Under the Weather

This has been a very unproductive month for me.  Sales are way down (nonexistent, to be honest).  My website is stagnant (does anybody even go there anymore?).  I’ve barely even touched my Facebook page (no friends).  I blame it on germs.  Stupid, dirty, microscopic, irritating germs.

     I’ve been sick for almost a month now.  At first I thought it was the flu.  And maybe it was the flu.  Who knows?  It felt like the flu, with all the aching and the weakness and the fever and the chills and the whining.  But then the aching and the weakness and the fever and the chills all got better.  (Not so much the whining, though, no.)  And then there was the sore throat.  Worst I’ve ever had!  Swallowing was so painful!  At this point I’m complaining and moaning as well as whining.  (You cannot imagine how miserable my poor wife must have been!)  Eventually, I decided to dig out a flashlight and peek at my throat to see if I looked as bad as I felt.  Yuck.  That wasn’t a pretty sight.  No wonder I couldn’t eat anything.  My tonsils looked as big as golf balls!  I was surprised I could even breathe!  By this time it seemed obvious that I needed to go see my doctor.
A sinus infection and strep throat.  Wonderful.  But at least I can actually start recovering now.  A few days into my two weeks of heavy antibiotics and I began to feel better.  I got up and got a few chores done.  Normality seemed almost inevitable.  Then I got sick again.  A deep, heavy cough.  Runny nose.  Weariness.  All I wanted to do was crawl into bed.  And by now my wife is way over that whole “you poor guy” phase so I’m pretty much on my own.
     And don’t think for a second that the kids haven’t taken advantage of my misfortune.  I fell asleep on the couch while my wife was at work and apparently missed a rampaging horde of destructive goblins and trolls tearing through the house.  There are toys and laundry scattered across the floor, along with the day’s mail.  I found the electric bill sticking out of the litter box of all places.  All the sheets and blankets from my daughter’s bed are in the dining room.  I’m pretty sure that’s cat food in the dryer.  There’s a banana peel in the printer.  The toilet’s clogged.  There’s a pair of pants hanging from the ceiling fan in the kitchen.  For some reason, the cat won’t come down out of the top of the closet and all the spoons are missing from the utensil drawer…  I can’t seem to find them anywhere…  They even tore my bookshelf off the wall in the living room!  I don’t understand.  I was only asleep for a little while.  How do they do it?  It’s like they have mystical, destructive powers that only work when I close my eyes.
     That cough just refuses to go away, but I’m gradually regaining my strength.  I’ve gotten back to work, both on my chores and on my writing.  I should be able to get back up to speed here on the blog and hopefully I’ll get a chance to update my website soon, too.  I’ve even made it through Easter.  It should be all downhill from here…assuming I can keep up with the little monsters…

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.

Hot Naked Women!

Now that I’ve got your attention…  (Don’t deny it.  You’re here, aren’t you?  Just curious, were you?  I’m sure you were.)  My wife and I were having a discussion today about the old adage that “sex sells” and the fact that my blog stats clearly show the most visited entry to date to be the one titled “Making the Naughty List.”  (Here’s the link, since you’ll probably be “curious” about that one, too:  harmonuniverse.com/making-the-naughty-list)  My regular visitors might remember that post being about graphic material—both sexual and violent—within my writings.  I made it clear that I don’t set out to produce graphic content, but that I also make no effort to quash this kind of subject matter when the plot progresses in that direction.  I tend to describe my work as horror, suspense, adventure and mystery, stressing these areas to draw new readers.  I am careful to mention the sexual aspects of the story in the summary of The Box, openly telling potential readers in the plot summary that “their clothes lost in a moment of strange lust, they find themselves forced to navigate the unearthly stone corridors naked and vulnerable.”  I want to be sure that no one who is easily offended by sex and nudity stumbles unwitting into my story.  If I should get a bad review, so be it, but I’d rather not receive one simply because the reader is honked off at being waylaid by an unwanted sex scene.  But otherwise, I’ve always downplayed the sexual content in my marketing, choosing to try and separate my work from the ill-perceived erotica categories.  I’ve never actively advertised my books as “sexy” or “steamy.”  But sometimes I wonder if I should.

