On Writing: about the dark stuff
My new novel Storyland (available for pre-order now in print & Kindle formats- FYI) delves into some of the darkest territory I have yet to write about. I can't give too much away without giving away the ending, of course, but I can tell you a little. Our narrator, a guy named Ned, wakes up one day to find out his friend from childhood, Martin Brace, has brutally butchered four people who were camping in the woods - leaving just a young boy alive. This sends Ned down some very dark roads as he tries to remember things in his past, and during his time with Martin, that may help unlock why he did this.
Some very bad things happen and they happen to kids. I think you could probably guess that from the fact it's a thriller and the goddamn description on the back of the book and at Amazon says this is what happens? Sheesh - grow up you "spoiler alert" babies.
Anyway - this seems to be sticky wicket for the publishers and agents that I tried to get to buy this book. Gripping and intense, they said, but the ending was too dark. Things got too "gritty" (I kind of love that word, although it makes me think of Lava soap. Anyone remember Lava soap?). I guess that's a problem for people looking to go out and market books. You can have a woman gas-lighted or a wife who is actually a sociopathic monster and sell, sell, sell, but if you have something that happened to kids that is very dark and very disturbing - hard to get those books into Target, y'feel me?
So, as a writer, what do we do when we delve into the dark stuff? Do we censor ourselves? Do we put those stories away, locked in our minds somewhere, and write about sparkly vampires or zombies or sparkly-vampire-zombies because we know those will sell?
I say - no.
I have self-published writer friends who write under various pseudonyms and they spend time on Amazon looking at what is selling and then duplicating those styles and stories. I would go out of my mind doing that. That is not "writing freedom" in my opinion. That is just imprisoning your own mind. Sure, it's a prison of your own making and maybe you added some nice lacy curtains - but it's still a prison. At some point, that is assembly-line writing and that is going to be like any assembly-line job. Repetitive. Boring. Uninspiring.
In my mind, our imaginations are like the boilers of those old-timey trains. You have to keep it stoked to keep it chugging along. What most people don't know, or remember, is that those damn old trains went pretty damn fast. Those engineers and boiler guys had to make sure the pressure built up, but didn't explode. For me, my imagination is a lot like that. If I don't write the thing that is built up in my head, my brain will probably explode.
I think we should take shackles off of our imaginations. Write about what you want to write about. If you happen to get a kick out of assembly line writing - great! I do it for my day job and I find it utterly soul-crushing and deadening. I prefer that the stories I create for my books take me wherever they see fit to take me.
I have written about controversial stuff before. I wrote about violent dogs in my novel VICIOUS, despite being one of the most passionate advocates for dogs and fighters of breed-specific laws that you are likely to find. Why? Because that was where the story took me. I wrote two endings and did all I could to make it so that readers would understand that it wasn't the breed that made them mean, but the even men in the story.
I have friends who make a living because they write extreme, ultra-violent horror stuff. Stuff too graphic and awful for even I do read. You'll find, as you get into this world of writing and publishing, that there is a niche for just about anything.
So, Storyland deals with some very disturbing stuff. There are two scenes near the end of the novel that I think are two of the most horrific and terrifying scenes I have ever written. I was on the edge of my seat writing it, my palms sweating, heart beating out of my chest, breathing fast, wondering where this was going to go. It was terrifying, but also thrilling because it was a prime example of how I say the stories tell themselves to me instead of me controlling them.
My advice to you is - you write what your stories tell you to write. You open that little portal in your head and let the stories come out the way you see fit. Will you become a millionaire? Probably not - but if you are getting into novel/book writing to become JK Rowling, you are getting into this line of work for all the wrong reasons. You should write because you love it. You should write because it's all you know what to do with the things in your head. You should write for yourself first.
I do believe that if you do that, an audience will find you. Will it be millions? Maybe - but probably not. That should be OK. You can work for the company, and then flip them the bird in your fiction. That's OK.
Write about the dark stuff. If you delve into the dark areas, it should scare you a little bit. The attic in my brain terrifies me.
Write. Be well.
My latest novel, Storyland, is a psychological suspense novel about repressed memories, the realms of imagination, murder and the walls we build up in our minds - and it's available for pre-order now for print & Kindle editions.