Why I Write Dark Fiction: Or Horror

I’m taking a short break from writing. We’re moving in a few weeks and between repairs to our current home that need to be done, and packing, time isn’t all on my side. So I actually may be blogging a lot more over the next few weeks. (Don’t ask how I have time to blog but not write fiction: I may punch you)

Last week I had someone message me after reading my novella “My Friend Louie” with the question- How can Christian’s write horror…? Interesting question- and one that has been explored by a number of folks. But first let me explain…

My Friend Louie is the story of a young boy who has just witnessed his mother leaving him and his father, who has very few friends, and is trying to survive a bully down the street. Through out the course of the story he finds a Baseball bat, who he named Louie, and who he believes is alive and able to speak to him, through his sub-conscious.

It’s Louie who convinces him to use Louie (the bat) on his father and smack him on the head, it’s Louie who tells him to use (Louie the bat) on the bully down the street and go beat that crap out of him.

Told in a raw memoir style, I can say it’s not my best writing by any stretch. There are several that like it and other that don’t. And that’s okay… But that got me thinking about the question asked to me- Why do you write horror?

It’s weird, because I don’t think I do, and I certainly don’t set out to write horror. That’s not my end goal. And I certainly don’t believe I write horrifying things. But I do admit, I may write Dark Things.

Why…? Because I think it’s necessary. I think it’s honest.

Let’s get real. Life doesn’t always end in a happy ending. Bad things happen to good people.

G.K. Chesterton has been quoted dozens of times for having said that- “Fairy tales are more than true… Not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

This is so true- But yet not entirely true. Because the reality of the world we live in is this-

Sometimes the dragon wins…

That’s is a difficult truth to live with. But it’s reality all the same. Evil exist- Evil wins.

But for those of us who know Christ, we know there is hope.

We live in a broken, dark, dying world, that is full of sin. That’s reality. And there are so many in life that don’t see any sort of light or hope at the end. It’s just an empty void.

You see: My life is a life that has been spent living in the darkness of the shadows. I know what it feels like to not have hope. I know what it feels like to not see a way out. I understand the pain of brokenness and despair. I’ve lived that life.

Today I live free. Oh I still live in the shadows, only now I live in the shadow of the cross. It covers me and provides me with the hope I need.

I write not to explore the monsters, but to expose the fact that there are monsters everywhere, and we have to face them. Win, lose, draw… Life isn’t easy. Sometimes the story isn’t about defeating the dragon, but surviving and holding on to the light in the aftermath of the dragon winning a small battle.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that a part of me is the young boy in that story. I would be also lying to you if I didn’t say that a part of me is Louie as well.

So my stories from time to time may be a bit dark with some horrifying elements. They may not end in a happy ending. They may not even be all that Christian in the Christian sense because, there won’t be a solid redemptive story. But I promise you this…

They will be personal. And they will end with hope. And sometimes hope is all we need to get us through to the end.


Writers Lie

Writers flipping lie, man. We lie all the stinking time. We make stuff up and sell it. That’s fiction. We’re good at it. Call it creative thinking call it whatever the heck you want. We lie.

I’ve told some big lies growing up. The dog did it, my brother did it, aliens did it. Lies, lies, lies…

But you know what else I’ve discovered about writers- We Lie to ourselves more than anyone.

I know what your thinking- I don’t lie to myself. Listen, if you said that- You just lied to yourself.

Imagine there is this magical ring of manure circling your head. Every time you lie to yourself a small piece falls. But you can’t wash it away- It stays there, stuck to your skin. Eventually, you walk around covered in manure and realize you missed out because you believed a bunch of GARBAGE about yourself and your writing that wasn’t even true.

Publishing is tough. I know. I’ve been there. Still am. I’ve had countless short stories rejected, been told I couldn’t write, and even had a mom email me mad because she thought my story “My Friend Louie” was a twisted piece of evil… (That’s a bit true: It is a mangled up twisted bit of evil told in a Raw Memoir style about a troubled teen with a psychological disorder who believes his baseball bat is talking to him: Now Go Buy My Book)

But I’ve lied to myself, so many times it’s held me back in what I want to accomplish.

