I started writing in early 2008 for the fun of it. I had always loved the horror genre, namely movies, and after reading a few novels I gave it a shot. As I mentioned, I started writing my first novel, Night School, after reading novels by Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon. I said to myself, “Hey, I can write some sick stuff too!” and away I went to pound out 100k words in three months flat. Soon after, I ventured into short fiction, novellas, etc. I started out the opposite of most writers. Many start with a shorter story, perhaps a few thousand words, then after writing a few of those will then work their way up to a novel-length manuscript. Not me. Nope. That’s mainly because when I sat down at my then ‘day job’ and starting writing Night School I was doing it for the fun of it. Heck, it didn’t even enter my mind about getting it published…. Until it happened. Then the next, and the next, and the… Well, you get my point. Fast forward thirteen years (as of this writing) and I’m still in the trenches, trying to crawl my way out onto the battlefield. Actually, the publishing world, namely the horror genre, is very similar to a government and its military. There’s different ranks of authors. Folks such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Anne Rice would be the President, Vice President and Speaker of the House. Everyone knows who THEY are. Just like the people running the United States government; you might look up to them, want to maybe be them one day, but you probably never will. Forget about it. More than likely it’s out of your reach. Not that there’s anything wrong with shooting for the stars, mind you. Just like in any business, you have to know your strengths and limitations. Some might believe they’re smarter than 90 percent of the people they work with, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever be the president of the company…unless there’s a hostile takeover…but that’s a story for another book. Back to what I was saying; there are ranks, a ladder of leadership in the horror genre. While the big three might be in charge, leading the battle from afar, there are TONS of other great writers that are doing the hard work of marching into the battlefield and leading the genre into new worlds. This is where you are probably hoping I would list who I believe are Generals, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants, Privates, whatever. Well, I’m not going to do that. Why? Because I would probably accidently leave out a great writer, who just happens to be a friend of mine, then I would hear about it. Maybe even be drawn and quartered. Nah, I’ll pass. Being in my early 40s I’m still a little too young to take a bullet or a bayonet to the gut.
But, after thirteen years of being in the genre, I think I can fairly accurately rank myself.
Why would I choose that rank? Well, I’ve been in the game long enough to know all the troops, I’ve assisted plenty (shout out to – Tom Erb, Dean Harrison, Adam Lewis, Vince McKee – go check out their stuff!) written plenty and more or less know and ins and outs of the business. Like I said, I never had a drill sergeant (i.e. mentor) when coming up in this world. I had to learn things on my own by trial and error through the years. Thank god I wasn’t taking real fire or I would probably be lying on the ground and bleeding out. I’ve been through the wars, winning some and losing some, but I’ve made it through. I’ve crawled through the trenches and I’ve fought by the sides of my fellow horror writers to propel the genre into unknown territories, to pillage, save and capture different subgenres so the troops coming in behind us can run through to safety on the other side. It’s taken blood, sweat and tears. It hasn’t been easy. But, I wouldn’t take back any of the experiences of the past thirteen years. Sure, I would change some things, but overall, I think I’ve done things the RIGHT WAY. That’s key. If you’re an up-and-coming writer, in any genre, do things the RIGHT WAY. Don’t be a mean to your fellow writers, just because they got some major contract with a big time publisher. Don’t bad mouth others. Read a lot of the authors you enjoy, and even some you don’t so much, to learn HOW to write. And last, but not least, write write WRITE! Just Do It. Don’t complain about coming home from your ‘day job’ and being tired or whatever. Come home, eat your franks n’ beans, then go into a quiet room and start pounding out words. Type 100, 500 or 1,000 words a day if that’s all you can muster. Just write something. Even a little bit can one day lead to a finished tale of some length. Why do you think ALL established authors give the same advice about; sitting your butt in the chair and doing the work!? Well, because that’s the only way the battle will be won.
So, yes, I would consider myself a Lieutenant.
Now it’s time for the real question: Was my rise to the ranking of Lieutenant by way of luck or hard work? Am I a hack or the real deal?
I feel like I’ve always done things the right way. I’ve put in the hard work and been genuine with fans, publishers and fellow writers. And while I’ve been taken advantage of a few times throughout the years, overall, I think it’s the only way to go. If you come off like you’re the bomb, you’re doing to look like a hack. If you don’t do things the right way, you’re going to come off like a hack. Authors and publishers talk. We talk A LOT! In fact, we’re our own little gossip circle. The horror genre is a relatively small group. Just a like living in a small town, what others do will spread like wildfire. If you badmouth a fellow author or publisher, especially without just cause, you might just find yourself on the outside looking in. And that’s not a good place to be. Especially if you’re looking to make it in this business.
Let me guess, now you’re asking, “But, Ty, wasn’t there a book years ago where you bad mouthed a few folks?”
Yes. Yes, I did.
But, they did things that I could just no longer bite my tongue about. Just like in Richard Laymon’s A Writers Tale, I felt like that was the time to finally say something about it.
Whew. Alright, I’m OK.
Back to what I was saying…
Is my success in the horror genre the result of luck or hard work?
Without a doubt in my mind, I would have to say hard work.
Nothing in the last thirteen years has been handed to me. I’ve never had a publisher ask ME for a story. Actually, I take that back. I once had someone (who, funny enough, I had published a year earlier in an anthology where I was the editor) who was putting together an anthology ask for a story, but it was AFTER they asked ME for help in contacting an author he didn’t have contact information. That was a pity invitation. But, me being the “nice guy” I did reach out to the other author for him. I also ended up writing and giving him an original story. It was a themed anthology, one with some great writers, and honestly, I wanted to be part of it. So I gave in and helped him out. Funny enough, a year or so later, he started his own small press. Shortly after, I queried if he would be interested in me writing a book for the press. And, of course, he replied with a “not interested” type line. So, I was good enough to ask for help, but not good enough to write a book for you? Ah, ok. Got it. This particular author is now writing books for a few publishers that I know, but have never been able to break into. I’m guessing he pulled the same backhanded stuff with them to get his foot in the door.
But, believe me, you don’t want to go that route. Whether or not you “make it” in this business, do things the right way. Be honest and upfront with the people you already are or want to work with in the future. Be genuine. Nobody likes a douche bag.
I’ve gotten to where I’m at with dedication and hard work. And while I haven’t written an original tale in the last six years without first having a contract in hand, I’ve still had to put in the work of writing up a proposal to pitch to a potential publisher.
Nothing comes easy in this business.
I might not be the President, or even a Captain, but you can still take my advice on how to navigate through the trenches, to hopefully, one day, come up the other side of the ditch, into daylight.
Then again, even IF you do everything right, you still might get shot when you pop your head up.
But that’s all part of the game.
Do you have what it takes to enter into the fray?
The choice is yours, and yours alone, to make.