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I began writing what would eventually become my first novel, “Suffering Madness,” in 1995.
My goals at the time were fairly small - I was targeting the short-story market in magazines to try to make a name for myself. After enough rejections to wallpaper my office, I realized my writ-ing was pretty bad. In fact, reading it might be described as a horror in itself for any magazine edi-tor.
Fortunately, my desire to write and tell stories overshadowed details like the fine mechanics of writing and I was dumb enough to press past the rejections. I joined three writers’ groups at the same time, each requiring writing assignments and critiques and each focusing on a different as-pect of writing. One focused on character development, another on the mechanics of writing and the third centered on how to tell a really good story.
All were brutal to some extent; however, one was absolutely bloodthirsty, devouring any mis-take in grammar, spelling or weak plots. Some writers jumped ship in their first or second week but again, I was too dumb to know any better. I suffered through the critiques bleeding all over my precious creations, cutting up my babies. I developed thick skin and learned to separate construc-tive criticism from personal opinion.
I spent roughly 20 to 30 hours a week working all three critique groups over the course of about three years, and I have the bruises and scars to prove it. Yet it helped get my writing pub-lished in magazines, anthology books and in newspapers.
“Suffering Madness” was conceived in the death throes of a short-story writing assignment for one of the critique groups. Supportive comments helped me evolve the assignment into a realistic novel. How could I know the short story was merely the third chapter of a much larger project?
The first draft of the book rounded off at about 130,000 words three years later. A second draft was pared down to 65,000 words. Seven drafts later, it ended at 95,000 words.
My labors caught the eye of Suzanne Kirk, then senior editor at Scribner. She liked it, though without an agent, could not take me past a handwritten letter, two dots and a sketched smiling mouth. Unfortunately, even with an encouraging letter from a prominent editor, agents scurried away from my writing like frightened spiders.
Not enough warm fuzzies about the project (really… this was verbatim, part of one response!). I believed to the real challenge was that “Suffering Madness” was too cross-genre to market.
The novel lands solidly in the horror genre, yet presents spiritual aspects lending to a Chris-tian flavor. Could there be a Christian Horror genre? This was laughable at the time. Christian Hor-ror? Is it oxymoronic?
I believe in God and I like the horror genre - am I the only one?
Today, Christian Horror is gaining popularity in Christian circles as more people realize horror is not defined as gore, blood and guts, but more as an extreme emotional response to a story, usu-ally resulting in fear, suspense, or at the very minimum, a slight trembling. Some Christian artists have labeled their writing as Christian Chillers, thrillers or suspense, yet in the end the response is the same.
A few years ago, the concept of Christian Horror was nothing more than cross-genre - and a challenge for me as I looked into marketing, attracting attention and getting this project off the ground. I spent 10 months talking to agents.
I lost a few years to cattle-prodding an agent through two marriages, two divorces and two agency closure/start-ups.
Within three months of “releasing” my agent, “Suffering Madness” found its way to the desk of four of the top 10 most prominent publishing editors in the United States (I back-doored three to get around the no-agent clause). Their reasons for rejection varied, yet personal responses pro-vided insight to the central theme of dismissal: cross-genre.
“Suffering Madness” was too scary for the Christian audience and too preachy for the secular market. You can’t suck the blood out of bodies, grind their hands in garbage disposals and scatter their remains all over a circle slide in a schoolyard playground and appeal to a Christian audience.
You also have to be careful with the “J” word for non-Christian markets; if a character says, “Jesus,” he should be cussing and not preaching or praying.
I learned publishing is less artistic and more business in the U.S. The gatekeepers in the pub-lishing world require a toll for passage – you must be a good gamble. A cross-genre novel for an established author like Stephen King, Dean Koontz or Richard Matheson is an easy risk or gamble but the odds are against a new author.
Thankfully, I found a small publisher willing to risk the odds, work with new artists, and gamble on the results. Though small publishers tend to have small marketing budgets, we see sales on Amazon and in select bookstores across the nation (no bookshelf space yet, the novel has to be special-ordered). UK marketing is scheduled.
Are there challenges in writing Christian Horror? Absolutely. We are watching a new genre grow from something laughable and oxymoronic to something more people are taking seriously. Yet anything worth your blood and sacrifice, scraping the scales off the underbelly of society, star-ing evil in the eye and still holding your head up on Sunday in church is worth the challenge.
My advice to authors: hold onto what you believe in and write what you enjoy.
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