So here they are- In no particular order- Lies we writers tell ourselves. I’ve told these all to myself.

1) I just write for myself- It doesn’t matter if I get published. 

Oh come on, don’t tell me that. I use to say that as well. Until I had a short story published and wondered aloud- I hope someone is buying it..? Do they like it…? What do they think of it…? Writers write to be read. Sure there is the hobbyist, but those are rare- The very act of writing a story is for the purpose of communication.  Saying you only write for yourself is like Jesus saying: I’m going to tell a parable, but it’s only for myself. You write to be read.

2) I don’t have time.

Seriously…? You’re going to tell me that…? I have a full-time job where I’m a senior level executive in a very Busy Marketing Company. I’m involved in church. Have two of the most insane Toddlers. And a wonderful wife. I eat right; I work out daily, I read, watch TV, and still manage to write. Life is about Balance. It’s tough to find because it means sacrifice. Do I get stressed- You bet. Do I get mad and bark at my kids- Sure. Do I forget to tell my wife what she means to me- Yes. I fail. But I have time to do all those things which are important plus write. You have time to write. Turn off Netflix, Hulu, put the book away, tell your friends no, stop sleeping in, and write. 15 minutes a day. 30 minutes a day. Doesn’t matter- Just Write. I always tell people when they can’t find time to work out, read their Bible, or write, then they need to do those things in 25-minute increments. Why…? Because 25 Minutes is only 1% of your day. You can find 1%…

3) I don’t care if it sells.

Oh please, YES YOU DO!!! I don’t know of a single writer who hasn’t checked his / her Amazon rankings. Maybe Stephen King – But he is the exception to the rule. But if you haven’t crashed the Big Bestseller List, then you check them… Trust me- I know. Saying you don’t care if it sales is like my boss saying “J.J. – If this campaign doesn’t work, it’s alright.” We pour a lot of time, creativity, and money into our campaigns. They better work. And if they don’t-  (Trust me- Some haven’t) we have to find out why and fix it.

4) I don’t care if I get Bad Reviews.

Listen, bad reviews come and go. I got one because it was to Christian. Another one said I was evil (The Mad Mommy). Your story isn’t going to connect with everyone. That’s a fact. And in my case some won’t understand your voice. But you care, believe me. You do. You know how many times someone has asked me to vote down a bad review. (Don’t do that by the way- More likely I’ll vote it up) People don’t like to be criticized. They don’t like to see something that they pour time, effort, and energy into. Even if what the reviews are saying are true- We care. I get nervous anytime my wife reads my work- I get anxious when I email a story to a critique partner.  You care, and other writers understand. So pour out your frustration to those who can relate- Stop keeping it locked inside because you want to pretend you can handle it.

5) I have to work at building my platform before I can write a book- That away it sells. 

Here is the issue with this. If you spend all your time trying to build your platform, what are you going to say/sell when you step up on that platform. If you’re writing nonfiction and building your brand through blogging- You may be able to get away with this. But a fiction writer- Dude, just write the blasted book. I believed this lie for a long time. Partly because I work in Marketing and it’s branded within my mind. Platform/ Branding- Worry about that junk later. Right now just write. Imagine if a young new man came into your town- Passed out flyers, had a booth at a local health fair, and was telling everyone “I’m opening a new family practice. My name is Dr. Boo.” What would we ask him? Well, where is it…? When does it open…? What kind of insurance does he accept…? What would you do if his response was this: “Well, it’s not open yet. I still have to finish med school then do my residency. But, it’s coming soon.” Most of us are going to laugh, move along, and forget about him. The 4 P’s to Marketing are Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. But you have to have a product first… The horse is your story- The cart is your brand and platform- Go write.

6) I don’t listen to writing experts- They don’t know what they are talking about.

