random writer thought #27

As a ghostwriter by trade, I feel I am qualified and justified in stating the following:

They call it ghostwriting because you’re being haunted by someone else’s ideas and thoughts. And sometimes, when the words don’t come even though you already have the idea right there in front of you, you feel like a ghost yourself.

random writer thought #104

Look, my family loves Christmas. We’re Christmas geeks. I am also not one of those writers that thinks you should choose one genre you’re comfortable with and stick with it. Do the math and you can figure out where this is going. Yes, I’ve been tinkering with a Christmas book for the past 7 months. It was going very well and then, at about the 53,000 word mark, I hit a big Christmas-themed brick wall. There’s tinsel and broken Christmas lights everywhere. Santa’s sleigh is overturned and everything smells like candy canes. Send help.

random writer thought #23

There is a fully functional area that exists somewhere between mainstream paranormal and Christian thriller. I know it’s there. I can sometimes feel it, sort of like the “hole opening up in the paper” that Paul Sheldon can sense in Misery. If someone finds the way to get there before I do, would you let Cooper M. Reid and I know? I think he’s been there but can’t quite remember the way.

Book Bag: The Grip of It by Jan Jemc

 

31574739._SY475_Quick note: I let this blog go to waste for far too long. I just don’t enjoy blogging. It’s a sad fact. But you know what I do enjoy? Talking about books and writing. So let’s give this another go. Every now and again, I’ll write something for a series of blogs I’m going to tentatively title Book Bag. These will be reviews of books I’ve either just finished reading or have read in the past but I keep coming back to.

I’ll also talk about writing, but not always in the look-at-me promo sense. I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. Hang tight and we’ll see.

But, for today, the first entry in Book Bag goes to Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It.

This seemed like a fitting book to start this attempt at this blog’s fifth or sixth life. It’s one of those books that I honestly did not like after the first 50 pages but then realized about halfway in that it had hooked me.

The Grip of It is a wholly unique haunted house story. It’s not the best in this particular corner of the horror genre (I firmly believe Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves will forever hold that title) but it is right up there. There are similarities in Grip and Leaves, though. Neither is a haunted house tale in the traditional sense…and I know some may even go so far as to say Leaves isn’t even truly a haunted house story at all.

Some may say the same thing about Grip because at its core, the house isn’t really the crux of the story. It’s a novel about marriage and how it’s a relationship that can erode, evolve and deteriorate. When it does play up the haunted house vibes, it does it well, even going so far as extending the haunts to the surrounding environments whether its the forest behind the house, a cave, or some pretty bizarre kids that seem to really enjoy climbing trees. The story is written so well that you sometimes aren’t sure which mystery you want solved first: the one surrounding the house itself or why the marriage of our central characters is in the state it is in.

This book sort of creeps into your head a bit. The chapters are mostly short and abrupt but in a very good way. There are POV shifts that are a little hard to follow but I think the disorientation of it makes the story even more intriguing. Even if you aren’t quite sure who is speaking at the start of the chapter, it often really doesn’t matter…it adds to the deteriorative feel of it all, of making you second guess the morals and methods of the characters as the house starts to affect them in their own separate ways.

A Hard Reset

My last post talked about my decision to un-publish all of the self-published work I had up that had no redeeming qualities. It’s no secret that I got my start writing horror…and some of that horror was straight up grim and gory. I’ve never been a fan of gore for the sake of gore, but looking back on it I feel that some of my material flirted with that rule.

So, after taking a few titles down, I was left with two other horror books that were under contract with a publisher. I figured there was no sense in really pursuing this because of contractual obligations. I felt I had done what God was leading me to do and had to be content with that. If I’ve learned anything in my Christian life, it’s that when we show obedience, He will respond in some form or another.

This was no exception.

Two weeks resetafter making that decision, I got an e-mail from Severed Press, the press that my titles Serpentine and Nests were published by. While neither of these books are really evil per se, they were also not in line with my current writing goals. (Although, fun note: there was originally going to be a subplot in Nests that would have made it a weird sort of Christian fiction that I decided not to add because it changed the scope of the story).

The e-mail I received informed me that they would be effectively killing those titles because sales were not going so well.

Honestly, it hurt for about two minutes. But then I realized the freedom in this. While I am incredibly proud of both of those books (Nests, in particular, holds a forever spot in my heart), having Severed remove them was sort of the answer to a prayer I had been too scared to voice.

