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.

 

 

Three Horror Trends that Need to Disappear

While working on my first novel that only barely touches the realm of the supernatural, I am also outlining another project.  This project is certainly going to rely heavily on the supernatural element, but I would not go so far as to call it horror.  It’s a ghost story more than anything.

I understand that for those not overly familiar with the genre, a ghost story is a horror story. I initially begged to differ. While a ghost story can deliver chills and genuine frights, my first reaction is to not call it a horror story.  And honestly, this bothers me.

When did horror become more about gore and shock value than the actual scary moments and sense of anxiousness and dread?  There are more than fifty movies released within the past five years or so that could be blamed for what I find to be a pretty disappointing state of horror.  And within those movies, there are a few central reasons that I believe have caused this shift in how people perceive horror.

Gore and Needless Violence

At the risk angering many people, I’m going to make a bold statement. Gore for the sake of gore is dumb. I’m going to use Eli Roth as an example here. Like most, my first exposure to his work was Cabin Fever.  I actually enjoyed this movie more than anything else he’s ever done.  I liked it and even enjoyed the gorier parts.

But I didn’t mind the gore because Cabin Fever was a movie that didn’t take itself too seriously.  You know pretty quickly that this is going to be a horror film with some B-movie qualities.  So you know there’s going to be gore. Being that it was the sort of movie that was basically built around gory situations, it’s permissible.

But then came Hostel.  To this day, I think it’s a stretch to call it a horror movie.  I lump Saw into this unfortunate group as well…a group many have come to call torture porn.  When looked at closely, these films are really only brutal and insanely graphic crime dramas.  But the popularity of these sorts of films have made it almost an expected part of horror movies.

Hopefully one day there will be enough of these movies where they can be excised from the label of “horror” and given their own classification.  Because blood and gore alone do not make a horror movie.

Unnecessary Remakes

I understand the cultural impact Rob Zombie’s movies had on the genre.  I actually enjoyed The Devil’s Rejects quite a bit.  But that sort of success does not in any way hand you the keys to the kingdom. I am still baffled over the fact that anyone saw fit to remake Halloween.  I don’t care who is directing.  There are certain movies that simply should not be remade.

I knew we were in trouble when they remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  And if we’re being honest, the Friday the 13th remake was a joke.

Honestly…compare any of these remakes to the originals. You’d think people would wise up and realize that none of these remakes come remotely close to the originals.  I still see the dinner scene in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre as one of the best scenes in any horror movie. Ever.

Rape

This is just a pet peeve of mine.  When I was watching the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, there’s that one scene where Juno and Lizard enter the camper.  Much violence and bloodshed ensue, but there is also the rape of the teenage daughter. And I tried to remember if the scene was that vivid in the original. Sure, I get that the act itself is sort of needed to convey just how deplorable the savages are, but did we need it in all that detail?

I remember when the remade sequel (sigh….) came out, a friend of mine made  a comment that really made me cringe for the horror genre.

It used to be, “oh man, did you see that murder scene where….?”

But my friend actually made the comment: “Oh man, what did you think of that rape scene?”

A sad day, really. Oh and there’s one in the Halloween remake, too and it was 100% unnecessary for the course of the movie.

I understand that it’s par for the course in revenge films like I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left.  But again, we go into the above question of what constitutes horror. Neither of these films, in my opinion, should be labelled horror. This misrepresentation that horror is all about rape, murder, torture and gratuitous bloodshed is hurting the genre more than it’s helping.

Just my two cents!

But going back to my point at the beginning…ghost stories vs. horror stories. I agree that there’s a fine line there, too.  There are ghosts in A Christmas Carol but it’s not horror.  Alternatively, there are ghosts in The Shining and that is classic horror.

So sure, there’s a fine line between a ghost story and a horror story. And I’d be unfair to not acknowledge that same line between horror and torture porn and “revenge horror.”  Even creature horror and zombie movies. So sure, horror as a genre has many levels. It’s the same with any genre. Look at comedy: you have family safe Eddie Murphy drivel and then you have raunchy Judd Apatow flicks. So any genre has to have range for it to be relevant.  I get that.

I just wish certain factors like those listed above weren’t bringing down the genre I love and try to work within.

For now, I’m sticking to ghost stories.  I’ll wait to see how this whole horror thing pans out, zombies and vampires aside.