Before I talk about the topic du jour, I wanted to let you all know that there’s some exciting news on the near horizon that I hope to share in the coming weeks. I’ll give you a hint. I’ve been writing quite a few stories for various anthologies and things are lining up quite nicely. Over the holidays, I also finished the first draft of a follow up to Forest of Shadows and I’m putting the finishing touches on an adventure series for kids. Yet, I still found time to watch the entire first 2 seasons of Justified, which I now declare the best show on TV. (American Horror Story and The Walking Dead come in a close second) Raylen Givens is a complete, all American badass.
As I look up at my Vampirella calendar, I can’t believe the Super Bowl is already here. I was out and about today picking up food, beer and selecting some damn good cigars for the big day’s festivities. As a Seahawks fan, I have no skin in the game, but you can’t beat a day of drinking and eating with family and friends. And no, I don’t live in Seattle or the west coast, for that matter. I grew up a Steve Largent fan, plus the helmets were bitchin’.
OK, on with the show….
I’m going to attack this particular subject from the angle of a horror writer, but this applies to anyone who creates something, whether it be a book, painting, video game, whatever, and gives it up to the world to see and, inevitably, critique. As human beings, we all just want to be loved. That’s why the Beatles are the greatest group of all time. They understood. When we create something from our soul or gray matter if you want to be pragmatic, putting it out for general consumption is a lot like streaking through the quad at lunch time. (Feel free to chant Frank the Tank at this point.) You’re utterly exposed, your stomach cramping, waiting for the worst, and odds are, there’s some shrinkage.
Every writer needs a very thick skin. (Gift idea for those of you looking to get the person who has everything!)You have to absorb rejection like a Shamwow. You have to work with agents and editors as they pick apart your words, fine tuning it until it’s something not only readable, but saleable. And when you’re done putting a spit shine to your book or story or poem, presto!, it goes out into the great beyond, available for all to read.
From that point on, all that’s left is the feedback, reviews, tweets, posts, and on and on. You pray that it will all be good, but you know deep down you can’t please everyone. There will always be people who don’t like your book. Hell, some will even hate it and ask Jesus in their prayers why He ever let you think you could become a writer in the first place.
And this is exactly what stops a lot of aspiring writers dead in their tracks. Sure, some of them will say they just need to give their manuscript a little tweak (possibly the 132nd revision in what seems as many years), but deep down, they’re terrified of what people will say. So they never get to THE END, constantly worrying that it’s just not good enough for everyone. Some folks will even change their theme or message, worried that it may offend some or cause even the slightest controversy. Any writer will tell you, you can literally tweak a work for the rest of your life. It’s up to you to end it.
For those of you who are struggling to face this fear, the only thing I can advise is to just stare it down with your best Raylen Givens squinty eyes and tell it to get lost. Even the very best writers have their critics. I think we can all agree that Stephen King is at the top of the horror game, and he gets a healthy dose of crappy, some downright nasty, reviews. Whether it’s love or hate, it’s an emotion, and isn’t that really what art is about; evoking an emotional response? So let it rip, scatter it to the winds of public opinion, and get to work on your next book. The End is just six key strokes away.
The title of this post is no exaggeration. The entire process of writing my novel, Forest of Shadows, and getting it sold very nearly ended my life…sort of. More on that in a bit.
I’ve been a fan of horror ever since I was a kid. The passion for writing horror overtook me somewhere in my early twenties. I dabbled with horror short stories, then spent years writing non-horror novels so I could get in the practice and find my voice for my first big horror novel. Once I felt I was ready (which meant I had spent almost a decade writing and thirty years reading as much as humanly possible) and I had a concept that could sustain a novel, I got to writing. All along I had one goal : to have it published by Leisure Horror (part of Dorchester Publishing). Leisure was the gold standard for horror publishing, thanks in large part to the leadership and skill of editor Don D’Auria. I consumed Leisure novels like Jaws munched on skinny dippers. I wanted in the Leisure Club more than anything in the world.
I spent the next 4 years writing my book, originally titled Frozen Harbor. After going through a dozen rewrites, I felt it was good to go and I immediately sent my query letter to Leisure’s slush pile (this is the massive mountian of unagented queries and manuscripts that sit in every publishing house). I knew the odds of getting out of the pile were slimmer than Kate Moss, but I had a goal and I was going to live or die with it.
A little under a year later, I received a letter asking to see the first few chapters. I nearly jumped out of my shoes, but knew in the back of my mind this was by no means an acceptance. So I sent it. And waited. And waited some more.
Over a year after that, I recevied another letter asking for the entire manuscript. OK, there was obviously some interest. It had been almost two years now, and every time I was about to give up, the fates came along to reignite my hopes. Could they be so cruel as to guide me to shore, only to dash me on the rocks? Being a New York pessimist, I leaned to that being the case.
I kid you not when I say I had all but forgotten that I had sent in my manuscript when a year and a half later, while checking my email, I saw a letter from Don at Leisure. Holy crap! He liked the book! He wanted to publish it! I had my deal with my dream publisher and editor! I was at work when I opened the email, and after almost having a stroke, I rushed home to celebrate.
The next few months were spent getting an agent and working with Don on the book and getting the final details done on the contract. I was flying higher than Balloon Boy. Naturally, the fates saw my happiness and stepped right in to kick my ass in short order. Dorchester Publishing, after 40 years in business, was in complete upheaval. They weren’t paying authors and had decided to stop printing paperbacks. Don parted ways with them just before I signed my final contract. The deal was dead.
And so, nearly, was I. Granted, the turn of events made me physically, emotionally and spiritually ill. But it was the horror writer doppelganger in me that nearly died last summer. I was done. No matter how happy a face I put on, I figured that part of my life had taken a permanent dirt nap. I didn’t have another 8 years in me to do this all over again. R.I.P.
Here’s where agents can be a godsend. My agent, Louise Fury (with the L. Perkins Agency), did her best to keep my spirits up. “Don’t panic. If it was good enough for Don, it can be sold elsewhere. We can even wait to see where Don lands and hope he’ll still be editing horror.”
So I waited. But this time it was much less than 8 years. It was only 5 months. Don joined Samhain Publishing and yes, he still wanted my book! The dead part of me had been revived (kinda like a zombie, only without the eating flesh part). So yes, the entire process did nearly kill a very real part of me. But like any good movie monster, I live! And as long as I live, I will continue to write.
To read the book that nearly killed me, click here.