an inexpensive bundle. I’m quite proud of this dark little tale and I think you’ll dig it, too.
To Enoch and Doc, two down and out men working as railway brakemen in an impoverished Texas town, it seemed like a simple enough heist: steal the copper wire off a train in the middle of the night.
But the carriage contains more than metal. Soon lives are at stake and an unfathomable evil has to be dealt with. And there is no one in Blackwood, Texas for the job but a no-account ex-con.
“Freight is the story of a brief, brutal impulse toward grace that illuminates a dusty, wasted life like a fork of lightning from a summer storm…A bleak and wrenching read.”—Dan O’Shea, author of Penance and Greed
“Heartbreaking, tragic, moving – all the sights, smells and language of Texas 1973, woven into a classic drifter story.” —Anonymous-9, author of Hard Bite and Bite Harder
“In less sure hands, Freight would be an unending train of grief, but Ed Kurtz has this amazing ability to present the darkest corners of society, and then reveal the good and decent human heart that beats underneath.” —Rob Hart, author of The Last Safe Place and New Yorked
1. A thing with the potential to kill men.
2. A dead branch caught precariously high in a tree which may fall on a person below.
3. Nick “The Widowmaker” Bullman, a disfigured ex-wrestler, protagonist of Ugly as Sin by James Newman
4. A dark fiction anthology of prodigious size; large enough to use as a doorstop… or crush a man’s skull.
A few months ago one of our own, James Newman, was severely injured in a freak accident. He’s known universally in the horror fiction community as a truly great guy, and, when the news broke of the incident there was no shortage of people who wanted to help. Inside the pages of this collection, you will find tales that are lighthearted mixed in with stories that will fuel your nightmares, each one with the potential to be a WIDOWMAKER.
* * *
I am extremely pleased to have my story “Angel and Grace” included here among the 46 stories comprising this monster of an anthology. Proceeds are going toward our esteemed colleague’s medical costs, and the table of contents alone is enough to warrant picking this beast up as soon as possible. The ebook is available for pre-order now, and the gargantuan paperback will be out before the end of the month. I hope you’ll check it out and enjoy some terrific dark fiction for a good cause.
1. Blake Burkhead – “Widowmaker” (poem)
2. Bracken MacLeod – “In the Bones”
3. Brandon Ford – “A Walk in the Park”
4. Brett Williams – “Moonshine”
5. Brian Hodge – “Our Lady of Sloth and Scarlet Ivy”
6. Brian Keene – “The Ghosts of Monsters”
7. Charles R Rutledge– “The Beautiful Lady Without Pity: A Carnacki the Ghost-Finder Adventure”
8. Donn Gash – “Medicine Man”
9. Ed Kurtz– “Angel and Grace”
10. Elizabeth Massie – “Fear of Fish”
11. Evans Light – “Arboreatum” (novella)
12. Gary A. Braunbeck – “Iphigenia”
13. Gary Fry – “The Lurker”
14. Glen Krisch – “Gram Knows”
15. J.F. Gonzalez – “Home”
16. Jack Bantry – “Vegetarians Don’t Bite”
17. James A. Moore – “Dead Gods – Book One” (novella)
18. Jeff Strand – “Death to Trees!”
19. Jenny Orosel – “Peggy Sang the Blues”
20. John Palisano – “Splinterette”
21. Kit Power – “Baptism”
22. Mark Allan Gunnells – Santa’s Little Spy”
23. Mary Genevieve Fortier – “Beyond this Tangled, Loathsome Wood” (poem)
24. Maurice Broaddus – “Collateral Casualties”
25. Mercedes Murdock Yardley – “She Called Him Sky”
26. Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason – “A Church in the Middle of Nowhere”
27. Mir Plemmons – “Deafening Silence”
28. Norman Prentiss – “Burls”
29. Patrick Lacey – “The Lynnwood Vampires”
30. Paul Anderson – “Grownups”
31. Pete Kahle – “Meeting Momma”
32. Peter Giglio – “Cages”
33. Ray Garton – “The Guy Down the Street” (novelette)
34. Robert Essig – “Molting”
35. Ronald Kelly – “Impressions in Oak”
36. Rose Blackthorn – “Contemplating Corners” (poem)
37. Shane McKenzie – “Don’t You Want to Play with Us?”
38. Shawna L. Bernard – “Late Lunch at The Eddie Bear”
39. Sheri White – “Things Happen Here After Dark”
40. TG Arsenault – God Be Damned”
41. Tim Marquitz – “Sperare Victor”
42. Tim Waggoner – “Conversations Kill”
43. Todd Kiesling – “When Karen Met Her Mountain” (novelette)
44. Tom Martin – “The Kid in the Werewolf Mask”
45. Tracy L Carbone – “Hazel’s Twin”
46. Usman Tanveer Malik – “Hearts in Reverse”
Happy birthday, H. P. Lovecraft—you racist bastard!
