I wrote a book many, many years ago. This book served as my thesis novel for my MA degree from Seton Hill. I graduated in 2011. The book was first published in 2013.
Since then, I’ve been through plenty of changes. My boys have grown quite a bit, my day job has changed several times, and I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy.
Why is that last one important?
This book I wrote, it served not only as my thesis novel, but also as a way for me to show my kids that you don’t give up on something you love. I’ve been interested in horror since a very young age, finding the discomfort it brings, the squeamishness, the disturbing images very… familiar.
I won’t go into why I’ve been in therapy. I’ve come to believe we all could use a little therapy now and then. Being alive is hard. Painful, even. Disturbing.
And that last one — the disturbing part — was something I keyed in on during my MA program. Horror, for me, is in part about making the reader uncomfortable.
Prior to embarking on my MA journey, I’d mostly read popular horror — King, Poe, Lovecraft, Koontz. Also among my influences were Vonnegut, Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien, Dan Brown, Rumi, William Blake — the list goes on, as it should for most writers, in my opinion.
But when I really started to dig into horror, really started to study it, I came to realize there were dark places I hadn’t seen other than in late-night B flicks. And I wanted to understand how and, more importantly, why a writer would “go there”.
So I did.
This book I wrote, it contains some very brutal, graphic scenes. While prepping for the release of this edition, my publisher (Manta Press) called out two scenes in particular that might warrant a trigger warning. And rightly so.
I won’t describe the scenes, for that very reason, but I will say they both constitute a form of rape. That’s probably an understatement. And I knowingly went there when I wrote the book. I was flexing a muscle I didn’t know I had, going to a dark place that was sure to make even the most resilient reader uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable.
I also went to a few other very dark places, some dealing with religion, some dealing with dysfunctional family dynamics, and some based on carrying monumental shame for a lifetime. And that’s where I started realizing I needed help. Not because I wrote some truly disturbing and uncomfortable stuff. Like I said, I chose to go there, and I demonstrated skill based on prior works and trends in the genre.
I realized I needed help because some of those scenes — not the rape scenes, but other ones — were like a mirror showing me the things that had left me with a constant feeling of being in the wrong room at the wrong time.
In the process of exercising my art, I found parts of myself that had been long buried. During my long drives to and from Greensburg, PA, for my writing residencies, I’d listen to Stephen King’s “On Writing”. In there, he says something to the effect of, “Life is not a support system for art. Art is a support system for life.”
This book was a first step for me turning my art into a support system for my life. I’m still writing. I have a sequel in the works, but I’m not officially announcing anything about it yet. There are some related short stories in the works, as well as a few other unrelated novels and short stories. In one form or another, they all “go there”, but not the way that first book did.
When my publisher asked if I’d like to change those scenes, I took time to think about it. If I were to write this book today, I would handle it very differently. Specifically, I would not include those two scenes of rape. To say I don’t condone rape is an understatement. But ultimately, I decided to let them stand. I even said to him in my response, “I honestly have never written anything so brutal before or since, and I don’t plan to.”
We did make a few other changes to align with more current values, but those scenes I felt needed to stay. Not because they’re good, but because changing them would have felt revisionist to me in a way that didn’t sit right. I wrote those scenes. And despite their nature, they need to serve as a reminder to me that I “went there”. And I never want to go back.
So, there are links below. Yes, I’m kinda promoting the book, but I’m also making a clear warning to you all. This book has some really disturbing stuff in it. Read it at your own risk.