My first brand-new horror novel in - has it been two years already? - well, however long it's been, the book has finally arrived! GHOSTLAND is finally out today. Short synopsis, "Jurassic Park meets The Shining," or "Jurassic Park but with ghosts." But for those of you requiring more, here's the full synopsis:
1. The Synopsis
People are dying to get in.
The ghosts will kill to get out.
Be first in line for the most haunted theme park in the world - GHOSTLAND! Discover and explore hundreds of haunted buildings and cursed objects! Witness spectral beings of all kinds with our patented Augmented Reality glasses! Experience all the terror and thrills the afterlife has to offer, safely protected by our Recurrence Field technology! Visit Ghostland today - it's the hauntedest place on earth!
After a near-death experience caused by the park's star haunted attraction, Ben has come to Ghostland seeking to reconnect with his former best friend Lilian, whose post-traumatic stress won't let her live life to the fullest. She's come at the behest of her therapist, Dr. Allison Wexler, who tags along out of professional curiosity, eager to study the new tech's psychological effect on the user.
When a computer virus sets the ghosts free and the park goes into lockdown, the trio find themselves trapped in an endless nightmare. With time running short and the dead quickly outnumbering the living, the survivors must tap into their knowledge of horror and video games to escape… or become Ghostland's newest exhibits.
When I started writing this, I thought it was a no-brainer concept. Turns out it would take more brains than I'd had at my disposal, and I'd needed to tap some heavy hitters in the genre for inspiration. So I did a summer of Michael Crichton novels, and reread a bunch of Stephen King classics.
Ghostland is the product of my love for Crichton's fast-paced science fiction and my lifelong obsession with Stephen King's terror-filled horror novels, populated by characters who feel like real people.
I wrote a draft last year that was far too kid-friendly and maybe a tad too politically charged. Then I reworked the concept, starting mostly from scratch. The full story of this part of the process is in the book. I'll spare you the details here, since it's likely not interesting unless you're concerned with how the sausages are made. Let's move on to what came next. The part nobody likes to talk about: the incredibly daunting Selling of the Novel.
2. The Selling of the Novel
Armed with a "no-brainer" concept like "Jurassic Park meets The Shining," I figured I'd try my hand at pitching to agents this time. So I honed the synopsis into a fine-edged blade, to slice clean and true through the gatekeepers' velvet rope. Then I started sending my pitch to as many agents who accepted horror as possible (which, if you're interested, is not many compared to other genres).
The road to publication was as long as Frodo's journey to Mordor, and fraught with many dangers - though mostly to the ego.
Then the wait began. Actually, it wasn't that long. I think I got my first rejection within a day. Possibly that same day. "Thank you for your submission, however the market is extremely fickle and I must be extremely particular and only work on projects I believe in." That sort of stuff. I get it. The market is fickle. Now more than ever. So the rejections quickly became easier to handle. I actually got to a point where I was excited for Thursdays to come around, as that seemed to be when most agents sent their rejections.
It wasn't all rejections, though. A fair few agents requested the "full manuscript," which if you're not familiar means they liked the sample chapters and wanted to read more. Apparently this is more rare than you might think (that "fickle market" and all), and I took them as nice boosts to the ego and not much more than that.
However, there were a few I got really excited about. Which is why it took so long to get to you. Because these agencies had worked with Very Important People. So I waited. And waited. Did I mention I waited? And every day I waited was another day I didn't get this book closer to that "fickle market."
While I waited, I worked on another novel. And I honed Ghostland the same way I'd honed my pitch. Trimmed the fat. Made it a leaner, more fast-paced book.
I also started to realize I was likely going to have to put this thing out myself if I wanted to have it see the light of day before 2021. Which meant I'd have to start talking about it in public. It meant I'd have to start - ugh - the dreaded process of marketing this damned thing.
3. The Marketing of the Novel
But actually, the marketing of this book was a ton of fun. I think that stems from the core concept. I mean, who doesn't like theme parks? And what horror fan wouldn't especially like a haunted theme park?
It reminded me of when I was a kid. I'd spend weeks before Halloween getting things ready for the Big Night - my favorite night of the year. I'd make corpses filled with old clothes and cardboard coffins and wooden gravestones and carves dozens of pumpkins and hang spiders on pullies that I could control from the porch. I just loved the idea of scaring people - kids from all over used to come to see what I would do next. (This was a small town in the '90s. We didn't have the kind of professional haunts they have these days!)
Just like when I was a kid getting ready for Halloween, I spent the entire month of October working on the promotion of this book. I built an entire website from scratch. I rewrote a short story I'd previously written as a prologue to Ghostland back in 2014, so that it would fit in with the very different beast the new novel had become (you can read this for free if you sign up to my website *wink wink*). Also - and I apologize if you're only discovering this now - I created a hoax about a cult horror author named Red Garrote who seemed to have disappeared from history, in a sort of Mandela Effect phenomenon.
I didn't think for a second anyone would believe it. (Mostly because I'm a dumb-dumb and I thought no one would respond that way to something I created out of whole cloth. Also, because I'd tried something similar before which failed before it could even get started.) But quite a few people did believe it, at least for a bit. People like to solve mysteries. And like Fox Mulder, people want to believe. The idea of a horror author living in a reputedly haunted house and eventually committing suicide by self-immolation was something as a horror fan I definitely would have responded to myself. (I guess that's why I wrote it!) It got to a point where I had no idea who was playing along with the gag and who was legitimately fooled - which I think is part of the beauty of the internet.
The website was a ton of work. But I think it was worth it. It's a deep-dive into a universe where the existence ghosts has been proven, and where a theme park called Ghostland was the site of a mass unknown disaster.
This site is essentially a companion website for the book, sort of a combination compendium of the "lost" Ghostland park website and a blog (which is actually a new short story). I originally intended for this to only be read after you've read the book. But it doesn't contain any major spoilers aside from what you can glean from the image above. It's called THE GHOSTLAND RESTORATION PROJECT. Dive in, when you get a chance.
4. Enough of this crap - tell me more about the book!
Well, I'm glad you asked. In addition to what you've read above, the actual novel is 400+ pages long. The ebook features an interactive "Know Your Ghosts" guide - if you click the links throughout, it will take you to the corresponding entry in the guide, providing more information on the ghost/exhibit. Just like if you were really there looking at an exhibit sign.
Also, it contains a park map and logo created by the amazing Mike Tenebrae of Tenebrae Studios. If you click on the map it will zoom in and you can see the journey Ben and Lilian take for yourself. Follow along, if you like.
The paperback has both of these features as well as an AR Ghostland Experience - a "scan the QR code and watch this cover come alive" thing that I think turned out quite well. I just wanted to give people who went to the extra expense of buying the paperback a deeper experience than just the book and website.
I kind of feel like a carnival barker with all of this gimmicky shit, but truthfully I kind of love it. If I had the kind of money required to build a place like Ghostland, that would definitely be a bucket list item.
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed the story behind the novel. And if it's piqued your interest, consider getting a copy for yourself, and/or sharing it with a horror-loving friend. Much like raising a child, it really does take a village to market a book, particularly as an indie author. Frankly, I'm glad I decided to go it alone with this one. I know it would have made less of a dent in my bank account if I'd gone on after the agent-hunt and tried to get it published by a small or midlist press, but I really do love having this amount of creative control.
For one thing, it means I can write more books in the Ghostland universe without having to worry about "competing works" clauses. I think it's a world I might enjoy visiting at least a few more times, possibly more.
I hope when you've read it you'll agree!
Also, I think I should point out: there's a certain "lost" cult horror novelist whose novels might some day find their way back to bookshelves. *winkety wink*
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