So Sorry for the Delay

Hello everyone.  I’d like to thank you all for being so patient with me these past several months.  I know I haven’t been posting much on social media.  I haven’t been updating my website or my blog.  And my next book release is long overdue.  I don’t blame you if you’ve become frustrated with me.  I’m sorry.  The truth is that things have not been well here.  You see, I recently lost my father to Leukemia.  It’s been a very difficult time for me and for my family.  I’m sure at least some of you will know what it’s like all too well.  The whole world has changed…  Everything feels different than it did before…  Heavier…  Hollower…  And I’ve had trouble finding my way back to the comfort of my fictional worlds.  It’s hard to be a writer when all the words in the world seem to fall short…  So I hope you’ll bear with me just a little longer while I sort things out and try to get back into the swing of things.  I just need a little time.  Just a little more…  And then I promise I’ll be back again.  Thank you.

Writing with Baby

     If you follow me on Facebook, you probably already know that I was blessed with a new arrival earlier this year. I’m now a father of three. As a result, I’ve had a serious, but I hope perfectly understandable impediment to my writing. It’s not nearly as easy as it once was to find time to work on my next book, and my progress has slowed down noticeably. Often times, I’ve no more than just found my word flow when Dad is needed again. There’s a diaper emergency. Or the other two kids are fighting. Or someone desperately needs a snack right now, even though mom is feeding the baby. Or someone has their head stuck between the stairs railings. Again. Every day is a new adventure. And a new opportunity to find yourself saying something you never thought you’d hear yourself say. Like, “We don’t put deodorant on the cat,” and, “Because you’re not a licensed dentist! That’s why!” There’s no preparing for this stuff. You just have to wing it.
     Regardless of how crazy it gets, I’d never give up this life for anything. Even now that my work is earning enough that my wife was able to cut back her work hours, I refuse to entirely give up my status as “stay-at-home dad.” I’m far too proud of that title to let it go.
     I truly have the best two jobs in the world. I have the best kids and the best fans! And I promise you many more dark adventures are on the way. I’m just moving a little slower than usual right now. Thank you so much for reading!

My Writing Process

I’ve encountered some interesting questions since I started writing.  People want to know about what I do and how I do it.  So I thought I’d share a little bit about my writing process.  You know, for those interested in that sort of thing.  Those of you who are just looking for more “Hot Naked Women” posts probably won’t be interested.  You can move along.  (But thanks for being the more than 75% of all web traffic that passes through my blog since that post was published.  You really class up the place.)  

First of all, I should say that I do have a writing process by which I create all my work, but it’s not the most professional model you’ll find.  The biggest flaw in my particular process is time.  In addition to being a novelist, anyone who has read many of my other posts knows that I’m also a stay-at-home dad with an extremely creative four-year-old.  I’d like to dedicate a specific time slot to my writing each day and remain consistent, but I don’t have that luxury.  The other day I turned my back for a few seconds to get a drink and the child somehow managed to disassemble the television remote.  Therefore, I tend to do most of my writing not at a quiet desk but in bed after everyone is asleep or else at the dining room table where I can observe the play areas of the house.  I neither write for a predetermined amount of time nor a specific number of words or pages.  I write until I’m tired or until I can no longer concentrate or until I have to stop to tend to my household chores.  Or until it appears that the cat may be in mortal danger. 

Typically, I tend to compensate for my lack of writing focus by spending more time thinking about my work.  I am constantly planning scenes and feeling out characters and constructing new dialog while I go about my daily routine of managing the house chores and rescuing the pets.  As far as I’m concerned, daydreaming is just a part of my job.  (So to all those teachers who told me to wake up and focus on my work in school, I say suck it!)  (I’d also like to point out for the record that I still haven’t found a practical use for any of that trigonometry nonsense, either.) 

Every great story begins with nothing more than an idea.  But not just any idea will do.  After all, I’ve had some pretty bad ideas in my life.  (That meat slicer incident comes to mind…)  It has to be strong.  It has to be packed with potential.  It has to be the kind of idea I can build an entire world around.  No matter how cool I might think an epic battle between two scantily clad supermodels in a giant tub of chocolate pudding might seem, there is simply no way I can think to build a realistic plot leading up to such an event.  Regardless of how many times I try… 

When I have an idea that I can build a world from, I write the story.  I won’t bore you with a long, drawn-out description of how I go about sitting down and writing it.  Mostly because I asked my wife to proof-read this post and she told me you’d probably be bored with those seven pages…  I don’t know why that would be.  I’m sure you’re just devastated to miss out on hearing all about how I construct a thorough set of notes on plotlines and character development and progression outlines and how I’m very particular about the kind of pen I use and what temperature I like the room to be and…  Well, maybe that page about my bathroom breaks might have been a little too much information…  Yeah, let’s just leave it at I write the story.