I now have the freedom to work with a Hard Reset. Bound is maybe the best example of the writing I’d like to pursue in the foreseeable future. I am working on two projects that are both Christian fiction in scope, but dark and a little dreary. In the past, I’d be concerned about brand confusion and all of that nonsense. But because of this Hard Reset, that worry is gone.

This is also a good place to also state that brand confusion should not be a thing. A writer should be able to write what they want to write—which is why at one time I had titles concerning both the gospel presented through the prevention of sex trafficking and inter-dimensional monsters at the same time.

Is it sad to see fewer titles on my Amazon page? Absolutely.

But the cool thing about this series of events is that it’s a tangible and very clear indication that the decision I made to take my earlier work down was the right one…a God-led one, in fact. And the fall of Serpentine and Nests is, as far as I’m concerned, God coming along behind me and cleaning the rest up.

Nests may see life again one day, with the complete Christian arc in place. In the meantime, I’m very excited about my current projects and where this incredibly crazy writing career is taking me.

The plans are many but the time is few. And that’s apparently one thing about my writing that will never change.

 

Tearing Things Down and Building Them Again

About three months ago, I got an idea for a book. It came to me in a strange place, a place where my mind usually doesn’t wander. I was sitting in church, listening to one of our pastors talk about the Israelites being delivered out of Egypt in the Exodus narrative. The idea came slowly but by the end of the service, I had the whole book mapped out in my head.

I knew, though, that it would be a difficult book to write. It was going to require tons of research. It was going to have me looking intimately at certain passages of scripture that I have always wrestled with. And, quite frankly, it was going to require me to step out of a comfort zone that I have relied on for far too long.

See…those that have visited this sorry excuse for a blog over the last several years know that I am a Christian. But even a step beyond that, I have worked pretty hard over the last few years to successfully weave my faith into my fiction. The results were books like Break Every Chain and Bound. These books would easily be considered Christian fiction (though I think many traditional Christians might steer away from the horror elements of Bound) and I am fine with that. Even my Cooper M. Reid books are heavily influenced by my faith but I also know that traditional Christian markets would never consider them Christian fiction.

But those are genre arguments and that’s a post for an entirely different day.

The comfort zone I need to step out of is proclaiming myself a Christian, almost as if it is an excuse. Hey guys, I still write horror from time to time but it’s okay because I’m a Christian and my faith is a big part of my writing now.

Or something to that affect.

But as this new story idea evolves and I get more dedicated to writing it, I’m realizing that labeling myself a “Christian in the publishing industry” isn’t good enough. I’ve really looked back on my past writing projects as well as my old ideologies and made a pretty tough decision. Or, rather, one that should have been tough but was made with relative ease earlier this week.

Anything I have written that does not contain a reflection of my faith has been taken down from Amazon. And since I went all in with Amazon due to KDP, that means that those titles are now gone. Extinct. No more.

This includes the very first book I ever had traditionally published, The Bleeding Room. Others that are gone are The Masks of Our Fathers (which, looking back, was really far too long and should have just been a long short story) and The Hollows (which, if I’m being honest, is probably the weakest of my books).

This decision took so long because in the past few years when the idea to un-publish them came around, I refused to do so. The only reason I had to do it was not wanting to scare away Christian readers that had discovered me through Break every Chain or Bound. And to me, that was sort of like selling out.

But the decision this time around was different. I see it as resetting my career in a way. And this time, it just made sense. It also stems from a very inspiring speech from a very random person that I would have never expected to have been inspired by. (The guy is Phil Vischer and the talk can be found here for those interested).

It also came form a snippet of a message at our church from last year. It made me realize that those that call themselves Christians and only do the trendy and attention-seeking chores are making other Christians look bad. The example given in the message was: “those that post Bible verses on Facebook and have the Jesus fish emblem on the backs of their cars but outside of Sunday gossip, slander and tear others down…stop it. Stop it and shut up because you’re making the rest of us look bad.”

I am, of course, paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. And while I don’t think I slander or gossip or tear others down, I was proclaiming the name and nature of Christ while also promoting stories and ideas that had no moral high ground or redeeming qualities.

Let me preemptively clear up a misconception that can be taken away from this. I see nothing wrong with writing horror. And honestly, I still write it to some extent. I am absolutely not one of those Christians that bash horror…though there are personally some movies I won’t watch or books I won’t read because I don’t feel connected to them due to their explicitly evil nature. (Yet another blog post for another day…)

But with where I am spiritually, I simply can’t do it anymore. The Bleeding Room is a great example of this. I wrote that book when ghost hunting was popular and I was even dabbling in it. It was written for the express purpose of scaring the hell out of people and getting gore down onto the page. I’m still proud of the book but when I think about the 25 year-old that started shipping it around to agencies and publishers, I don’t recognize him. Or, rather, maybe I do recognize him but just don’t identify with him anymore.