Well, chances are you won’t make it – Or here’s is a news flash – Maybe your listening to the wrong expert. If you are writing Science Fiction, you probably don’t want to always listen to the industry advice of someone that only sells cookbooks. I would even recommend finding experts in the genres you write in. Sure a lot of the industry news is across all genres. But agents that sell only Romance more than likely don’t know much about the Science Fiction market. There are a few great agents that crossover- But still- Sci-fi fans are a different brand of cookie. I don’t think anyone writing Romance would  come to me and say, “Hey, you got any marketing tips.” I would be clueless. One, I don’t read the genre, so I’m not in the target market, and Two, I don’t have a clue what makes Romance readers click. I just don’t. It’s a great genre with great writers but don’t ask me how to fix your plot holes because I’m  clueless when it comes to mainstream Romance. (Both in fiction and in life). There are writing experts out there in your genre- Find them- Listen to them- And learn from them…

7) Writing is too expensive- I can’t do this. 

Man Shazam!!! This is the biggest freaking whopper of them all. Writing is cheap. Just grab a pen and paper and go to work. Publishing is expensive. Editing is expensive. Cover design, advertising, and writers conferences are expensive. Storytelling- Is the cheapest hobby there is. Write it on a chalkboard, on a note card, or draft it on a used tea bag. Just write. Click to Tweet

8) No one is publishing my genre- It doesn’t seem to be salable. 

That isn’t quite as accurate as many think. The big publishers may not be publishing many titles in your genre- But that doesn’t mean small presses aren’t. Don’t be afraid of a small press. They are out there- And some good ones too. Remember,  Bloomsbury was a small, well-respected, independent publisher. They were the only publisher willing to take on a children’s book called: Harry Potter. Look what happened. 

I write this post mainly to me. I’m guilty of all these things- And I’m guilty every day. I have virtually no success as an author. Zero, zilch, zip… But I understand what holds me back. I lie to myself. I’m sure what I say seems arrogant, brash, even a bit pompous.

The truth is I get irritated by people that make excuses- Why? Because I hear them all day long, and normally, I’m the one making them.



Good Stories

I like quick addictive reads. They are fun, exciting, and enjoyable. Some people read to get a deeper meaning out of life, to learn a deep truth- I read for enjoyment.

There are different styles of readers, so whichever you are is fine. However, on both sides, I have found that Dean Koontz story structure method is a formula they all share.

From his out of print How to Write Best Selling Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books), © 1981. I first learned of this on Jerry B Jenkins Blog. Below is how Jenkins summarized it.

  1. Plunge your main character (lead/hero/heroine) into terrible trouble as soon as possible.

The definition of “terrible trouble” differs depending on your genre. For a thriller, it may mean your hero is hanging by his fingernails from a railroad trestle. For a cozy romance, it may mean your heroine must choose between two seemingly perfect suitors, each of whom harbors a dark secret.

2. Everything your character does to get out of the trouble makes it only worse.

The complications must be logical and grow increasingly bad until…

3. The lead’s predicament appears entirely hopeless.

4. Finally, because of what all that conflict has taught the character from the beginning, your lead rises to the occasion and battles out of the trouble, meets the challenge, accomplishes the quest, or completes the journey.

Realm Makers – There & Back Again: The Authors Journey

I’m writing the first part of this from the Philly airport. I have just discovered that my flight is delayed. I have rebooked twice- rerouted- Travel can Be stressful- exhausting- and irritating.

My first thoughts go to my wife. I feel bad for her. She is what is on my mind. She is more kind, patient, beautiful, and supportive than I deserve. Without her, my journey as an author would be empty. And I’m glad I have her- To hold my hand, to lend an ear, to speak the words I need. For if, there is one thing I have learned this past week while at Realm Makers- It’s that an author’s journey never ends: Meaning- We all need our own Samwise Gamgee…

Realm Makers is more than just a writers conference. It is more than Geeky costumes, weird ideas, and late night Zombie Nerf Wars!!!