Once the manuscript is finished, I put it aside.  I put some distance between it and myself.  I start a new story or I edit a previous one.  I read a book.  I watch some movies.  I engage myself in a good video game.  I work on that monster I’m building in my basement that my wife says I’ll never bring to life, like she knows anything about reanimation science.  It’s just not thunderstorm season yet, that’s all.  I get my mind off the story as much as I can.  Sometimes weeks or even months go by.  By the time I return to the manuscript, it should feel new again.  Then the editing process begins. 

This is where the most difficult of the work is.  I am an obsessive editor.  I enter the process with a firm conviction that my work is severely flawed and riddled with embarrassing errors that I will probably never be able to fully eradicate.  And I am, for all intensive purposes, absolutely correct.  There’s no such thing as a perfect story.  There’s always one more word you can change, one more sentence you can improve.  And as the writer, I know what I meant to say when I wrote it, making it difficult to see what I actually put on the paper.  Just a single incorrect letter in tens of thousands of words can have catastrophic results to a manuscript.  Don’t believe me?  Consider the difference between the words “message” and “massage” for a moment.  The sentence, “Bill received a personal message from his mom,” can become a dramatically different statement by changing only that one letter.  With one single keystroke, your young adult novel just became really freaky.  I am compelled to read my work over and over and over again.  I question every line, every word.  I become utterly absorbed in eradicating every possible error.  I am obsessed with it.  It’s not my best quality, I’ll admit, but it’s useful for the end result.  And it’s not like I obsess over everything.  Only over my writing.  And sometimes pickles, but that’s an entirely different discussion. 

As you might imagine, the whole process can be very time consuming.  It can take many weeks just to prepare a little short story.  But the end result can be extremely rewarding.  After all I’ve done, all the hours I poured into it, the endless reading and rereading…after all that…when I received that very first five-star review on Amazon…  I can’t describe how satisfying that was.  To love what you do is one thing.  To know that others love what you do just as much as you…  That means an awful lot. 

Now back to those supermodels and that pudding…

Lies, Lies, Lies!

How wrong is it to lie to your children?  I mean we tell all those elaborate fibs about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and that Mischievous Magic Gnome that sometimes locks mommy and daddy in their room for no apparent reason in the middle of the day…  Um…  Of course, not everyone celebrates the same…things…  I’m just saying we go to a lot of trouble for this stuff.  Milk and Cookies.  Hiding eggs.  Risking life and limb to sneak into a dark and treacherously messy room to exchange that little tooth for a dollar.  It’s like a game for grownups.  A few nights a year, we pretend to be covert agents.  Tell me you’ve never played the Mission Impossible theme music in your head as you slide your hand under that pillow.  It can’t really just be me.