I am fully aware that those that know me well or even those that have read this blog fairly regularly will think no differently of me because of this. And in that regard, I guess I’m fortunate. While I still write with a bent towards the supernatural, that bent comes from a different place now. And really, this story idea that smacked me in the middle of church three months ago is going to be the ultimate exercise in that.

For those that don’t believe in God, I think there is a misunderstanding about the core of Christian belief. Having been a non-believer for the first 26 years of my life, I understand it. That misunderstanding is that the core of how we live our lives is based on a belief in a God that we can’t physically see. But in a case like this one, it goes one step further. It’s believing that the God we can’t physically see will bless us in one way or another if we trust in him and take these bigger decisions and plop them down into his hands. And believe me…this decision to take down old titles and focus solely on stories that are a bit out of my comfort zone was not a decision that Barry Napier would have ever made on his own.

Whether you’re a believer or not, I think everyone reaches that point in life where you know something needs to change. This change had been nudging at me for about a year but just now nudged hard enough to wake me up and push me in an unfamiliar direction.

Here’s hoping the majority of you will come along to see where that direction takes me.

 

 

Running

A few weeks ago, I decided I was going to start trying to stay in shape. This was brought on when I realized my mortality and weaknesses after playing on the trampoline with the kids for about ten minutes.

Aches. Pains. Shortness of breath. It wasn’t like this two years ago.

So I started doing little mini workouts. And I also decided that I was going to try to get back into something I swore I would never do: run.

I haven’t yet broken past that mythical threshold that seasoned runners say I need to break through in order to enjoy it. I really don’t think it exists. I will say this, though…the early morning runs to tend to give me a boost of energy and put in a better mood than I typically am at 6:00 in the morning.

Anyway, after this morning’s run I realized too late that I did not stretch before or after the run. And the pain that followed reminded me of this piece of flash fiction I wrote about 7 years ago. It was originally published in an online magazine called 52 Stitches.

Here it is, in all of it’s short running-inspired bloody glory:

 

THE MANNERISMS OF RUNNERS

It started off as an exercise thing, but now he has no idea why he runs. His leg muscles are toned and immune to shin splints. His ankles work like the hinges of a medieval drawbridge.

There is a rhythm to the wind against his face, to the pounding of his feet on asphalt like the heartbeat of a ghost. He runs and he runs and he has no idea where he is going. Three days ago he tasted salt in the air, the perspiration of the Pacific at his back. Today he smells manure and diesel. A large tractor trailer with a milk company logo barrels by like a big silver bullet looking for a werewolf that isn’t there.

He has no idea why he is still running.

There are blisters on his feet and he is certain that both socks are filled with blood. He can feel the broken flaps of skin that were once the balls of his feet rubbing against the blood soaked fabric. His eyes, lips and the insides of his nostrils are dry. His lungs are burning and there is the sensation of a weight that has sat upon his chest for so long that it has started to absorb into his skin, through his breastbone and into his heart.

Sometimes when the milk trucks go racing past, he thinks about jumping in front of one. Then maybe the running would stop and his muscles would get a rest in the ensuing explosion of calcium and Penzoil and New Balance.

He has been running for thirty weeks. He does not sleep. He only watches the world as it slumbers around him, clouds rising and falling and sprinkling stars like salt along the way. The night sky should represent rest, but it only urges him on. Run faster, it says. There is a maniac behind you.

Maybe that is why he runs; the maniac is surely still on his heels, the maniac he encountered on the corner three blocks from his home. The maniac had worn a sheet of black that covered his entire body, standing outside a bakery at 5 a.m. among the smells of baking bread and dawn. He had looked like a shadow. The man had reached out and touched him.

Tripped him.

Joined him.

Is that why he runs?

Four days ago, he coughed out his tongue.

His calves are burning. The sun exchanges skies with the moon and another day begins. He keeps running. He tastes blood in the back of his mouth. His breath sounds like sandpaper dragging across shattered glass. A car passes and beeps its horn.

He raises his hand to wave and sees the decay on the underside of his forearm. There is no blood, only mottled gray splotches. It looks like mold on bread. This brings to mind the bakery and he peeks behind him to see if he is being followed.