     When I first launched my author page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BrianHarmonBooks, for those who haven’t been there and “liked” me yet), I went in search of other independent horror writers with author pages, thinking I would insert myself into a community and hopefully get a quick boost for my still-infantile social network.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to find in the way of independent horror.  Instead, I ended up having “liked” a bunch of paranormal romance writers and fans.  Don’t get me wrong, these are fine people and I wish them the best, but they weren’t very much interested in my mostly non-romantic books and I wasn’t very much interested in their mostly vampire-heavy bodice-rippers.  But I did notice that words like “steamy” and “spicy” and “sultry” were tossed around a lot in those circles.  I found myself wondering if there might be another market out there for my books if I simply came out and instead described the plot with phrases like “inexorably thrust together into an unexpected explosion of unbridled passion” and “lost utterly in a fiery fury of intense and smoldering desire.”  Sounds kind of corny, I know, but I feel like there is a noticeable sentimentality for this kind of dramatic romance.
     In book three of The Temple of the Blind the cast has grown to four characters, all of whom, by the end of chapter seven, are navigating the dark passageways in the nude.  I’ve not openly advertised this part of the plot as I have no desire to be perceived as the guy who writes books about naked people…although my titles so far do seem to suggest it as a common theme, when I stop and think about it…  (Really, not all my books will contain sexual content.)  But would more readers be drawn to this book to read about a cute blonde and a hot brunette and two really attractive guys attempting to seek out the answer to an ancient and dangerous mystery while clad in nothing but their birthday suits?  I have to wonder if that would lead to more book sales than the promise of finding out what lies beyond the fear room…
     Then again, would drawing attention to the sexual elements in my books frighten away more readers than it would bring in?  After all, the books are not about sex.  They are not really erotic.  They merely contain some erotic content.  Even when the characters are nude, it is mostly downplayed.  It’s not as if I spend the entire narrative describing…things.  (I promise I have not used the word “jiggle” even once so far.)  Perhaps, then, it would bore a reader who only purchased it for the dirty bits while those who would not have been bothered by the actual amount of sex in the book might be given the impression that it is far smuttier than it really is and pass it by without giving it a chance.  So the question really is does sex sell?
     I also have to wonder what exactly it is that defines a book as erotic.  Is it the amount of sexual content?  Or is it the graphic nature of the sexual content?  The language itself?  My wife once commented that my use of the word “thrusting” might have been all it needed to put it into the erotic category.  But I thought I kept it rather tasteful, considering the circumstances of the scene.
     I suppose it doesn’t really matter how I choose to market the book.  The content remains what it is.  If you read The Temple of the Blind, you will find steamy sex.  You will find romance.  You will find hot naked women and men.  You will also find an engaging mystery and terrifying suspense at every turn.  You will find lots of things.  So whether you’re looking for a good read or just…“curious”…  I hope you’ll check it out, if you haven’t already.  And let’s face it, you did just read a blog post titled “Hot Naked Women!”
     My Amazon Author Page (for the “curious” ones):  http://www.amazon.com/Box-Book-One-Temple-Blind/dp/1463616295

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…

First Year’s End

As December draws to a close, so does 2011.  A lot has happened these past twelve months.  Last year at this time, in the final hours of 2010, none of this existed.  Dark Things Rising was not even a thought in my mind.  My return to publishing was merely a dream collecting dust.  My work sat unread within the aging files of my computer, unheard of, unloved. 

     It began with my website, www.HarmonUniverse.com.  A simple name, I know.  Rather uncreative, but it can be difficult to pick a domain name that appeals greatly to you and is not already owned.  And besides, I like to think that, as a hub for my marketing efforts, “Harmon Universe” sums everything up quite nicely.  The whole thing was, quite honestly, my wife’s idea.  (She’s awful smart that way.)  At the time, it was little more than a starting point, a launch pad, I thought, for advertising my writing.  It was originally to be a gallery of free short stories, assembled with the hope of building a small fan base and maybe even attracting an agent.  It wasn’t until I began to contemplate selling my novels from my website that I discovered the miraculous world of independent publishing.  Before I knew it, book one of The Temple of the Blind was available for purchase on ereaders worldwide.  …And how ironic is it that I now realize my website is the most neglected of all my publishing tools?  I haven’t updated it nearly enough these past few months.  I’ve promised myself to give it more attention as I journey forward. 
     Now, as the year draws to an end, I sit here in a cloud of contemplation, reflecting on what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve released four books in my dark adventure series this year, both in digital and print formats, as well as the recent collection of short stories.  I’m not going to lie and tell you that I consider my writing career a runaway success.  I’m afraid you won’t find me at the top of any bestseller lists this holiday season.  However, I do consider 2011 to be a successful year.  Just check out my reviews on Amazon.  I’ve collected a number of fans…  It’s not a large number…  I mean there’s definitely more than zero…  And my book sales have been…well…existent.  Most months…  Still, I remain confident that my name will grow, that more and more fans will eventually find me.  I still have so much I wish to share, so many more stories, so many more adventures.  But it can be so hard to wait, can’t it? 
     Looking forward again, 2012 should be a great year.  Look for the final two books of The Temple of the Blind.  I also have a new novel in the works.  And of course I will continue to entertain you here at Dark Things Rising and keep you informed at Harmon Universe.  I have only just begun to write! 
     Thank you to everyone here on this blog who has decided to come along for the ride.  Let’s continue to see where this journey takes us. 

