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 got 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 did not 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.