The maniac is back there, gliding like a rogue shadow running from the sun. It runs without feet and points him onward. It then sinks into the road and leaves only the deserted Missouri highway (or was it Kansas or Connecticut or Calvary?) to show him where to go.

The laces of his shoes bounce up and down like the ears of a mauled rabbit. This scene looks familiar. He has been here before.

God, his feet hurt.

He coughs out his tongue; two days pass. A milk truck passes him, like a silver bullet looking for…

A car passes, beeps its horn.

He has run through this place before–always running, breathing electric pain, listening to the squishing sounds from his blistered feet in his soggy red socks.

He tastes the salt of the Pacific for several days. This is soon replaced by the wafting scent of manure and pastures.

He looks back and sees his companion, always pointing forward, always robed in black–a shadow cast not by light but by the absence of it.

He hears the approaching grumble of a milk truck as he brings his left foot up, right foot down, left foot up, right foot down…

He runs on and on.

Soon he will cough and his tongue will fall out. Then a car will pass, beeping its weak little horn.

He has been here before.

And no matter how hard he runs, he will never be faster than the shadow behind him or the truth it carries.

The Blood-Soaked Mess of Making Christian Fiction and Horror Work Together

(Note: Portions of this entry were previously included in another post from a few years ago…)

I knew pretty much right away that Bound was going to end up being my first real attempt at Christian horror. Making this decision was difficult because if we’re being honest, the vast majority of Christian horror is terrible. If I’m being overly honest, I’ll take it one step further and say that in my unwarranted opinion, most Christian entertainment in general is pretty awful.

This is due to Christian creatives taking the “worldly edge” off of things. The edges can’t be rough and abrasive…they need to be finely polished as not to scratch anyone. When this is done for an audience that is already often at odds over the interpretations of scripture and other image-scarring stereotypes, it harms the finished product. This seems to be the Christian creative way of thinking, unfortunately.

That’s also one of the reasons why I, as a Christ follower, still read traditional horror. Stephen King’s It remains my favorite novel (and yes, I will be first in line when the movie is released). I am currently reading Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and finding it some of the best horror I’ve read in quite a long time. I’m a fiction junkie…and very little Christian fiction has been able to hold my interest.

Now, while I will firmly stand my ground on my opinion that the vast majority of Christian horror is flimsy, I’m not making the sweeping statement that all Christian entertainment is wretched. But in my experience, about 90% of all of the Christian horror I have read has been painful to get through. Of course, this is all work that is categorized as Christian fiction in genre. Whether the public really understands it, there are tons of Christian-themed horror works out there that are not Christian fiction but still pack a heavy dose of Christian themes and, in some cases, even promotes Christ.

Hear me out…

King’s The Stand is absolutely not a Christian novel. Some would say it is one of the ultimate stories of good vs. evil, though. But we can’t look beyond the very thick lines drawn around the fact that Flagg is the representation of Satan and that, in the end, he is destroyed by the literal Hand of God. This, plus the countless religious metaphors within the book make it something of a faith-centered story, much thanks to Frannie’s doubts and Stu’s restrained efforts to trust in Mother Abigail with nothing more than blind faith.

Another example…The Exorcist is not a Christian horror story but a great deal of the Catholic faith is discussed within it. In some respects, it is seen to even cause the demons pain and suffering and we see its response to the name of Christ and the faith (or lack thereof) of the priests performing the rites. Furthermore, William Freidkin, the director, recognizes that its more of a religious tale than anything else. He once told the Hollywood Reporter:   “I did a movie about the mystery of faith. We never thought we were doing a horror film.” (interview snippet taken from Mike Duran’s wonderful book, Christian Horror). William Peter Blatty, the author of the book, has also gone on record stating as much.

But that’s a whole different discussion.

BoundMy forthcoming novel, Bound, is something of an exorcism story, too…but with a twist and from a Christian slant that has the edges still all there, waiting to scratch and maim. As a fairly unapologetic Christian, I have seen Christian entertainment that broaches the darker side of life fail miserably and only offer the simple solution of “I’m no good and I need Jesus.” (Sadly, this quote is taken almost verbatim from the climax of one of the most popular Christian horror novels out there).

