Horror Writers Association

Halloween Haunts: Believing Myself to be a Writer by John James Lane


I always wanted to be a writer, but deep inside for most of my life, I was constantly in a struggle with my own demons. Demons of being “less than”.

Once when I was in sixth grade, our English teacher wanted us to write a story. In a ruled notebook, I chose one in which a knight fought a dragon, a basic medieval type story. After she reviewed all our stories, she handed the notebooks back, one by one. When it was my turn, she had a smile on her face. The page with the ending had words marked in red, some of which was “You should become a writer.” I never forgot those words. Coupled with being in the National Honor Society for English in seventh and eighth grades, I believed I had something, although for a long time, I really wasn’t sure what it was.

A few years before that sixth grade English class, my father had a two-year affair with a woman that ended up becoming my stepmother. I felt that my biological mother, who barely spoke a word of English because she lived in Japan for most of her life, was being replaced by someone who had no interest in having any type of emotional bond with me. Her lack of affection and never once telling me that she loved me or that she was proud of me caused me to live out a true horror story. No matter what I did or didn’t do, I felt like no matter what happened, I never measured up to what she wanted in a son, if she even wanted a son. What I would learn many years later in therapy was that during my childhood, I started my lifelong battle with depression. Throughout my life, alleviating the feelings of depression became more important than writing.

I tried to write at different times. I remembered during one particular time in the Army, I tried to pen a story, but without any mentoring or practice, it looked like nothing more than advanced Dick and Jane. I would stop for long periods of time since my writing would trigger up the inadequacies in my childhood.

Reading stories, like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, Franz Kafka’s THE TRIAL and George Orwell’s 1984, and watching movies, like THE SHINING and NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET gave me some comfort. These stories made me feel like I wasn’t alone, that these characters also suffered and were forced to endure trauma, just like myself. It brought me to my interest in the Horror genre.

I was eventually married in 1996, and I thought my in-laws would be my saving grace, to take me away from my childhood pain, but they only made the situation worse. My wife’s parents constantly argued, or became emotionally distant towards me. If my wife or I had any success, the experience was dissected at the dinner table until loopholes were found and exploited, which ended up showing that my wife or I failed in some way. I lived like this for many years.

I still wanted to learn how to write. In 2014, I took a well-known online writing class. When the instructor found over seventy-five errors in a story I wrote and not a single encouraging remark, the emotional pain was unbearable. I quit the class, threw away all my notebooks, gave all my books away to thrift stores, and stopped writing for four years.

After a number of years dealing with my in-laws’ behavior, I couldn’t take it anymore, and it was not good for my emotional health. On June 2018, I talked to someone about the situation, and he suggested that I write a letter to break off the toxic relationship. I wrote a several-page letter expressing that even though I still loved them, being around them was unhealthy. Two months later, my first story was published. “To Whom it May Concern” in 50-Word Stories.

I learned that even though I had interest in science fiction and literary writing, some of my writing still gravitated toward horror because in my stories, some of my characters suffered and were forced to endure trauma. Just like me.

I started reading authors, like Clive Barker, Susan Hill, Michael Talbot, Koji Suzuki, Todd Keisling, Somer Canon, Iain Reid, Cormac McCarthy. They either wrote outright horror, or wrote stories with a lot of darkness to them.

I took a lot of online classes, and got mentored by the likes of people like Kathy Fish, Meg Pokrass, Anna Yeatts and Couri Johnson.

I joined the Horror Writers Association, which was one of the best organizations that I ever experienced. I met more like-minded horror writers, been invited to a picnic. I signed up in my local group, HWA Pennsylvania, and was invited to other group meetings. I participated in the Mentor Program, which helped me foster a relationship with my mentor, Lisa Morton. “The Monster Inside” was published in the Mental Health Initiative anthology, OF HORROR AND HOPE.

The biggest thing in all of this was that my writing was actually publishable. Over the years, some of my over fifty published stories made BLACK HARE PRESS, BLACK INK FICTION, DARK DOSSIER MAGAZINE, TREMBLING WITH FEAR, PAGE &SPINE, VERSIFICATION, THE BIRDSEED, 101 WORDS and many other venues. “The Visit” made 81 WORDS FLASH FICTION ANTHOLOGY, which won the Saboteur Award for Best Anthology. I was interviewed by Peter Okonkwo for his P. English Literature YouTube channel, in which the interview is close to 700 views.

I still deal with issues from my childhood, and I will continue to fight my depression and anxiety, but I will never be grateful enough for the support I received not only in HWA but also in the writing community in general.

I never had a choice of how to live my childhood, but today, I have a choice on what to do with it.


Today’s Giveaway: John Lane is giving away an autographed copy of BLACK HARE PRESS’S GRIMDARK anthology, which includes John’s story, “The Time of the Night-Wacche”. Comment below or email membership@horror.org with the subject title HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.



“Correspondence” made the top five of most-viewed videos on Superfast Stories’ YouTube channel.

“The Visit” was published in 81 WORDS FLASH FICTION ANTHOLOGY, which won the Saboteur Award for Best Anthology.

“The Monster Inside” was part of the Horror Writers Association’s Mental Health Initiative anthology, OF HOPE AND HORROR.

Member of the Horror Writers Association.

Army and National Guard veteran.

Follow his work at www.johnjameslane.com



One comment on “Halloween Haunts: Believing Myself to be a Writer by John James Lane

  1. Hi John,

    I’ve gone through a similar journey to becoming a writer. When people ask me about the toughest part of being a writer, I usually answer it was giving myself permission to write, permission to be bad (all writers are bad, but then they edit!), and keep going.

    Keep going! No one can stop you but yourself.

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