I’ve been “seriously” writing horror fiction for the last six years. During that time, I’ve had a bunch of short stories and one novella published, edited and/or published three anthologies, and just finished a brand-new novel. I also co-founded Denver Horror Collective, a horde of over fifty horror authors helping one other spread the horror.
As a weirdo, my fiction tends to be a bit “unconventional.” Therefore, it’s not been easy to get the products of my mind through the mainstream literary gatekeepers, which is why I’ve so often built my own gates.
For instance, my latest book is a Jewish ecological folk horror novel, and I truly feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Although publishers wouldn’t touch my previous two novels, I believe this one is far more marketable and way less controversial. Yet two rejections I’ve gotten thus far—one from an agent, the other from a publisher—are total head-scratchers.
The agent told me that the main reason she was passing on my book was because it was written in past tense. Yes, you heard that correctly: the tense that nearly ALL novels are written in. Okaaaaay.
My biggest worry around this novel is that, while the story and characters come first and foremost, it does include the harshest critique of what I believe to be the root of the ecological crisis of any fiction I’ve ever read: humanity’s biological urge to hoard more than we need as a vain attempt at cheating death.
Oddly, the publisher’s belief (based only on my synopsis) wasn’t that my book was too over-the- top, but that I was giving humans an “excuse” for things like climate change by talking about evolutionary drives. I politely explained that reading my actual book would clear all that up for her, but she refused.
Now, I have little problem with rejection and critique. In fact, I helped start Denver Horror Collective solely because I wanted more feedback on how to improve my writing. Yet these sorts of seemingly knee-jerk, nonsensical reactions from agents and publishers not only don’t help us writers work on our craft, they can breed bitterness and resentment.
Indeed, it all can feel oddly…personal. That they’re rejecting our work not for any objective reasons they can articulate, but simply because they don’t like us and what we have to offer. That they aren’t looking for anything groundbreaking or unique, just “the different kind of same.” And that sure as hell ain’t most of us.
So, on this week’s epic mountain trek in the snow I pondered all this. And then came the flash of insight I never expected. Where I realized I’d been wrong to blame these gatekeepers for pursuing money over art. In fact, I discovered my conflict has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.
See, unconsciously, I’ve been mostly writing fiction that I KNOW won’t make it through the gatekeepers. Why would I do that to myself? Because part of me suspected I was writing IN THE WRONG GENRE!
Not simply biological horror, my odd and unhealthy focus on living creatures and vital processes. Yes, folks, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that writing horror fiction just isn’t for me. And here’s why.
We’re all living through some of the darkest days in modern history. At the forefront is a mass death event that has claimed the lives of up to 24 million people around the world, 1 million in the richest country alone. Adding more darkness into such a bleak existence is redundant, like shutting yourself in a closet at midnight.
Sure, I’ve been telling myself writing horror ISN’T about applauding suffering and certainly not trying to create more of it, but literally the opposite. That horror seeks to acknowledge the shadow, confront it when we can, accept it when we must, ultimately pushing through the darkness into the light. But I realize now that was just Jungian psychobabble.
So, as of today, I will no longer write a single word of horror fiction. Does that mean I’ll stop writing altogether? Of course not, as I still need some outlet for my madness. But it’s no longer going to be through awful stories about awful things happening to awful (or even worse, good) people.
I’m here to announce that Josh’s Worst Nightmare no longer exists. My rebrand? Josh’s Best Dreams! My new genre? Romance! Why romance? Because what the world is missing more than anything is connection. And more specifically, sensuality. Or, to put a finer point on it, pure physical pleasure.
The pandemic taught me that humans need touch to feel whole. We have to smush our bare skin against one other. Mingle our mucous membranes. Swap visceral fluids. Open wide our every orifice.
I know it’s not easy for a heterosexual man like myself to make it in a romance fiction world dominated by women authors with an audience almost entirely made up of women. Another thing that may gum up the works is the fact that I’m a lifelong virgin. Having never known the touch of a woman, I cannot write believably about coitus (as the kids are calling it these days).
But since they say, “write what you know,” the romance I pen will be entirely focused on my longtime crush: forests. Yes, my stories will be about hugging trees and rubbing up against them. Lying naked in cold streams, undulating against the current. Illicit congress with holes in the soft, moist soil.
I know I’ll lose some of you along the way (and likely already have!). But that’s all part of the journey. Because with my newfound philosophy, I vow to no longer pay any mind to the world’s “suffering” and my egotistical attempt to try to “improve” things for “the better.” All that caustic poison has been purged from my veins, replaced with the sweet sludgy flow of corn syrup.
From now on, instead of all this pointless “critique” and “problem-solving” I’ve been wasting hours every day indulging in, I will look away from root causes and lose myself in the mindless pursuit of physical sensation.
Indeed, my new start begins immediately, as I remove my clothes and set off into the forest, to make sweet sticky love to the one I’ve always suspected to be my true love: myself.
APRIL FOOLS! (obviously)