Category Archives: Christian Horror

The Bestseller That Never Was

Darlington WoodsBack in early 2010 I was getting ready to release my third novel, Darlington Woods. I’d released The Hunted in 2008 and it enjoyed some moderate success, enough to land me another contract. Then in 2009 I released Scream and that did even better, almost doubling the sales of The Hunted.

So in preparation for Darlington Woods I planned for a big release that would net big results. I truly felt it was my best writing to date, both in style and storytelling. The plot was engaging and fast-paced, the characters were interesting and unique, the theme was right from the heart and I knew it would touch many lives. It was the first full-length novel I wrote after battling colon cancer and so much of myself, my journey, my emotional roller coaster was poured into every page of the story.

To launch the book, I’d scheduled a handful of book signings in Pennsylvania and Maryland and a fairly comprehensive online book tour I called the “Light the Darkness Tour”. Emotionally I knew, just knew, that this one was going to be big, this was going to be my break-out novel, the one to “put me on the map.” I spent a lot of time in prayer, dedicating the book to the Lord for him to do whatever he wished with it.  Then, just a month before the big release Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book. Here’s an excerpt:

No shortage of vampire books stock bookstore shelves today, but few combine Christian themes with ghoulish vampire villains like this headlong rush of psycho-spiritual suspense . . .  Never indulging in long boring tangents or fussy character descriptions, Dellosso’s pacing is perfect and passionate. Even though the choice of setting and parts of the plot mirror the popular novel The Shack, readers familiar with that book will find this new combo of Christian vampire fare a quick and breathless read and will scream for more.

Now, remember, this was when the Twilight saga was at its prime. Vampires were the in thing. And the fact that Publisher’s Weekly not only called it a vampire novel but also compared it to The Shack . . . well, I was sure that would seal the deal. And why wouldn’t it?

The big day came and to make a very long story very short . . . the book flopped. Sales were mediocre but worse than both Scream and The Hunted. I couldn’t understand it. I’d prepared more for this release than either of the other two. The book had gotten more exposure than I even planned for. Publisher’s Weekly had given it a glowing review. And both vampires and The Shack were still very hot. What went wrong?

You know, three years later I’m still asking myself that question. I still think Darlington Woods is my best book. It’s my favorite of all my titles. I look back on that release and the subsequent trip and can’t understand it. I think part of it is the environment of the Christian fiction industry. One, supernatural suspense as a genre was on the downslide in the Christian market (and still hasn’t recovered) and horror was never a hit. And two, maybe vampires were hot in the secular market (and still are) but in the Christian market there was (and is) little interest.

Funny thing is, never once in the book are the creatures referred to as vampires. They’re called darklings and though they act like vampires I didn’t even think of that while writing it. But it seems that Publisher’s Weekly comparison turned out to be at least one stake in the book’s heart.

The other truth I need to face is that it just wasn’t God’s time. I don’t know why and may never know but I have to accept it. So much of this business of writing is skill and talent and marketing ability, but so much more is reliance on God and faith in him to do what he knows is best. It’s a walk of trust every day.

And isn’t that so much like the rest of life?

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Guest Blogging Elsewhere

I’m guest blogging today over at Speculative Faith. Check out my article, “The Philosophy of Me.”

Where Does Christian Horror Belong?

There’s been a lot said in recent months about Christian horror fiction. Can there really be such a thing? Can Christian and horror coexist? How does one define Christian horror? What are the boundaries? Should there be boundaries? The questions are and have been plentiful.

But here’s one that’s been bugging me. Where exactly does horror fit in? In What genre should it be placed?

Fiction is broken down into genres. Usually the subgenre of horror is placed either in the Thriller/Suspense/Crime genre or the Speculative genre. Here’s my problem with that. For the Christian appetite horror is commonly renamed Supernatural Suspense (less offensive, I guess). But becuase of the supernatural element it doesn’t play nice with other non-supernatural suspense titles. It’s that kid in high school with the black T-shirt, purple hair, and nose rings. Readers who flock to the suspense titles don’t necessarily want the supernatural elements. The whole horror thing gets lost by lumping it in with all the other suspense novels.

So what about the Speculative genre? Well, yes, I suppose horror is speculative to a point but not near as speculative as science fiction and fantasy, the two subgenres the Speculative genre is most known by. Again, horror gets lost in the mix as most readers gravitating toward spec-fic want the sci-fi and fantasy stories, not horror.

So what do we do? Where do horror novels belong? We must recognize that horror is a legitimate genre in the CBA. More of it is being published and it is slowly (s-l-o-w-l-y) gaining popularity. There are plenty of writers out there proving a story can be both scary and redemptive. Once we’ve acknowledged Christian horror for what it is we should give it its own home.

Here’s what I suggest: Get horror out of the Suspense genre but don’t put it in with Speculative. In fact, get rid of the Speculative genre altogether and give the big three a genre of their own. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Horror. Go to any mainstream bookstore and you’ll find aisles of horror, aisles of science fiction, and a whole section of fantasy. They deserve more than to be lumped in together under the term “speculative.”

I hear a lot of folk asking why horror isn’t as popular in the Christian market as it is in the mainstream market. I think it could be. And I think the place to start is by giving it its own genre.

Now, here’s a little survey I’m doing. If you’ve ever read and enjoyed a horror novel by a mainstream author (not Christian, i.e. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, Heather Graham, etc.) please leave a comment stating so. You don’t have to put what book you read or which author is your favorite though you’re certainly welcome to. A simple comment will do. And, of course, if you want to comment about anything else or share your opinion on Christian horror and where it should be place please feel free to. I love your comments no matter what they are!

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