Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can a horror guy do religious/inspirational writing?

It was a spring day in 1990 and I was sitting on the courthouse steps in the tiny town of Stuart, Va., talking with a young colleague named Melody. Her desk and mine faced one another in the newsroom of the paper where we worked, some 30 miles away. It was unusual for our newspaper to send a reporter to Stuart, yet today there were two of us -- Melody to report on some controversial school board action and I to cover a trial. Her board was in closed session, my jury was deliberating, so there we were sitting in the pleasant spring air of the Blue Ridge mountains, under the watchful eyes of a statue of Civil War hero J.E.B. Stuart.

Although I would not seriously pursue writing fiction for many years, even then I dabbled a little in horror. Melody knew that. She also knew I had attended Liberty University. You know, Jerry Falwell’s school, the college the good Dr. Falwall had said would become to fundamentalist Christians what Notre Dame was to Catholics. It was right wing conservative central at the dawn of the modern conservative social and political movement. Naturally Melody, and most everyone else I knew back then, thought folks coming from Liberty University were clean-cut Bible-thumping, right-wing clones of Jerry Falwell.

So, the first guy she meets from Liberty is me, someone who dabbles in horror writing as a hobby. A religious guy who writes decidedly non-religious work.

“How do you reconcile your beliefs with what you write?” she asked me that afternoon.

I don’t recall exactly what I said. I mumbled what was probably a long-winded series of words that sounded good but in truth gave no real answer.

In some ways I guess that’s a question I’m still trying to answer.

I was raised in an ultra-conservative home, at the northern tip of the Bible Belt of the South. Whatever the preacher said on Sunday was right, everything else was wrong, and there was no room for gray areas between the two. From the sixth grade through college my formal education took place in Christian institutions – first a Christian middle and high school, then Liberty University.

I’ve spent most of my adult life in the field of journalism, with a brief time out when I was executive director for a suicide/crisis hotline. I have seen some of the worst in people along the way – crimes people commit against one another; businesses that chew up and spit out their employees while lining the pockets of top executives; and worst of all churches where preachers and “leaders” just pound away at some in their congregations until they have literally broken those people.

Through the years I’ve questioned many of those beliefs ingrained in my psyche when I was young. Quite frankly, some of them just don’t measure up in the cold hard light of critical examination. They’re myths, in best cases half-truths passed down through the generations and followed blindly by those who don’t know better, in worst cases they are dogma intentionally used by church leaders to keep others in line – to emotionally enslave them.

Some of those beliefs, though, stand up to rational examination. At the very worst they make for a solid set of principles by which to live, and at best they show that there may very well be more to this life than we can glimpse, that there is something larger than we are, something we can belong to, become part of. Something – or someone – we can place our faith in.

Which brings us back to that question, maybe from a different angle, these many years later. How does a guy who writes horror suddenly come out with a book that’s best described as Christian/inspirational?

I’m not sure. I do believe it’s a travesty to pigeon-hole a writer, to say he’s written horror so everything he pens must be horror, or she writes romance so all of her work must be romance. Those neat little genre tags have by-and-large been developed by the publishing industry – more specifically by the marketing arm of the publishing industry. Books, at least ones submitted to the major publishing houses, aren’t so much judged on quality of writing or story-telling as they are along one simple principle – is there a potential big market for this? Will it sell? Might it sell big?

So the publishing industry selects what it thinks might be big sellers, and packages them in neat little categories that make for easy marketing – inspirational, horror, science fiction, romance, and so forth. I understand that – publishing is a business, and its sole purpose as a business is to make money for its owners. That’s the way of the business world.

As writers, and readers, we’ve allowed that marketing vernacular to take over the way we define what we write, what we read.

And that brings me back to that original question: Can a horror guy write religious/inspirational work?

The answer to that is no.

But a writer who just happens to pen horror can. A writer can, or should, challenge himself, write in the different genres, tell the stories that are on his heart to tell. Most of my work is horror. I don’t know why – I’m wired that way. To those of a more religious nature, who believes God made everyone specifically as they are, that everything is controlled by God, I can only say this is the way I was made.

But not all of my work is horror. I’ve got a murder mystery novel (CLAIMING MOON) with a bit of romance in it, I’ve written and published erotica under a pen name (and no, I’m not telling you the name), and I now I have a religious/inspirational novel on the market called CHOICES.

So how does a horror guy write a religious/inspirational work? I don’t know. I’m no longer just a horror guy. I’m a writer, and CHOICES is the work I have to offer today. It’s a story about second chances, about bitterness and forgiveness, about homelessness and death and family and, I suppose, redemption, and how belief in God affects all of that.

I hope you decide to download the book. More importantly, I hope you enjoy it, and tell others about the novel. You can download CHOICES to your Kindle here, and to your Nook here. If you don’t have either, you can download a free Kindle reading app for your computer or mobile device right here.

Thanks for stopping by.

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