The Holidays Are Upon Us

Thanksgiving is fast approaching.  Fall is giving way to winter with the first snowfalls.  Holiday music can be heard in department stores everywhere.  My wife can be heard complaining about holiday music in department stores everywhere.  And we all begin to look forward to eating ourselves into a tryptophan- and gravy-induced coma.  And for me, that also means it’s time to get off my lazy butt and get to work.

     A few years ago I took over the responsibility of Thanksgiving dinner.  This was not a burden thrust upon me, understand.  I volunteered.  I thoroughly enjoy the cooking (and I’m not too bad at it, either, believe it or not).  And it’s always nice to have everyone over.  I find it fun.  And the cooking is really not so much work, especially given that I have the assistance of my wonderful wife, without whom I would never be able to deliver such a magnificent feast.  I’m sure that without her I’d probably manage only to hurt myself…or embarrass myself…or embarrassingly hurt myself…
     My menu always includes a huge roast turkey and stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, made-from-scratch rolls, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and usually enough desert for about four times as many people as would ever possibly show up.  I begin working the day before, preparing everything I can ahead of time.  Time management was the hardest part of learning to cook for me.  When I first started out I could never make everything finish cooking at the same time.  There would always be something done way too early or too late.  Thanksgiving dinner, however, has to be perfect.  I don’t want to disappoint anyone, after all, by screwing up their favorite side and so I’ve turned it into an exercise in patience and meticulous planning.
     And still the dinner is not even remotely the hardest part.  Before I even begin shopping for my annual feast, I set out to clean every surface of my house.  After all, with two children under seven in the house, it seems to be constantly in a state of disarray and there’s always some chore I’ve put off for far too long.  Like cleaning the ceiling fan blades, for example.  How embarrassing.  Usually by Halloween I’ve begun formulating a list of chores to do.  And the first thing on this list is to pick up all those toys.  The first thing on my children’s list, however, is apparently to put them back on the floor.  As quickly as possible.  In as many rooms as possible.  (They’re really good at it too.  I turn my back and playthings are scattered all over the place.  I don’t even hear it happen.  I swear they’re like little messy ninjas.)  I just cleaned the house yesterday and today there are dolls and action figures and cars and Barbie accessories everywhere I look.  I don’t understand it.  There’s a little plastic Scooby Doo on the living room floor.  Daphne’s on the dining room table.  Shaggy’s in the bath tub with Polly Pocket…  It’s like the aftermath of an epic, Toy Story kegger.  Barbie’s passed out in the back of her convertible.  Ken’s naked in the closet.  Mr. Potato Head is wearing a Cabbage Patch Kids dress.  There’s part of an Optimus Prime Halloween costume on top of the fish tank and a Little People school bus in the laundry hamper.  There’s a plush Spongebob Squarepants in the refrigerator!  How does that even happen?  One of Polly’s shoes was inside the sock I pulled out of the dryer this morning.  It’s out of control!
     Assuming I have any hope of staying ahead of these toy ninjas, I still have to sweep and mop and vacuum and dust.  The laundry has to be put away and the dishes absolutely must be clean before I start cooking.  I’ll need all the space I can get when I start prepping that turkey.
     I’ll save the windows for last, like I always do, in the naïve hope that they will stay clean at least long enough for someone to see them.  But, alas, I will barely have the first room done before I turn around to find little hand prints smeared across one or more of the panes.  Or perhaps the three-year-old will simply be licking the glass.  Again.
     And I’ll have turned my back again by this time, so let’s not forget to pick up those toys…
     Is it all worth it in the end?  Of course it is.  I look forward to it all year long, actually.  And I have no one to blame but myself for letting those ceiling fan blades get so dusty.  But I do wish the ninjas would give it a rest for a while.
     And what is going on with Shaggy and Polly in there…?