They Like Me, They Really Like Me ...
I have been writing in the horror and dark fiction genres for quite some time now--more than ten years, in fact. Sure, I dabble in sci-fi and fantasy once in a while, but even then my stories usually have a dark side.
Now, perhaps I'm a bit jaded because I'm a life-long fan of all things scary, but I don't consider my books or stories "terrifying." Creepy? Quite often. Spooky? Sure. Suspenseful? Yes. Frightening? Sometimes, especially in certain scenes. But I read my own stuff and I don't think it's the kind of thing to engender nightmares in people.
Yet, many of my so-called "biggest fans" disagree with me, and I recently found out just how much.
Now, you know what I mean by "biggest fans." They're the people closest to you--your family. Parents, siblings, spouses, perhaps even children or aunts or cousins. For me, my immediate family consists of a wife, parents, parents-in-law, sister-in-law, and a brother-in-law.
They all proclaim constantly how much they love my books, how proud they are of me, how everyone should buy my stuff. They all want autographed copies every time a story or book comes out. They promote me on their Facebook and Twitter pages.
But do they actually read what I write?
My parents are always asking me about my books, and telling me how much they love them, and how this one was so suspenseful, and this one was too gory for them, and how did I come up with this character, etc., etc. I always figured they were reading the books I gave them. They're big readers, and I know they've read some horror in addition to the mysteries and medical thrillers they enjoy. Hell, they're the ones who got me started on horror as a kid. So the other day, I was at their house and I dropped off a copy of Blood Lite III for them. "I've got a story in it," I told them. "It's humorous, like the rest of the stories. Comic horror. A nice change of pace from the stuff I usually write."
"Oh, we like all your stuff," my mother said. "It's not that scary. No worse than anything else that's out there."
"Some of it scares your mother," my dad said, laughing a bit.
"Like what?" I asked.
"That last book you did," she said. "I couldn't finish that one."
"The Burning Time?"
"Yes. Too scary for me. And too bloody."
"What about Cemetery Club, the one before that?"
"Oh, no," she said. "I got scared after a few chapters and had to put it down. I'm going to finish it, though."
Considering it's been two years since I gave it to her, I have my doubts. I was also beginning to see a trend. I asked about some other books, and it turned out she hadn't been able to finish any of them.
I turned to my dad. "You read them, though, right?"
Ever see your father caught in a lie? Their faces turn very red.
"Well, not exactly. I've read some of the short stories, but they're really dark. And your novels ... well, you know me. I prefer mysteries, not the real scary stuff. I really liked that one about the girl who can talk to ghosts, though."
"Oh, yes! That one was excellent!" My mother actually clapped her hands. "I tell all my friends they should read that one first."
"Ghosts of Coronado Bay?" I asked. They both nodded. "Great," I told them. "You know that's a Young Adult novel, right?"
"You should write more like that one," my mother said.
At that point, I changed the subject.
Of course, my wife's side of the family is no better.
I've known for a long time that my wife finds me too scary to read. She read my first novel, Carnival of Fear, and some of my first short stories, and then asked me to stop asking her to read things. Why? Nightmares. She enjoys horror, but not the real scary or gruesome stuff. Under the Dome? Heart-Shaped Box? Misery? Those she can handle. Seize the Night? The Shining? It? Much too scary for her. I once gave her something by Wrath James White to read, hoping she'd see how truly grotesque and chilling a writer can be and then she'd be more accepting of what I write, but instead she yelled at me for the nightmares she was going to have and complained that now if we go out to dinner with him again she's going to wonder what the hell he's thinking. So, I gave up on her as a fan and moved on.
Her parents? The first two novels I published, they asked for signed copies. Then, right before my third one came out, we were visiting them in Florida and I saw the books on a shelf with some other fiction--mostly murder mysteries and medical thrillers. Her mom is the big reader, so I asked how she'd liked mine.
"Actually, I couldn't get through more than a couple of chapters of each one," she admitted. "They were so frightening. Just reading the first chapters of Carnival of Fear had me terrified to go to bed. But we put them out whenever we have company so that other people can see that you write books."
Since then, I haven't given them any of my author copies.
My sister-in-law is even worse. Just mention the word ghost, and she gets nervous. She can't even watch the really bad SyFy channel movies because they frighten her too much. Needless to say, she's never even opened one of my books.
Luckily, her husband is a huge horror fan. He reads everything I write, and loves it. Talks to me about the plots and characters all the time. Which I'm glad of, because if it wasn't for him, and some friends who constantly want to know when the next book is coming out and if I'll kill them in one of my stories, I'd probably have a very bad case of "special child." You know, the kid in every family who thinks he's great at something (drums, guitar, writing, painting, etc.) and everyone agrees with him to his face and then they roll their eyes behind his back and ask each other when the hell he's gonna realize he sucks but they're not going to be the one who tells him.
Being a horror writer in a family of people who think Stephen King is the scariest man on Earth and who automatically flick past any horror movie on TV can be disappointing. I often wish I had some people close to me who could serve as extra pairs of eyes for my writing.
But as long as they keep telling people to read my books, who am I to complain?
Recommended Reads: A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand. What can go wrong when two kids decide to use a voodoo doll to get back at their teacher for an unfair grade? When it's a Jeff Strand book, everything, and with hilariously grotesque consequences. The Douglas Adams of horror does it again with this YA novel.
Promoting Myself Again
SPECIAL CHARITY EVENT: Purchase any of my books on Amazon, especially The Burning Time, and I will donate $1 to "Save the Ta Tas," which is an organization raising money for breast cancer research. All you need to do is send me a proof of purchase (email@example.com).
Hot off the presses! The Burning Time, my novel of Cthulhulian monsters, an evil being from beyond time, a town that is tearing itself apart, and the country mage who has to find a way to stop the madness before the whole town gets dragged down to Hell.
Still available: Cemetery Club, a chilling novel about four old friends returning home to fight the demons they released as children.
He Waits, Carnival of Fear, Ghosts of Coronado Bay, The Cold Spot, and The Monster Inside, all at your favorite online bookstore or direct from my publishers (or me, if you want a signed copy).