Good heavens, I seem to be a bit conflicted there. To be perfectly honest, I’m not the biggest fan of ol’ Howard’s work; his style always struck me as unnecessarily forced and I can’t get behind an author whose best description of the most fearsome, otherworldly terror is that it can’t be described. But I can’t deny the impact and influence Lovecraft has had on horror and SF/F literature, even if I do think folks might be better off heading a little further back to Hawthorne and Poe first. The “mythos” HPL and company crafted continues to thrill and inspire readers and authors alike to this day, and there is quite a lot to be said for that. Weird fiction has even broken well out of the confines of pulp genre fare and into the mainstream with the success of True Detective, and Lovecraft has quite a lot to do with that. Whether or not he is or was the godfather of the subgenre is debatable, but not the debate I wish to delve into here. Instead, I’m interested in the recent (but not entirely new) hullaballoo over the World Fantasy Award.
You see, the award itself is a bust of H. P. Lovecraft, and it is pretty well known that Lovecraft was a racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic jerk. Hell, my favorite HPL story, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” is a thinly veiled diatribe against “lesser people” arriving upon American shores to interbreed with our lovely white protestant American woman and therefore sully the gene pool. On the surface, it’s a terrifically creepy little weird horror story, but the slightest background on the author and its sinister intentions become clear. Gross. So once again, and perhaps this time with more fanfare and force, voices are being raised against the use of Lovecraft’s image for an award in a field already under fire for being too much of an anachronistic white boy’s club. I don’t deny that is an issue at all, and I’m all too happy to see more attention paid to women and minority voices in that or any other field of creative endeavors. Likeminded individuals, who are incensed that the award still bears the visage of a known racist, have called for it to be replaced with that of Octavia Butler’s, a well-regarded black female SF/F author (who I confess I have not yet read as of this writing). More than 1,200 people have signed a Change.org petition asking the World Fantasy folks to make this specific change. A similar debate arose some years ago regarding the Director’s Guild of America’s D. W. Grittith Award—Griffith was, of course, most (in)famous for directing The Birth of a Nation, an important but undeniably racist film. It was subsequently changed to the “lifetime achievement award.”
My mind is not made up about this debate. There is a counter-sentiment out there that suggests by removing irrefutably important and influential figures like Lovecraft and Griffith from places of honor, we are not only washing over the history of our media and predecessors, but more-or-less throwing out the baby with the bathwater when, in fact, their work may remain important to posterity (whether it is offensive to our sensibilities or not). I do not completely disagree with this. It seems to me the larger problem lies in how—and indeed if—we can separate the art from the artist.
Were we to toss out every book written by an author with beliefs we deem reprehensible, libraries would start to burn by the thousands like Alexandria ad infinitum. I happen to be a lifelong devotee of Edgar Rice Burroughs (another overwrought pulp wordsmith, I know, but damnit, I love Tarzan)—and there is no getting around the centrality of eugenics to much of ERB’s world-building and characterization. He was a white supremacist, plain and simple, but to this day I can’t let that make me rid myself of my collection of his work. Does that make me an apologist? A co-conspirator? Is it possible for me to enjoy Tarzan stories while still acknowledging the racist eugenics angle and finding that abhorrent? How about that other Burroughs—William S.—who got loaded and shot his wife in the head during a wildly ill-fated attempt at a William Tell game? Or Dr. Seuss’s racist anti-Japanese caricatures? How about Flannery O’Connor, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling—all racists? Or anti-Semites T. S. Eliot and Roald Dahl? Or misogynist VS Naipaul? Can we not reconcile this? Must we toss them all out in the bin? Or is it sufficient enough not to honor them with their images on awards and only read them, yet with a hint of distaste?
Personally, I tend to feel at least a little better about it all if the offending artist happens to be moldering in his or her grave—HPL isn’t seeing any of my hard-earned jack, but I still won’t pay money to see a Mel Gibson picture. Is that hypocritical? Maybe so. I haven’t sussed out the problem yet, myself, but I do know if I start looking for repulsive qualities in authors and artists my boycott list will never end. And worse yet, I will be denying myself quite a lot of terrific and even significant creative work, no matter how unpleasant the minds behind it might occasionally have been. So perhaps we really don’t want to honor today’s (hopefully more enlightened) authors with the image of an avowed racist from yesteryear, be that Lovecraft, Griffith, or whomever. But I’d hate to think of the slippery slope that might encourage with regard to jettisoning crucial works to authors and readers alike. Surely the entirety of the Western Canon is rife with such unpleasantries when it comes to the authors therein, but I can’t help but think that delves too deeply into the high school English class’s favorite sticky wicket: authorial intent. It’s a worthwhile question when analyzing literature, but one that needn’t let us ruin literature by imposing too much upon it—or taking too much away. Our species is, unfortunately, chock-full of lousy, cruel, and hateful individuals, but even some of those sometimes produce things we ought not ignore. And if, perhaps, today and tomorrow’s SF/F and horror writers can read Lovecraft, fall in love with the mythos, and simultaneously correct for his repugnant personal views while redirecting his influence toward a better, more positive literary path, what in the world could be wrong with that?