     I’ve heard of people who get really bent out of shape about these kinds of lies.  They feel betrayed.  They trusted their parents and how could they dare tell these blatant lies to an innocent, impressionistic child?  Really?  Personally, I think these people are WAY too sensitive.  Seriously, grow up.  I love that my parents cared enough to give me a little magic in this otherwise grim and unsympathetic world.  No matter how cold the world becomes, at least I believed in something magical at least once in my life.
     But what about all those other lies?  As parents, we want so badly to protect them from the world.  And as such, there are truths that we’re not immediately comfortable with.  Like where meat comes from.  No mom is in any hurry to tell her children where pork chops come from.  Or cheeseburgers.  Or Chicken McNuggets.  And we certainly can’t discuss sex with our children!  God no!  We cannot possibly tell them where babies really come from.  We invent stories of noble storks and magical cabbage patches to explain away those perfectly natural, if incredibly uncomfortable questions about the origins of our individual lives.  And really, after we’re all grown up, we look back on those lies we were told with heartfelt gratitude.  Because Mom DID NOT DO THAT.  End of story.  And if birth is an awkward subject, death is unthinkable.  Family pets don’t die.  They just go away.  The goldfish is just taking the toilet back home to his family who live out in the ocean.  Sparky didn’t get run over, he just ran away.  Great Grandma moved to Florida.  We don’t even realize how many lies we tell.
     And then there are the lies we can’t help but want to tell them.  After you’ve spent all day cleaning that messy closet, don’t you just want to tell them about the child-devouring monster that lives in there so they’ll stay the hell out of it and leave it nice and clean?  Because you know otherwise it’s going to be trashed by bedtime.  Aren’t you at least a little bit tempted?  And what better way to keep them out of the basement?  Or the attic?  Or the cabinet where you keep your Spice Girls doll collection?  Or…you know…whatever you happen to be into…  All I’m saying is that fear is a powerful motivator, people!  Parents have been using the boogeyman and his kind to keep kids in line since the dark ages.  To this day, I’ve never incurred the wrath of the unthinkable demon that dwells in my dad’s dresser…  (Mental note:  sometimes when we outgrow the fantasy, what remains is infinitely more terrifying…)
     And really, it’s not exactly a lie that too much candy will give you nightmares.  I mean it could…right?  Maybe?  I mean it never gave me nightmares, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen to my kids…  Better safe than sorry, right?  And so what if I don’t have proof that my favorite kinds of candy just happen to cause the worst nightmares?  It’s still a valid theory.
     Is it wrong to tell them that it’s against the law to take them to the ice cream shop because you forgot to renew your ice cream buying permit?  Should I feel bad for showing my kids a picture of Hiroshima and telling them that’s what happens when a child shakes the soda her dad asked her to bring him from the fridge?  What about saying we can’t get a puppy because we live next to a Lutheran church?  (It’s a religious thing.  I don’t really get it.)  We can’t buy that doll because it might offend certain social stereotypes.  You can’t spend the night at Billy’s house because his parents are communist spies.  Little things like that.  Like when you tell them they need to take a nap because you need to take a nap.  Or that they need to eat more Brussels sprouts because they’re good for them, not because you hate them and don’t want to have to finish off the dish.
     I’m just saying that sometimes a little white lie can’t hurt.  And if Santa Claus can really come down the chimney once a year, when we don’t even have a fireplace, why can’t a few nightmares help ensure that they leave some of that candy for me?  I don’t think it’s all that unreasonable.

What I Do

I’ve been enjoying myself these past few months with these blog entries.  Hopefully I’ve been as entertaining to all my readers as well…because it would be kind of sad and pathetic if I were only amusing myself…again…  I also hope you’ve taken the time to check out my books.  They are, after all, the whole reason I started this blog.

     If you’ve been reading all my posts, you probably have a good idea of what my books are about, even if you haven’t found the time to read any of them yet.  But I seem to find myself again and again on the subject of the identity of my books.  What are they?  Are they horror?  Are they adventure?  When I refer to them as “dark” what exactly does that mean?  I know that I’ve posted on this subject before, fretting about how to better market my work and how to clearly identify it for its appropriate audience.  But I’m simply not convinced that I’ve found the best way to describe my work.  I’ve found myself in a number of conversations lately in which this subject has come to light.  One conversation in particular stands out to me.
     Recently, I was contacted by an old friend of mine who had finally gotten around to reading The Box.  He wasted no time—and certainly no words—in telling me how much he utterly hated it.  Now I’d like to state for the record that this is perfectly fine by me.  I didn’t throw a tempter tantrum or lock myself in my room and refuse to come to dinner.  I didn’t respond that he was clearly a deranged and ignorant simpleton who obviously had no idea what good writing looked like.  I would obviously never think anything like that…  I didn’t even point out the dozen 4- and 5-star reviews my work has recieved from readers who clearly would disagree with his opinions.  But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel it deep down in my soul.  It was, after all, the first and, as I write this, the only bad review I’ve ever received.  And the first one always stings the worst.  But it wasn’t as if I wasn’t prepared for it.  I’d been bracing myself for that first scathing review since I began writing.  It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, there’s always someone who won’t like your work.  But I hadn’t expected such raw negativity from someone I considered a friend.  As such, I didn’t know how to respond at first.  I didn’t intend to defend my work.  It was clear to me that he despised it and I didn’t want to come off as defensive.  That seemed childish.  I simply thanked him for his feedback.  But my failure to respond must have seemed far harsher than any retaliation I could have verbalized, because he soon contacted me again, concerned that I must utterly loathe him now.  He continued to defend his opinion, which he is certainly entitled to, by telling me in more detail what he thought was wrong with it.  However, as he told me all the things he didn’t like about it, and all the things he would rather have seen done, it became apparent that we were envisioning two entirely different novels right from the start.  He wanted the characters to possess unspeakable inner demons.  He wanted them to be repressing dark desires, to be self-loathing.  He wanted them to secretly desire to hurt each other.  He wanted them to be psychologically broken by the horrors they encountered, to suffer, to feel indescribable anguish.  He hated that the characters had the option of turning back at any point and that they didn’t transform into depraved monsters as they ventured deeper into the temple.  Yuck!  I hated everything he suggested.  I was quick to respond that these things would have ruined the book for me, that their ability to turn around was a part of their story, that the discoveries made by the reader hinged on their ability to summon the courage to keep moving forward.  I argued that the reader is supposed to relate to my characters, feel for them, even love them, not wish to see them psychologically tortured into madness.  It seems that when I referred to the story as a “dark adventure,” he immediately jumped to the assumption that I meant for the content of the book to be utterly black.
     Is this what people think when I use the term “dark adventure?”  Do people think my work is disturbingly grim and bleak?  Does the word “dark” already possess such connotation that the work attached to it must be the blackest, most obscene material imaginable?  I consider my work to be on the lighter side of horror.  I hesitate to call The Temple of the Blind horror alone because I don’t want people thinking it’s going to be all nightmares and monsters.  It should appeal to fans of Stephen King, but also to fans of a wide range of horror, suspense, adventure, mystery and even romance.
     So what is the best designation for what I write?  My short stories tend to be typical horror tales, but when I pour my efforts into a full-sized novel, the story tends to grow beyond those boundaries.  Is it still horror?  Is it dark adventure?  Is it suspense?  Thriller?  Or is it merely supernatural fiction?  And does it really matter what I choose to label it?  Does it make any difference?  The story remains the same.  The trick, as always, is how do I get more people to read it?  How do I convince the world that my book is a good read?
     In time, I’ll sort out all the pieces.  As my audience grows and I gain more reviews both glowing and scathing, I’ll begin to understand what works and what doesn’t.  For now all I can do is keep writing and hope that my readers keep talking about my work.

