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.
A story my mother often tells involves a porcelain clown and its subsequent demise at the hands of her favorite son. As legend would have it—yes, legend—my two-year-old self decided the clown was an affront to humanity, and smashed it with a baseball before it could infect the world with its evil. It’s not a particularly interesting story, but it comes up whenever conversation turns to clown phobia, which many people admittedly have. I suppose the story serves as a confirmation for those who are afraid of clowns. It’s a parable that verifies—yes, indeed—clowns are inherently evil, even a two-year-old child can see that.
A not-so-interesting fact never mentioned in the story’s retelling is that while my two-year-old self was shattering that porcelain clown in 1982, Stephen King was holed up in Bangor, Maine, writing his horror classic “It.” For those who don’t know, “It” is a story about children fighting against an evil entity that has taken the form of a clown.
The more I think about that coincidence the creepier it gets. It’s not an earth-shattering coincidence the likes of which would make someone believe in the supernatural and immediately tremble in fear. The fear is subtle; it gnaws at you. It causes that moment of discomfort in the recesses of your brain, and then you begin doubting reality.
It’s an unspectacular coincidence, my mind says. Something like it probably happened to tons of kids at that time. It’s a stupid thought...
But it IS sort of weird…
And then, of course, the overactive imagination takes over. What if King was literally writing at the moment I stopped and turned to look at the porcelain clown? What if it was a particularly grisly scene where a child was being attacked by the big baddie of King’s novel, Pennywise the Clown? What if I stared at the porcelain clown in my bedroom and heard the clack-clack of a distant typewriter just as a chill ran the length of my back? Maybe I grabbed the baseball at that moment for comfort; never letting my eyes leave the motionless porcelain clown, intuition telling me something was wrong. Maybe at that exact second Stephen King was typing the description of Pennywise the Clown reaching toward young Ben Hanscom, while in my bedroom I saw—or thought I saw—the eyes of my porcelain clown move ever so slightly in my direction. Maybe a voice echoed in my head asking me if I wanted a balloon. Maybe it told me I could float. Maybe at that moment the red painted smile of the porcelain clown opened slowly to reveal a row of jagged rotting teeth, and terrified, I threw the baseball as hard as I could, wishing for it all to end.
Maybe our imaginations can run away with us sometimes.
I recently read Stephen King’s “It,” after wanting to see the new movie, but procrastinating long enough that it had left my local theater. Reading the book seemed a good substitute. I won’t review the book here, as it seems a foolish thing to do more than thirty years after the release of said book. Especially when the book is already considered a classic of its genre. My opinion seems rather inconsequential. I will say this, however: “It” haunts me.
I sit and think about why the book haunts me, and it is not just the story, its themes, and concepts I can’t shake. I’m haunted by the real life inception of the book. I’m haunted by the possibilities of what was going on in Stephen King’s head when he wrote “It.”
It would take a lot more writing than a simple blog post to really dive into this topic—and frankly, I don’t really want to dive into it—but boiled down to its essence is this: Stephen King wrote a horror book about terrible things happening to a group of eleven-year-old kids (six boys; one girl), and he began writing this book just a few months after his own daughter had turned eleven. Again, his daughter turned eleven, and King spent the next four years writing about terrible things happening to children of her age. He wrote things violent, he wrote things emotional, and he even wrote things sexual.
Now, I understand that as writers we very often take inspiration from our own lives to create stories. That is not a new concept by any means. I used my own experience with adopting a rescue dog to fuel the story of “The Dean Machine.” To a large degree, I get it. But I just can’t get past the idea of having an eleven-year-old-daughter and then writing “It.”
I suppose if I really think about it, it’s only natural to be afraid that certain things might happen to your daughter. You want to protect her from life and its pitfalls. Your mind might go to some dark places when thinking of the things you want to protect her from, and as a writer you might use your own fears to fuel your work.
But in “It,” the thing that terrifies, and abuses the little girl the most isn’t the clown, or even the outside world. The bad guy in her life is her father. It’s as if Stephen King’s greatest fear for his daughter, was what he might do to her. I can’t shake the feeling that Stephen King wrote “It” to scare himself. Like the book is his own personal worst nightmare.
I don’t know. I’m probably over thinking all of this. But I guess that’s what I find haunting. The idea that maybe our imaginations can run away with us sometimes.
Dylan Lee Peters is the author of the fantasy adventure series "Everflame," the sci-fi fantasy "The Dean Machine," and most recently the epic fantasy series "The Hands of Ruin."
All of my books take place in the same “universe.” What I mean by that is all of my books take place in and around our earth, but a parallel version. This sounds kind of strange, but it’s a very popular concept used in speculative entertainment (books, TV, and motion picture). The MARVEL cinematic universe is a great example. The adventures of the Avengers take place in and around earth, our earth, albeit a very different version. My books follow this same model, and I’ve provided a visual to help explain that, a sort of timeline.