So I wanted to write something dark and pretty brutal that not only explored the darker side of life with a Christian lens, but also a story that laid out the whole good vs. evil perspective with an honest Christian view…while still scaring the pants off of the reader. How? Well, through the internal thoughts that go through the minds of believers when confronted with evil. It’s not all praying and praising and trusting that Christ will overcome. If true Christians are honest, when faced with darkness, there are doubts and there is real terror. These are the harsh edges that Christian entertainment looks beyond and ignores completely out of fear of offending fellow Christians. It’s all swept under a very large rug and we are expected to just blindly step over the lumps that are starting to accumulate.

Way back when, as I tested the self-publishing waters with Bound, I almost instantly received grief from one fellow Christian on Facebook…a Christian that had not even read the book. he claimed Bound was a disgrace, claiming that far too much entertainment “promotes the Enemy.” And while his comment was misguided and overarching, there is some truth to it.

Full disclosure (and at the risk of losing some readers, I’m sure): Yes, I believe there is a thing called spiritual warfare and, believer or not, it affects most everyone. I have experienced it firsthand, both emotionally and physically. Bound is, in part, all about that, only I did NOT write it with a solely Christian audience in mind. I wanted to write a Christian horror novel that was horror first and foremost. The Christian themes and some of the faith-based dialogue came next, and only when I was sure that they enriched the story. Even as a Christ follower, I will never write a faith-based story just to write something centered on my faith. That would be cheap. It has to be true to the plot, the gospel, the characters, and the inspirations behind it first.

Regardless of the genre, from Christian fiction to steampunk romance and all things in between…the story is what matters when it comes to story-telling. The platform is only the thing upon which the story stands. I respect my readers and know that the majority of them likely don’t share my faith, they respect story-tellers that tell good stories. As such, I will never write a book that beats anyone over the head with the Bible or claims that one particular system of beliefs is more grounded than another, since this is one of the huge downfalls of most Christian entertainment.

I read fiction because I want to be entertained…not preached to or lectured. And I think even in Christian fiction, that’s something authors should be aware of.

When all is said and done, Bound will be available in June. I believe it is one of the scariest things I’ve written and am quite proud of it. Would most people classify it as Christian horror? Probably. But the most important question is whether or not it is honest and shows the value I find in telling a story…and if it makes you hesitant to turn out the lights at night.

And the answer to those, I think, is an unequivocal yes.

Because No One Cares and I Have Changed

Hey, have you noticed I am not writing here much anymore. Like, not at all.

That’s because I am of the opinion that no one reads blogs anymore…and certainly not the blog of a writer that’s not selling tons of books.

However, times are changing. Not for blogs. I think they’re pretty much going the way of the dinosaur. But this website/blog is going to change pretty soon because I have changed over the last few years.

I look back to those posts from that younger hungry writer that had just sent The Bleeding Room to agents and publishers and while I can recognize him, he and I have agreed that I am a different writer now. 2015-2016 were years of changes and 2017 is going to be the year to realize those changes through a lens of writing.

Most of those changes, you’ll get to see here in a few different ways. Not here, in this post but here, on this site.

Some are coming soon. Some are already hinted at here and there if you know where to look.

Here’s to continued changes.

See you on the other side of the cocoon.

All the Roads

From time to time, you’ll hear a writer say  “now is the best time in history to be a writer.” While I won’t go quite that far with such a statement, I think it is pretty close. Because of self-publishing, something that still continues to gain a lot of steam and respect, there are more avenues open to aspiring writers than ever before and not just for the obvious reasons.

I currently find myself in a situation I have never been in over the course of my writing career (if it can be called that). I am extremely fortunate to find that I currently have a car in each of those avenues. How? Well…

As of two weeks ago, I have a full manuscript being considered by an agency. This has been a goal of mine since I started writing and even in a world where self publishing allows authors more control, I think it’s still a crucial aspect of the writing industry.

I am also currently writing a novel for a small press. And although that book likely won’t see the light of day until the end of 2016 or even early 2017, it’s a book I’ll be writing off and on this year, knowing that it already has a home.

I am also actively working on a large book that may or may not end up being a trilogy…the same trilogy I’ve been working on for the last two years or so. The current plan is to self-publish it.

Three projects, three different approaches. So maybe it is the greatest time in history to be a writer. Just don’t get me started on which of those avenues is the best way to go. So far, my small press earnings are about the same as my self-publishing earnings and when you put them all together, I’m still not making enough to quit the day job (which, being ghostwriting, is I guess yet another avenue a writer could take these days).

A lot of writers and industry insiders will also tell you that one avenue is by far the most advantageous. And while they may have personal data and facts to back that up, I still think it’s a writer’s best bet to keep your feet or tires or whatever in every road you can.