How the World Ends

The year 2012 is upon us!  Destruction is nigh!  Doom!  Armageddon!  Wrath of God!  Cats and dogs living together!  Mass hysteria!

I, for one, am not ready to start stocking my bunker just yet.  We’ve been through this before, you know.  Y2K.  Hale-Bopp.  That Harold Camping guy back in May and then again in October.  The Spice Girls breaking up.  We’ve endured all manner of doom.  We even saw Janet Jackson’s nipple on live television and somehow the world kept turning!

     I will continue my writing long after the Mayan Calendar finishes its doomsday countdown.  You will continue to read my books, uninterrupted by earthquakes, geomagnetic reversals or zombies.  The earth will spin merrily away, undisturbed by Nibiru or Planet X or Nemesis or Krypton or whatever the hell is supposed to be lurking out there.
     There will be no fire and brimstone, no comet of death, no ice age, no solar disaster, no horsemen of the apocalypse.  I can tell you how the world will end.  I’ve known it for years.  And it won’t be pretty.  Pray tell, you say?  How will the world end, you ask?  What eventual doom awaits us all?  I warn you, it’s not for the squeamish.  But if you’re bold enough to handle the truth, I will tell you…
     The world will end by DE-EVOLUTION.
     That’s right.  De-evolution.  (Or “devolution” if you want to be technical.)  Just look around you.  Aren’t there considerably more stupid people in the world today than there were a hundred years ago?  Do you watch the news?  Do you see the people you work with?  Have you ever worked with customers in retail?  Haven’t you noticed that something is very much amiss in the gene pool?
     Oh, sure, it’s not as action-packed as the sky falling down around us.  It’s no glorious, fire-belching super volcano.  It wouldn’t make a very exciting movie.  After all, it’s simply not going to happen all at once.  It’s going to take a long, long time.  But mark my words:  when there’re no more jobs in telemarketing, the incompetent will walk the earth!
     It’s our own fault, really.  We’ve created such a safe and comfortable society.  We have seatbelt and helmet laws.  We have workplace safety regulations.  We have redundant procedures on everything that could possibly cause anyone harm.  It’s harder and harder these days for evolution to take its natural course and kill off all the stupid people.  It’s supposed to be survival of the fittest, isn’t it?  That’s how evolution works.  The more suited for survival the individual is, the better he fares, the longer he lives, the more offspring he sires, the more he contributes to the evolution of the species.  The stupid animals are supposed to get eaten.
     Perhaps this is the price of climbing to the top of the food chain.  Perhaps this is nature’s way of limiting the term of office for the apex predator.  It makes sense, I suppose.  And we probably have it coming for knocking off those dodos…
     Yes, it’s going to get quite ugly in the next few centuries.  But this certainly won’t be our final year.
     …unless, of course, the stupid people have already found the warheads…