Over the past few years I’ve grown a lot.
I shook off years of low self-esteem, finally realizing that I deserved the same things in life that everyone else deserved.
I’ve learned that more “stuff” doesn’t bring more happiness.
I’ve learned that pre-occupation with negative thoughts and ideas were wasting my valuable time and were making me unhappy.
I’ve discovered that most folks are motivated by fear and that this drives much of their bad behavior.
I’ve deconstructed much of what I was taught as universal truths to determine if they’re truly valuable to me anymore (or if they ever were).
In short, I’m changing.
Two years ago, I rekindled a passion I’ve had since I was a very young person: to write stories and have others read them. I’ve been tracking that journey here on this blog for nearly the entire time, documenting what I believe the salient points to be. I’ve done this in an effort to help others, which is admirably altruistic, but I’ve also done it because I think (right or wrong) that I might have something to say.
My Debut Novel
I don’t chase “hot” genres because by the time I get a book written that ship is likely to have already sailed. I write the kind of books I would like to read and hope an audience is there to find them. Purely by coincidence, in early 2011 I chose to write a book about a father and his two sons struggling to survive in a dangerous world of raving “zombies” and lawless criminals, searching for a dubious safe haven.
Little did I know that The Walking Dead would give my book a push that I could never have achieved on my own.
In short, I got lucky.
As lucky as I am to be riding on the heels of a phenomenon, the book still needs to impress people once it gets onto their Kindle and into their hot little hands. To be honst, I was unsure if zombie fans would accept the book because it’s sort of non-traditional. In my book a viral infection creates people who behave like zombies, but they’re not true “living dead” in the traditional fashion. But that seems to not matter, because zombie readers have been consistently buying the book for the past year, to the tune of 500 or more copies a month.
Being my first published novel, Into the Badlands suffers from first-novel problems. That said, the feedback on the book from folks who’ve read it has been very consistent. They seem to enjoy the story and care about the characters.
I think there’s a reason for this. It occurred to me only after writing and publishing it that I wasn’t really telling a story about zombies at all.
I was telling a story of hope.
This story resonated with readers because hope is universal. Sure, the story has to hold their attention, but I think most readers judge a book by how it make them feel. Throughout the book the theme of hope is palpable. I believe in hope, even in the face of overwhelming odds. I believe in fighting to the end and going out with my humanity intact. All this came out in the manuscript and readers noticed it.
Upon reviewing my next novel, The Desolate, I’ve discovered that beneath the surface it is actually a cautionary tale. It’s a reminder that we can’t simply change our surroundings and expect change within ourselves to follow. It’s about self-awareness and understanding. It’s about facing up to our bad character traits, looking at them objectively and changing our behavior.
The Desolate is about self-improvement. It’s about becoming a better person before it’s too late and people get hurt. It’s about facing the truth, no matter how bad it is.
I suppose I knew this on a subconscious level when I wrote the book, because the story came from the gut. Now, after careful analysis, I can see more method to the madness than I thought was originally there.
When I first started writing horror I mimicked my role models: Robert R. McCammon, Dan Simmons, and, most of all, Stephen King. In fact, much of my early works’ first drafts read like King ripoffs. It took me another fifteen years of living to figure out what I was trying to say as a writer, or, more importantly, as a human being.
I’m an optimist. I believe in self-improvement. I believe in the golden rule. I believe we are all responsible for our own happiness. I believe in hard work and never giving up. I believe in thinking for myself. I know now that themes like these make up the core components my overall message.
And this message is my brand.
Is it odd that a writer would seek to convey positive messages through horror? Maybe. I know it sounds oxymoronic, but that’s where I’ve been driving to all this time, without even knowing it. I have at least five more books plotted out and when I look at the themes in these books they all possess the same unmistakable commonality.
So while I might use horrific imagery, tension, fear and suspense as a medium, I do so to communicate a message I think it is valuable. The message must be subtle so as to not sound preachy, but it’s there all the same. It’s the meaning folks are looking for in a story. It’s what the story arc and character arc are built upon.
Now I realize this is my brand. This revelation has not only given me a clearer picture of what I want to say, it’s also provided me with a better understanding of how I want to say it. I also think it’ll help me write better stories.
In the end I think that’s all readers really want; a good story that’s worth their emotions and their time.