It’s a place to connect with a very active online community. A group that provides support, encouragement, and friendship while on the creative road. Where you are encouraged to embrace the gift God has given you. Every author needs that supportive cast: For the road is often littered with bumps, bruises, tears, and heartache. And when such accomplished authors like Thomas Locke, and NY Times Bestselling authors Tosca Lee, & Kathy Tyers speak of how they still deal with rejection or have recently been rejected themselves- you realize that creatives have a battle they must endure always.

“There is not a single day I sit down to write & I’m not scared to death.” -Tosca Lee (Click to tweet)

Thomas Locke reminded us this weekend that “You must learn to empty yourself. The greatest enemy of our souls is noise.”

I have a lot of noise in my life. From hundreds of emails, to the jealousy of others success, to the endless list of things to do, and an ever-ticking clock pounding in my ear.

Writing I have learned, is not a sprint. It is not even a marathon. Writing is an art that is expressed and nurtured through time. Too many times I think I need to finish now, or tomorrow, and I measure my success by what I have not done. “But, the outside world cannot be your only mark of success.” – Thomas Locke.

It was great seeing old friends: Josh, Jason, Nadine, Zac, and so many, many others. It was great to meet so many new faces. It was great to hear all the crazy story ideas everyone had. And I must admit there were a few times I thought: “I wish I had come up with that…”

I have returned home now. I will dive back into my shell, I will kiss my kids. I will love my wife. I will tell her what she means to me, and I will tell her I love her. I will tell her that without her, I would have collapsed on this road long ago.

My advice from what I took away from this weekend- Find the ones who love you. Who believe in you. Allow them to be a part of your creative life- For as Thomas Locke said:

“Your life is your page. Live your stories out…”

25 Reasons I’m Going to Realm Makers

25 Reasons I’m Going to Realm Makers and you Should to… 

So why would I choose Realm Makers as my conference of choice… ?

I’ve gotten that question a couple of times the past few weeks. Let me first start by saying I have nothing against other writers conferences.

However, when I’m choosing a Conference- I’m having to choose Realm Makers.

Those other Conferences are amazing conferences- With a great lineup of speakers, agents, and editors. The benefits are exceptional. So, why not go…? Because it just doesn’t fit me.

You see- I’m a spec writer. And contrary to what some may think- Spec writers are a different mold.

We have different mindsets, different ideas, and we enjoy different things. The creativity embraced by Spec Writers is one that is far different from those in Romance, Mystery, and even straight-line suspense. Those are great genres. I love those genres. However, spec writers like to sit around a table and discuss Role Playing Games, Fan theories, have Nerf wars, and think deeply about if Dragon’s Poop and / or discuss the possibility of Zombie Sharks. (Two conversations that have taken place in previous Realm Makers Conf.)

It’s not that we are exclusive or arrogant- We’re just different. We approach writing in a different way. And we have a far different Target Audience than most traditional Publishers have in mind.

Personally, I have a desire to connect with other writers. I especially have a desire to connect with writers who are like me and have strange ideas. When I discuss my projects at Realm Makers, no one looks at me with a strange expression that says: That’s just weird. They embrace the idea and want to hear more.

Realm Makers is the only conference solely focused on Faith-Based Speculative Fiction. It is the only place where if you write weird- You are certain to find someone that writes even weirder.

Here are the 25 reasons I’m Choosing Realm Makers this year.

