Why write a horror novel? Fans of my previous works want to know what would make me turn from the fantasy adventure style of my Everflame series (my most successful series) and travel this “dark path.”
The answer is somewhat meandering. A part of me thinks to answer, “Well, haven’t I always been a horror writer? Are there not moments in all of my books that fit the genre?” Even if that is true, it doesn’t really answer the question in the direct way it deserves.
The direct and honest answer is because—like all of us, I think—I’m searching. I’m searching for myself in an ever-changing world, searching for a foothold to begin making a climb, searching for the answer to a question we all know and yet mostly find impossible to articulate. I believe we constantly search for the ability to fulfill our purpose; possibly the deepest satisfaction we can ever know.
So I’m writing a horror novel because I’m searching. I’m writing a horror novel about searching, among other things.
What helped me come come to this decision? What drew me to this path? I think I can point to one work that is both my greatest success and greatest failure as a writer: The Dean Machine
I call it my greatest success because to this day I think it’s my best story, the one I like the best, the one that means the most to me. And it was my greatest failure for commercial reasons. I confused too many genres, and created a story that couldn’t please anyone but myself. 😂 “Hey everyone, come read a story about a rescue dog, inspired by an actual rescue dog of mine… oh, and this will be a science fiction adventure… oh and it’s also kind of a psychological thriller… oh and some of it is definitely horror… like angry, eff the world, pages of rage horror. Sounds good, right?”
Yeah… No one wanted to read that, and the people that did were left mostly confused and disturbed. Book bloggers I gave advanced copies to pretty much all gave the same review that can be summed up in two emojis 🤯🤷🏻♂️
I remember doing a charity event where I gave out my books in exchange for donations to the rescue dog organization I agreed to help. I thought at the time it was a win-win, I get my book in the hands of readers and make money for rescue dogs. Yet, as the event went on I realized I was handing my book mostly to sweet old women with big smiles and bigger hearts, who were at an event to help dogs, and feel happy about doing good. By the end I was thinking, if they actually read this book, it’s going to destroy them. I had really fucked up the marketing of the book. The Dean Machine wasn’t a fun sci-fi adventure for those who love their rescue dog. It was a confusing genre mashup bred from anger. It was a horror novel written as an FU to an apathetic world that hurt my dog and took him from me too soon. It was a story that only worked for me, because it was really just for me.
My wife and I had adopted an old dog who had been through hell in a puppy mill, and suffered at the hands of ignorant, apathetic and evil people. We cared for him, loved him, nurtured him, and watched him blossom under our care. And then two years later he died because, despite all we had done for him, the atrocities he had suffered before us were too much for him to physically overcome. The damage had been done. There was nothing we could do.
So I poured my love, my sadness and my absolute red hot rage into a story I felt would honor him and the legacy of what he stood for. For me it will always be successful because of that alone.
Truly the book was my absolution, my penance for the perceived sin of not being able to save my dog’s life. And through that process, without realizing I had done it, I had written a book that could be classified as much horror as any other genre.
Really, there are moments in all of my books that are dark enough to be considered horror. Yet, I never allowed myself to walk that path completely. The Everflame series was about hope, redemption and the indomitable spirit that resides within us all. I wanted it to be accessible for readers of all ages and temperaments, almost like a superhero comic book. The Dean Machine was just a work of pure catharsis, something I needed to do. The Hands of Ruin series (though unfinished) is intended to be a sprawling epic about family, and how time connects and equalizes us all. Everflame: Mystic Wild was an attempt to recapture the youthful adventure the original Everflame series thrived in.
But my next book, the one I’m working on right now, it’s about the realization that some of the best things I create come from a very, very dark place. So, this book will be a horror novel about searching for, and finding myself. This book is about my life, and what happens when I go walking in the dark.
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For a window into the dark places I go, check out The Dean Machine currently available on kindle at a temporarily reduced price.