Halloween and Dark Tales: What Inspires You?

And All Through The HouseHere we are in October, my favorite month of the year. Soon the leaves will be turning that crisp brown, gold, and/or burnt orange color and will be falling off the trees into large, inviting piles just waiting for some giddy child (or a silly adult such as myself) to jump on in ‘em.

But the best part of October is Halloween. The costumes, the candy, the haunted houses and hayrides – I love it all. Even better, most stations this month will be running horror movie marathons leading up to the 31st so there will never be a shortage of things to watch to send a subtle chill up your spine and keep you up at night.

I’m working on my next micro collection of dark tales for release around Halloween and while brainstorming ideas, I realized something I hadn’t thought about before: most of my stories are inspired by film or television, not by the horror fiction I grew up reading.

As my bio stated, I lived for Stephen King novels as a kid. I remember being six-years-old going to the library every weekend with my mom and brother, heading straight back to the horror section and bypassing all the children’s and middle grade literature. I’d read the back cover copy on his older books in the section, read the jacket flaps, and if the cover was frightening or strange, I’d put it in my “to read” pile.

Once I had an armload of books, I’d head on over to the librarian at the circulation desk and plop my bounty up on the counter, sliding her (because it was always a female working the desk) my library card. She’d look at me, then up at my mother, then back down to the titles I’d laid out for her, then back at mom.  Mom would just shrug and say, “She likes scary stories.”  The librarian would sigh, shake her head, and check out the age-inappropriate material, handing the books to me with a concerned and bewildered expression on her face. I’d smile, thank the judgey librarian, and happily jog out to my mother’s car, cracking open one of the tomes to read on the short ride home.

Movies, however, seem to have had a greater impact on me and my sensibilities as a writer mainly because they operate on a visual level. I’m a visual person. Images I see get burned into my mind and never leave (seriously – I have almost perfect recall of things I’ve seen, and been horrified by, as a child) and while I’m writing, these images come to the forefront of my mind and inform the tone of whatever it is I’m working on.

For example, in Dark Tales: eVolume One there’s a story called “Child’s Play” about a young boy and his imaginary friend who might not be quite so imaginary. After I wrote it, I came upon Thomas Ligotti’s short story “The Frolic” and was surprised by how similar my ending of “Child’s Play” was to his – but not very. Because ultimately, my ending was a take off a Tales from the Crypt episode I’d seen as a kid called “And All Through the House” (and I hadn’t consciously intended to do that when I sat down to write the story by the way).  I won’t spoil the endings of any of the three stories mentioned here, but needless to say, I think Ligotti and I must have been inspired by the same story (remember – Tales  was a popular comic book series in the ‘50s and ‘60s and “And All Through the House” was taken from the source material). The image of a deranged serial killer standing in your house dressed as Santa, drenched in blood is a powerful (and chilling) one. As is a woman screaming. These images are perfect jumping off points for a horror story.1_TCSOTL

I don’t have any hard proof Ligotti ever read the comic (and his short story was written before “And All Through the House” was filmed for the Tales HBO series) but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had seen the comics as a boy and had been partially inspired to write dark fiction because of it. Since I know now that I create based off things I’ve seen, TV shows and films that have stuck with me, I wonder – does anyone else do this? And I’m not talking about writing fanfic; that’s a whole other issue.  What I mean is, does anyone else unintentionally write a story and then go back, read a book or watch a movie and think, Gee, I think I might have cribbed that totally awesome idea I had earlier from here? I’d love to hear from writers of any genre on this, but especially horror/dark fiction writers since the genre we write in oftentimes tends to be a bit more graphic and atmospheric than others.

7 thoughts on “Halloween and Dark Tales: What Inspires You?

  1. What a great piece of contemplation. What inspires me? I spent a lot of time alone on farms, warehouse work. Inspired by the deep feelings I’ve developed from those experiences.

    My list of dark fiction influences: Tim Burton(Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands), Norse mythology, The Darkness and Witchblade(Top Cow/Image comics productions), Hindu mythology, Buddhist writing and thought.

    • I like the Hindu mythology idea. I really like dark fiction that mines non-European folklore for inspiration – I don’t think other cultures are explored enough. I’m working on a novel that deals with Haitian folklore and mythology myself because, except for the zombie craze and voodoo, we really haven’t borrowed a lot of scary stuff from their region. Caribbean/West Indian folklore has some of the creepiest stories I’ve ever heard so I think it’s a shame writers fall back on the same Eurocentric tropes. What kind of stories would you tell using the Hindu mythology as a basis?

      • Elle – I’m curious. Can you give a pointer to some of the Caribbean/West Indian folklore you’re talking about? Or anything non-Eurocentric? After reading your comment I think I’ve been pretty limited in what I’ve been exposed to.

  2. Pingback: My shameful confession about Twilight

  3. What I do know for sure is that much of my inspiration has come from Stephen King. My first exposure to him was in 1988 when I read my first King book: It. What an amazing story. I think it was the first time I actually got scared reading a book. I have pretty much ready everything he’s written.

    While I owe much of my writing style and preference to King (not to compare myself to him by any stretch of the imagination), I do know that much of what I write has been inspired by film, at least in terms of how I visualize what I’m writing. Not sure if that’s good or bad, but it is what it is.

    • Hey Dave:

      In response to your first post, if you read some of Zora Neale Hurston’s nonfiction and anthropological work done in Haiti and Jamaica, you’ll read about all kinds of interesting burial practices and religious beliefs. There’s also a book about African myths that I scanned on my computer and can’t get open at the moment, but I may do a blog post on this topic closer to Halloween, maybe like a countdown of the creepiest myths and legends from several African countries now that you’ve got me thinking about it again…hmmm.

      And believe it or not, I still haven’t read It. I’m deathly afraid of clowns (and have been since I was a child) thanks to Poltergeist so I’ve been avoiding it. Maybe it’s finally time for me to face that fear.

      • Thanks. I’ll see if I can find that book and read about some of that stuff. Sounds interesting.

        Interesting. Clowns have never bothered me, really, though I can see why people can be creeped out about them. Pennywise the clown in It was a great monster, but the clown aspect of it never bothered me. It was just scary to begin with, if that makes sense. I can see why Poltergeist would make you hate clowns … love that movie. I think you should go for it and face that fear … if you can make it past the clown thing, I guarantee you’ll love the book.

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