While the Everflame series, and The Dean Machine have almost nothing to do with each other, elements of those stories come together in a new storyline that is The Hands of Ruin series.
The first and most obvious example of this is the introduction of Echo Valkzdokker in The Hands of Ruin: Book One. Echo was the main heroine of The Dean Machine, and The Hands of Ruin, in part, explains what happens to Echo after her departure from the hive. Her story is intertwined with the main characters of The Hands of Ruin and she has a prominent role in both Book One and Book Two.
The second example is the mythology of the Everflame series living on in the land of Ferren, a place featured prominently in The Hands of Ruin. In fact, the four tribes of Ferren are named for characters that fans of the Everflame series are likely to recognize (Whiteclaw tribe, Zehnder tribe, Andor tribe, and Tiber tribe). Below is an excerpt from The Hands of Ruin: Book One that describes two characters walking into the Temple of Origin, a sacred place in Ferren that celebrates the past history of the Everflame series.
• • •
The men walked into an expansive entrance chamber, with glass windows in the ceiling that bathed an ornately sculpted fountain in sunlight. It looked as if the rays of the sun were sent down from the heavens for no other reason than to shine on the fountain. Endemall was not going to admit it, but Gildwyn had been right. The Temple of Origin was impressive, and he found himself closing his open jaw for fear of looking wonderstruck.
“The fountain is sculpted in white stone and is hundreds of years old,” Gildwyn told Endemall as they walked through the main room. “I assume you recognize the likenesses of the Ancients.”
Endemall nodded, still silent in a reverence he hadn’t anticipated. The great sculpture was beautiful, a statue of three of the four ancient creators of man. Tenturo the griffin and Bahknar the dragon were standing back to back, while the beautiful mermaid Chera sat at their side, delivering water into the fountain from her gracious hands. Endemall knew all these deities from the stories of his youth, but he had never been as mesmerized by them as he was now.
However, the beauty of the fountain was nothing in comparison to the majesty of the gigantic mural painted on the far wall behind it. As the men passed the fountain and the sun’s rays now fell behind them, Endemall sighed audibly at the mural that extended up the entire thirty-foot height of the wall.
“You weren’t kidding, were you, Nye?” Endemall was floored.
“I assume you recognize the scene the mural depicts,” Gildwyn said.
“Of course.” Endemall was like a child at the foot of his heroes. “That’s the moon god, Densa, in his battle against the Great Tyrant, and above them is the sun god, Evercloud. My father used to tell my brother and me that story of old Earth almost every night before we were sent to bed. It’s like that mural was painted right out of my imagination.”
• • •
The final example of how my stories come together in The Hands of Ruin might be the most exciting for fans of the Everflame series. I don’t want to give too much away, but in The Hands of Ruin: Book Two we see the return of a major character from Everflame. It may seem farfetched given the amount of time that has elapsed between Everflame and The Hands of Ruin, but keep in mind that Ferren is a place filled with a mystical substance called zulis that Masters wield in amazing ways. Zulis can be used for good, and it can be used for evil. It can be used to destroy, and it can be used to resurrect.
Please check out The Hands of Ruin, and I hope you enjoy!
The Hands of Ruin: Book One is available for FREE on kindle, nook, iBooks, and kobo
The Hands of Ruin: Book Two is also available from the same retailers.
1. I will, with almost 100% certainty, never write another novel under the title of Everflame. In that respect, the Everflame Series is completed.
2. Everflame and The Dean Machine are parts of a larger story that will be told in my next series of novels. They are connected in that they each take place in the same universe. The Everflame Series is a story of this universe’s ancient past, and The Dean Machine a story of its future.
3. Characters from both The Everflame Series and The Dean Machine will have major roles in this new series I will be writing.
Stay tuned for more information about this new project, and clues as to which characters will be along for the next adventure. In the meantime, make sure you are caught up with the story in the Everflame Series, and The Dean Machine.
Dreams have always been an integral part of my creative process. I dream vividly, at length, and regularly. For a time during my youth, I imagined that everyone dreamed in the same way that I did. It wasn’t until open dialogue about dreaming, with friends and family, that I discovered dream patterns can be very different for every individual. I was stunned, frankly, to learn that some people don’t even remember their dreams when they wake. The thought was strange to me, mostly because my own dreams were so lucid, regular, and often left a deep impression on me. There have been many days of my life where the previous night’s dreams have affected my mood throughout the entire day.
When I was younger, I suffered through something called Incubus Attacks (though I didn’t know what they were at the time). An Incubus Attack occurs when there is discord between the sleeping mind and the sleeping body. The results can be quite terrifying because, essentially, you can dream when your body is awake.
These episodes didn’t happen erratically, and spontaneously, during the day. It’s not as if I had a form of schizophrenia. Incubus Attacks usually take place in the time when your mind is transitioning to sleep, or transitioning awake. It’s as if the world of dream bleeds slightly into the conscious world.