Another day, another celebrity death. I suppose I take these things in stride because (a) chances are pretty good I had no interpersonal connection to the individual, and (b) I have a pretty chill attitude toward death—to wit, that we’ve all got to go sometime. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died earlier this year, I was sad to see such a tremendous talent snuffed out so young, and appalled by the legions of internet commenters suggesting sympathy was not due to him because he was an addict. I’ve never shot junk, but I’ve been there. And when it comes right down to it, if you haven’t been in someone’s shoes, then you probably don’t have the faintest idea what the hell you’re talking about, no matter how good your intentions.
Which is precisely why the apparent suicide of Robin Williams has left me so stunned and introspective today. It is an objective point of fact that Williams was an extraordinary talent, both as a comedian and an actor, and I have every reason to believe he was a terrific human being on top of that. (An old friend of mine once told me he’d attended an art show in San Francisco, nothing particularly fancy, to which Williams showed up. He was an avid art collector and shot the shit with everybody, just as approachable and likeable as you’d hope he was.) We know how he struggled with addiction all his life, right up to the end. And we know now that he also battled that hoary beast whose name seems to puzzle and even exasperate so many: depression.
That’s the thing that strikes so deep for me, since I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. Not just melancholy, which I welcome and treasure*, and not merely sadness that things are or appear difficult, though they often are. Exterior stimuli can certainly exacerbate it, and they often do. But at the heart of it, to oversimplify in the extreme, my brain just doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to in this regard. I have a physiological, chemical disorder that both affects and is affected by my psyche as well. What a shit soup! And none too tasty, though I’m left no choice but to sup from that bowl almost daily. Frequently I remind myself that I’ve won at least part of the battle insofar as I’m aware of the issue and can usually identify it when things start to spiral. But neither that nor the various medications I’ve been prescribed over the years cure the depression. It just is. It always will be. It is part of who and what I am, and I’ve long since recognized that fact.
For me, and for millions of people, it’s a frustrating trial at best and at times a dangerous animal to content with. It is a rare day for me that I don’t have that ugly voice speaking to me from the depths of my mind telling me it just might be a good idea to punch my own ticket today—even when everything is going my way, which lately is generally the case. I’ve got a three book deal I’m working through, my stories are being picked up left and right. So how the hell could I managed to be sad with all of that going for me? What kind of colossal dickwad doesn’t suck it up and see a glorious set of privileged circumstances for what they are? Why don’t you just get over yourself, Kurtz?!
Almost as soon as I learned the news about Robin Williams, I started to see a few of the callous, unfortunately expected comments about how pathetic it is for a rich, white man like him to cash it in like this. This is ignorant horseshit to the Nth degree with a side of sociopathy in stupid sauce. Williams’ wealth, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, height, weight, astrological sign, or favorite ice cream flavor have absolutely nothing to do with his suffering. Nothing whatsoever. He may have been privileged, but he was not weak. He was depressed. He was in pain. He tried to numb it with substances, but experience told him that it didn’t really work. He gave his all to others—talking Christopher Reeve out of suicide after Reeve’s accident, for example, or providing his time and comic brilliance to the gloomy cast and crew of Schindler’s List as they immersed themselves in the Holocaust during that film’s production—and brightened the lives of millions over the course of his illustrious career. But interiorly, he still suffered. And the suffering must have gotten bad enough that he deemed it hopeless, unbearable, and ultimately decided to take his own life. I wish he hadn’t. I wish there had been something or someone that could have pulled him out of the darkness long enough to prevent this awful tragedy from happening. But unless you’ve been there, in that wretched pit, you seriously cannot have the slightest clue what it means to despair to that horrible, desperate extent.
Most days that voice hisses at me. Every time I tell it to shut the hell up and continue about my business. I wish it would just go away. I don’t know if it ever will. Whatever the case, I work hard to focus on my my work, on the books I love to read and discuss, on the cinema I’ve always been obsessed with, all the things that make my life worthwhile and meaningful, at least to me. I continue to seek solutions and stopgaps, but mostly I just try to deal. I hope for at least that much for others with this same, stupid disease, though I know for many it’s just too damn much to bear—even if to the outside observer they appear to have everything in the world going for them. And god, how that saddens me.
One last thing on the subject, if you’ll indulge me: ya’ll have only the very best intentions when you implore sufferers of depression to “reach out” or “seek help.” I appreciate that deeply and I can see how kind your heart is to make that statement. The trouble with this sentiment is that people like me don’t always know how, or don’t believe at a given moment that we can, or don’t even want to. We withdraw. We get trapped in our heads. We slink off into the ouroboros of our own solitude. So wouldn’t it better to pay attention to those in your life who might be hurting or suffering in this way, and take the initiative to reach out to them? They may fight you at first, but I’m willing to wager most of the time they’ll come out on the other side to thank you for it. Just a thought.
Nonetheless—if you find yourself in a dark place where that voice starts to get louder than usual and, worse still, starts to sound like it might be making some sense, there are always people out there who want to help you. Call 1-800-273-TALK or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.com if you think you need some help. There’s no shame in that at all. Everybody needs help sometimes.
*A recent discussion on the personal, creative, and social need for melancholia is Against Happiness by Eric S. Wilson, which I highly recommend. There is a strong philosophical notion that melancholy, or even sadness if you prefer, promotes creativity and positive social change/progress. I tend to agree with this.