Stumbling Into The Horror Field

In the comments for my “Pinch Bobby ‘Til He Bleeds” post, Almostgotit asked how I got into writing horror and why I got out.  Like many things in life, I just sort of stumbled into it, but getting out again was a little more complicated.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I first started submitting material, I was actually trying to break into the field of comic books.  I had quite the portfolio of series that I was peddling, including:

  • Night Watchman, which of course eventually became the novel of the same name
  • Television Man, which also eventually became the novel of the same name (currently unpublished)
  • Future Cops, about time-traveling law enforcement officers, which eventually became the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Timecop.  (Just kidding.  Future Cops was way better than Timecop.)
  • The Battalion, a standard regular super-hero comic
  • Cyberhawk, another standard regular super-hero comic, featuring one of the characters from The Battalion
  • Tales from the Dragon, which eventually became the novel Dragon Stones

Out of these, the horror comic Night Watchman was the best received and came closest to being published, by Eclipse, at least until my would-be editor moved to New Zealand.  *SIGH*

Anyway, once I abandoned the whole comic book idea in favor of writng novels (the main reason being that, while I can write, I really can’t draw), it seemed like the logical thing to do was to mine my comic books for material; and it seemed like the logical one to start with was the one that got the most positive response.  And so, Night Watchman became my first serious horror novel.  (We’ll leave aside my intervening stab at detective novels; and while I actually wrote Long Before Dawn before Night Watchman, and Long Before Dawn is indeed a horror novel, it belongs to the very specific sub-genre of vampire novels.  Night Watchman, on the other hand, is full-on horror in the same vein as Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game.)

Around this time I became aware of the Horror Writers Association (HWA).  Figuring it would be worthwhile to belong to such an organization, I joined up.  Through HWA, I found out about the 1997 World Horror Convention, which was to be held in Niagara Falls.  We lived in upstate New York then, so I signed up for it and went, even dragging my wife along.  Sorry, hon.  (A few stories from the 1997 WHC can be found here.)  At WHC, I went to various panels and discussions and even accidentally did a reading, and came away with the distinct impression that the market for horror novels at the time was very, very poor.  I had decided I was pretty good at this horror thing, though, and rather than switch genres, I switched mediums, and spent the next five years or so cranking out short stories, probably 80%-90% of them horror.  I sold enough of them to keep me motivated (my frequent “Random Rejection” posts notwithstanding), and eventually built up some name recognition in the field, culminating in the publication of the horror novels A Flock of Crows is Called a Murder and Night Watchman.

By now, in the early 2000s, the horror market seemed to be picking up again; but it had changed, and so had I.  Tune in next week for part two of our story, in which I quit the HWA and, eventually, the entire field of horror writing, and also give up on the whole “getting other people to publish my books” thing.

10 thoughts on “Stumbling Into The Horror Field

  1. Its amazing how we find our niche, in places we never thought we would. Although since I am afaid of my own shadow, and not a fan of a scary book, I probably will never be able to pick one up. Now if I did like horror I would have bought al your publications by now. I suppose I will have to placate myself with Dennis’s adventures, which I truly love!


  2. It’s so true that the things we like to do, indeed, have talent in doing don’t necessarily come easily. It proves your commitment James, to work towards that undefineable thing that someday someone will say “You’re so lucky to have published so well,” Luck is a result of hard work and (eventual) good timing….or something like that 🙂 .


  3. you’re a dream come true. i also want to write. a book, a story that is. it’s inspiring to read about your journey. live your dream. what better way is there to spend one’s life….


  4. So glad you picked up the ball and ran with it! The nuts and bolts of being a writer — including making these sorts of decisions and career moves — always intrigue me.

    I look forward to “part two!”


  5. I’ve never considered reading or writing horror because I think it would give me awful nightmares and keep me awake at night. (Yeah, okay, so I’m posting this at 1 AM… and I always have awful nightmares, despite a careful literary diet of sunshine and rainbows… but moving on…)

    I’m always intensely curious to find out why people get involved in the things they do; it’s fun and helpful to read about other people’s lives and destiny. Ready for Part Deux!


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