Earlier, I wrote a brief story about how I got into the horror field; now, as promised, is the story of how I got out.
Back in 2001, I had publishing deals lined up for my two horror novels, Night Watchman and A Flock of Crows is Called a Murder. That year, we started thinking about moving to California, and in the summer of 2001 we booked a flight out for October to visit San Diego, get a feel for the area, and see if we might want to live there.
I don’t need to remind anyone of what happened between the summer of 2001 and October of 2001.
We went ahead with the trip anyway. It was one of the stranger vacations that we ever took. Going through airports under the scrutiny of uniformed guardsmen armed with automatic weapons was surreal and unnerving. When we got to San Diego, we drew sad looks and expressions of sympathy from anyone who found out we were from New York (even though we’re not from the city itself, one thing you learn as a New Yorker is that most of the country considers the city and the state to be the same thing). Makeshift memorials were everywhere, on bridges, fences, the sides of buildings. We visited Balboa Park, not realizing that it was in the flight path of planes coming in for a landing at Lindbergh Field, and when the first jet roared by overhead at what seemed like rooftop level, the effect was nerve-wracking. Back east, the anthrax attacks and investigation were in full swing, and when we left to fly home, we threw away anything in our luggage (like detergent) that looked powdery, rather than carry it on the plane. Who’d ever had to think about stuff like that before?
Still, we decided to go ahead with the move, and left New York in 2002. We didn’t have jobs lined up, but that didn’t stop us. As you can imagine, moving cross-country proved incredibly disruptive, and it was at least six months before I sat down and seriously started trying to write again. I finished up the horror novel I had been working on (Television Man), but it proved to be an incredible slog to get it done. Once it was finished, I couldn’t seem to think of anything else to write. For about two years, I didn’t produce anything new; no new stories, no new books, nothing. I continued trying to peddle what I already had in my “back catalog” (hence my visit to the 2004 World Horror Convention in Phoenix), but I spent most of my time tweaking and rewriting, starting things but not finishing them, getting nothing done. I told my wife something like, “Killing off all my characters isn’t fun anymore.”
At around the same time, the horror market seemed to be splitting in two directions: Serial killer/torture plots like Hostel and Hannibal, and romance-horror where the vampires are just misunderstood (the sort of thing I was encouraged to write by more than one agent). Unfortunately I didn’t have any interest in either sort of story. Around this time, too, I quit the HWA, both because I was getting disillusioned with the horror market and because of what I perceived as an organizational disdain toward small-fry writers such as myself. I was in California, unmoored; I didn’t know the region well enough to set any stories here, felt too remote and disconnected from New York to set stories there like I used to, and couldn’t seem to motivate myself to do anything about it.
I finally went back into my half-finished manuscripts and pulled out a fantasy novel I had started years ago. I re-read what I had written. It was good, I thought; I couldn’t remember why I had stopped working on it. So I sat down, picked up where I had left off, and finished it. That novel was Dragon Stones. I started shopping it to agents, and got the usual very positive rejection letters. Finally, I sent it directly to my old publisher, Hard Shell Word Factory, who had put out Night Watchman. They liked it, and bought it; all I had to do was sign the contracts and it would get in the queue for publication. So I waited for the contracts. And waited. And waited.
In the meanwhile, I had become aware of Internet on-demand publishing. While I waited for my contracts on Dragon Stones, I decided to give one of the on-demand services a try. I chose my favorite of my unpublished books (the vampire novel Long Before Dawn; I still love my vampires — the real ones, not the mushy teen-dream type found in many popular novels these days) to test out their services. I was happy with the result and so, after seven months of waiting, I pulled Dragon Stones back from Hard Shell and published it on my own. Suddenly I had a new audience of people who would never pick up one of my horror novels (*COUGH* my wife for instance *COUGH*) but would be more than happy to read a fantasy novel; and I felt really good about the book. It’s my best one, I think. I had been measuring everything against A Flock of Crows and as my motivation waned, I found most of my later stuff wanting. But not this one. At that point, I thought I had found a new genre home. And when I found myself wondering whether I really wanted to post the text of “Pinch Bobby ‘Til He Bleeds” for my last random rejection, I knew it for sure. (I did end up posting it, in case you were wondering.)
So … I do still have several unfinished fantasy manuscripts on the computer, in various states of completion. For the last year or so, Dennis’s Diary of Destruction has been taking the time that I used to spend on writing and editing my books and stories. But for now, that’s okay; I write because I want people to read my stuff, not for the money. (If I were writing for money I would have given up a long time ago.) And I think a pretty strong case could be made that I’m not just writing comedy over on Dennis’s blog; I think I’m also managing to work in quite a bit of the fantastic and absurd. For the moment, I’m content with that.
Oh, and as for that other note about the browser eating my original post … well, I went out grocery shopping, and when I got back, I felt a lot less irritated with the computer, so I sat down and typed it over again after all. So I guess when I said “No Part Two” today, I lied. I hope you don’t mind.