“But you don’t write horror! Why aren’t you writing fantasy?”
That was the inevitable question that fans of my Psyne novels would ask. Believe me, I have no aspirations to be the next Stephen King. I want to reassure all the fans of my fantasy novels that I am and will always be a fantasy novelist first and foremost. There are many more Psyne novels in the works and will be available soon! But I also write horror short stories. The answer to why requires a little backstory.
The Answer Part 1: I have always loved reading novels. I like to be inserted into a world and stay there for a nice long time. Novels give me that. That’s why I love writing them. Short stories are like diving into a swimming pool, coming up for air, and being told by the life guard that it’s time to get out. Nooooooooo! I’ve just never been a fan of reading them. In college I didn’t enjoy writing short stories because I didn’t want to stop writing. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters I’d gotten to know. It was like being wrenched away from your best friends with no hope of ever seeing them again. Now that’s a true horror story!
At my very first meeting of the Utah Horror Writers Association (UHWA) I learned that Griffin Publishing was taking submissions for their newest horror anthology, It Came From the Great Salt Lake, and something in my subconscious told me that I needed to try for it. I was a novelist who wanted to try new things, hone my writing skills and grow as a writer. Why not? I got to work and well, my first short story bombed – big time! I tried to cram a novel into the itty bitty space of a short story. I didn’t even submit it but ran it past my South African author friend, A.M. Winters, half a world away and we both agreed it needed work. A lot of work. Granted, I learned about the submission call only one month before the deadline which gave me zero time and I’d only been with the UHWA for little over one month. It was then that I vowed I would devote myself to cracking this juggernaut of a nut called the Short Story!
The Answer Part 2: Shortly after, I learned of the next horror anthology taking submissions entitled, Apocalypse: Utah. The submission deadline was in 11 months, on Halloween to be exact, so I had plenty of time. I knew I had to have a departure from the beloved Psyne characters from my fantasy novels if I was to grow as a writer. I needed to be objective with my short stories and working in the horror genre was perfect because I wasn’t emotionally invested. I spent months learning everything there was to know about writing horror and short stories. In time I came to envision each short story as a one-room studio apartment. It had limitations, it had boundaries and I had to work within those boundaries. Suddenly things began to look very clear to me.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the horror writers group was that the experienced writers were more than willing to mentor the inexperienced writers. During meetings, we would quickly go over member business and then move right into a presentation from one of the writers on the Elements of Horror or Using Devices in Short Stories. I also became aware of other anthologies seeking submissions as well as various writers conferences where I could continue to learn and hone my skills.
The Answer Part 3: While I don’t read horror novels or scary short stories for fun, I realized that some of my favorite movies are very much a part of the horror genre but I always thought of them as being science fiction: Aliens, AVP, and Predator. I’ve always had a soft spot for vampires. Long before Stephenie Meyer introduced her fangless version. My favorite literary novel is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a book I love because of the moral dilemmas rather than the horror elements. So I guess I’ve always been a closet horror fan. Who knew?
Long story short, after a lot of hard work I submitted a polished short story and it was accepted for publication. My first short story entitled, “The Fateful Hour” was published in Apocalypse: Utah in early February 2017. The sense of accomplishment I felt was considerable. I had struggled with writing short stories for years and years but I’d finally cracked that nut.
A year later I submitted to The Hunger anthology and my second short story entitled, “The Pit and the Pendleton” was published in April of this year. I was slowly building my publishing resume and to be honest, writing short stories was addictive. I see them as instant gratification! A novel is a labor of love and that is where my true passion lies but now I have new tools in my writing tool box. When I’m short on time and can’t commit to a project as long as a novel, I have short stories I can jump into.
My horror stories aren’t tales of violence with copious amounts of blood and guts. They reflect my obsession with science fiction. They don’t venture down the path of dark fantasy but focus on moral dilemmas. They deal with fear. They deal with the human condition. They deal with the psychological.
Looking back, it’s funny that it took joining a horror writers group to get over my fear of writing short stories. What’s holding you back in your creative life? What fear has you paralyzed? You’re not alone. We all have fears that control us but all it takes is one decision to face that fear and to fight it head on in order to change your life. I wish you all the best on your creative endeavors.