I was four years old the first time I can remember having an Incubus Attack. I had awaked in the middle of the night, and for one reason or another, left my bed. I looked out the window and saw, at a distance, Grover. Yes, Grover from Sesame Street. Grover turned, looked at me, and then began running toward my window, screaming and flailing his arms. Naturally, I began screaming, and my parents found me crying below the window in my bedroom.
I experienced many Incubus Attacks in my youth, but not all were so lively. Mostly, I would feel something touching me that wasn’t there, or I could hear someone yelling at me that wasn’t there. These specific attacks would usually occur as I transitioned to sleep.
The last graphic Incubus Attack I remember took place when I was fifteen. I woke in the middle of the night and sat up in bed. I looked into the corner of my room and found an orb, glowing and floating about four feet off of the ground. As I watched it, it shot a red laser beam toward the foot of my bed. I got out of bed and walked over to the light switch, which was at the other side of the bedroom, all the while keeping my eye on the orb. When I turned the light switch on, the orb was gone. I was alone, standing in my bedroom, wondering what was happening to me. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I came across the term and realized that I had been having Incubus Attacks as a child.
Though the attacks stopped, my spirited dreaming did not. I would have to say that I have always had rich dreams on a nightly basis, with rare exception. However, it wasn’t until I began writing that I found a way to make my dreams work for me. In fact, the first two chapters of Everflame were from a dream I had. In the dream, I was Evercloud, the helpless child. I was prisoner to the events going on around me, and I can remember having some distinct connection with the bears that controlled my fate. The dream didn’t detail everything that I’ve written in those chapters, but I can still recall the memory of the mountain and the flame to this day.
As an adult, the types of dreams I have are what I call video game dreams. I’m usually in some life or death situation, where the circumstances are very fantastical, and I have to find some special object, or defeat some evil foe. Very often, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. I suppose I didn’t have much of a choice but to become a fantasy adventure writer.
The book I’m currently working on, The Dean Machine, has a lot of influence from my dreaming as well. The impetus for the book was a real-life event that affected me deeply, however much of the plotline comes directly from my dreams. I can remember being the main character of The Dean Machine, Dan Delacor. I can still feel the panic that overtook me as I ran from the great wall of Yellow City, running as far as I could from the clutches of the evil Chancellor Elgrey Vinsidian. I can remember, quite vividly, the confusion of wandering with my little dog, Dean, not knowing where we were. I can remember the sickness in my stomach as I discovered that I was… well, I won’t ruin it for you. Besides, the book is not finished, and who knows what I might dream up tonight.
And I suppose that’s the truth of my writing, and the source of my imagination. I have no method, no tactics, and no brainstorming techniques. I dream. I simply lay my head down and immerse myself in the unknown. I’ll try to keep you apprised of what I find.
ORIGINALLY POSTED 7/27/2014
I began writing the Everflame series in 2008 and didn’t finish As the Darkness Waits until somewhat recently. Spend six years doing anything and you’ll get attached to it. I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone to hear that writing the last bit of the Everflame series was hard for me. I don’t mean it was hard in the way that I didn’t know just how to end it, after all, I had known how I wanted the series to end since I began writing it in 2008, but it was hard in the way that ending a long relationship is hard. You are really leaving a part of yourself behind as you move on, for better or for worse.
It took two weeks of dragging my feet before I wrote the last chapter of As the Darkness Waits. I was masterful in my procrastination. It really was like a break up, I was avoiding it purposefully. I would recite the words to the mirror, convincing myself I had it right. I thought about it incessantly, even when I needed to be concentrating on other things. It consumed me as I ignored it, and I knew it wouldn’t let me go… until I agreed to let it go.
As I wrote the final words I felt pain. As bizarre as that sounds, it would be a lie not to admit it. I stood from my laptop, walked away, and stared out the window. I was free of Everflame, I was free of the characters, I was free of the land I had created, but I had torn a part of myself away for the prize of that freedom.
Days pass and you feel oddly as if you are in some sort of mourning. I was irritable, sullen and withdrawn. I quickly realized what writing meant to me, and what Everflamehad meant to me. Would I be able to get that back? I knew when I ended Everflame that I had also ended something of myself, but I had always assumed that it would be a part of me I could let go, a part that I could survive without.
My assumptions were incorrect. Yet, Everflame was done.
So I scanned over my new project; my new story; my new source. Could this new story fulfill the role in my life that I so obviously needed? Could I immerse myself into this new world and into these new characters with the same passion and purpose that first inspired the flame?
I’m happy to report that it can. I’m happy to report that I will.
I am 5000 words into the newest chapter of my life, and though I will take my time, cherishing everything that it gives me through the process of creation, I cannot wait to one day share it with everyone. The Dean Machine keeps my heart safe… stay tuned.