  1. It’s In Philly: Who doesn’t want to go out and try an authentic Philly Cheese Steak.
  2. It’s Affordable: If you plan it right, and depending on where you’re flying or driving from, you can go to Realm Makers for $1,000 or less. Room, Meal Plan, and Conference Registration is around $500.
  3. The Dorms make it feel like old-school Summer Camp: I loved this. Staying in a dorm room made the entire weekend feel like summer camp and / or being back at college. It also keeps the conference affordable.
  4. Costume Night: Wizards, Black Holes, Jedi’s, Waldo, Katniss, Wolverine, Leia, dragons!!! Just come up with a costume and go (I’m thinking I might be the 12th Doctor this year.)
  5. Zombie Nerf Wars: Be a kid again, pull up your sleeves, grab the old (or new) nerf gun and have some late night fun.
  6. Great Spec Speakers: NY Times Bestselling Author Tosca Lee, NY Times Bestselling Author Kathy Tyers, Thomas Locke, Mike Duran, Steve Laube, Julie Gwinn, Patrick Carr, Kirk DouPonce, Lane Heymont, Suzanne and Shawn Kuhn, Carla Hoch, Chris Morris…
  7. Taxes: I mentioned Chis Morris above- The Creative Accountant who makes you love accounting. (Okay- That may be a stretch) But he gives you tips for staying out of jail. What more could you ask for…?
  8. Theology: I think I heard or had more theological conversations last year then I had in the previous six months. Spec writers have a passion for pursuing theology on a deep level and then fusing that into their fiction.
  9. Small: I’m not sure of the total numbers last year (I think 150) but Realm Makers is still pretty small. Regardless, it’s at the right size where everyone can find a way to fit in easily and not get lost in the crowd.
  10. Demographics: Most writers conferences I have gone to have been women. Men seem to be very under-represented. But at Realm Makers I was very surprised to see about an equal split.
  11. The Realm Maker Alumni Facebook Group: When you leave Realm Makers you will find that the connections you make- can come right with you. The Realm Makers Alumni Group is where the conference continues.
  12. You’re Strange, I’m Strange, We’re All Strange: When I’ve gone to other writers conference in the past I seem to be the weird one. I mean, I write horror and to most that seems to be an oxymoron. At Realm Makers- we’re all a little strange- So rest assured you’ll fit right in.
  13. Appointments: Last year I was all ready to go to a major conference. I had registered and everything. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that there wasn’t but one agent looking for Spec Fic. At Realm Makers- You will find those agents focused on your genre.
  14. Encouragement: At Realm Makers you’ll meet other authors who will encourage you to not give up- To keep churning out the words- And focus on finishing your story.
  15. No One Rolls their Eyes when I tell them What I’m Working on: When you describe your story- Don’t expect a smirk, a confused look, or even the occasion eye roll. People get what you are working on. They understand it. If it seems like a strange story- As I’ve said before- Someone has probably got something a little stranger.
  16. Lasers, Dragons, Keyboards: Only the best podcast for Christian Spec fic- And the best part it- The idea was born at Realm Makers.
  17. Vision: Ideas are born at Realm Makers. Podcast, publishing houses, collaborations- People meet and then leave with an idea.
  18. Deep Conversation: I had more deep conversations last year that went on until 1:00 in morning than I’ve ever had at a Con before. Authors at Realm Makers enjoy exploring the depths, for the surface brings boredom.
  19. Splickety: One of the things I love about Realm Makers is the way they have brought Splickety right into the mix. Short fiction is one of the best ways for a new writer to break in, and Splickety is the top Short Fiction magazine in the CBA (My Opinion)
  20. Speculative Theology: Mike Duran will be teaching a course on Theology in Speculative Fiction. If you read or attended his session on Christian Horror last year this promises to be a great course.
  21. SuzyQ: No one makes Marketing and Brand Building fun like Suzy Q. I promise they will make you laugh and understand the process of promoting your book with simple, easy, ideas.
  22. Spiritual Writing: Super Agent Steve Laube will be teach an in-depth spiritual track on preparing yourself spiritually for the writing process.
  23. Freelance Editors who Specialize in Spec Fic: If you don’t have an editor you will find one at Realm Makers- And better, these editors specialize in Speculative Fiction.
  24. Young Writers: One of the most encouraging things last year was how many young teenage writers I ran into.
  25. New Friends:If you work it right- You’ll meet a hundred new friends.

There are many more reasons I go to this conference- these are just a few. What about you, why are you choosing to go…?