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.

Advertisements

Fear Itself (Or Why I Write Dark Fiction)

 horror_98bfad09

I love being afraid. It sounds strange, but it’s true. Ever since I was a little girl, I longed for the moment when someone would jump out from behind a closed door in the middle of the night and scare me.  I’d stay up late at night with a book by Koontz or King, crouched down on the floor beside a night light (I shared a room with my younger brother so the light was for him), and read macabre tales early into the next day. Halloween was my favorite holiday (and still is) and I imagined what I’d rename myself once I was made a kickass, punk vampire like the kids in The Lost Boys.

I loved werewolves, zombies, ghosts, demons, witches, clowns (yes, they count as monsters thanks to the murderous toy in Poltergeist and Pennywise in IT), and the aforementioned vamps. Serial killers intrigued me and possession stories dealing with Satan both fascinated and terrified me.

Strangely, I didn’t start writing my own horror stories until I’d reached adulthood. I spent most of my adolescence writing Emo poetry and pretentious literary fiction. I could read and watch horror all I wanted, but I couldn’t imagine crafting those kinds of stories myself. Every monster had been done before; every twist and turn already well traversed.

But that’s true of every plot in every genre of fiction. Originality doesn’t come from the story points and themes we use, but from our individual perspectives. No two people will ever see events happen the exact same way. We all have different filters through which we absorb and process information. Our surroundings – where we live, our families, our religions and cultures, etc. – help shape our worldviews and that worldview, our distinct voice, is what each writer brings to our work, separating it from another’s.

I don’t try to write the kinds of stories my childhood heroes wrote for that reason. I don’t see the world the way they do so I’d never be able to tell a tale the way they do. So I write about the things that unsettle me and make me uncomfortable. The things that horrify me on a personal level aren’t made up creatures (although I can still appreciate those kinds of stories when they’re well-written), but humanity itself.

People can be some of the scariest monsters on Earth.

My first completed novel was a supernatural suspense story about a second generation Haitian-American pre-teen girl in 1960s Louisiana who can “see” things about people: emotions, thoughts, desires, etc. The images she sees come to her in Polaroid-style snapshots in front of her mind’s eye and she sometimes doesn’t get the full scope of what these images mean until it’s too late. Such is the case when she forms an innocent childhood crush on the new teacher in town only to discover that the man in question is a child murderer.

There is a magical element to the story that involves hoodoo, a practice that most people believe is a sham, but what everyone can agree on is the disturbing fact that there are adults in the world who prey on young children. And as someone who has a burning desire to one day have children of my own, the idea that someone would hurt my child in this way terrifies me, especially if that someone was in a position of authority over said child.

It’s a universal fear many parents face. I’m a grown woman, but my mother calls or texts me at least five times a day to make sure I’m all right and no one has raped and murdered me in a dark alley somewhere. That’s her biggest fear when it comes to me because it’s such a common crime. My fourth grade teacher’s teenage daughter was raped and murdered the year before I entered her class and I remember how her grief, plus the stress of the trial, wore her down.

Being powerless to protect those we love is also a universal fear. It’s a common theme that pops up in not just my novels, but also in my short works. I recently wrote the first draft of a short story for this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo entitled “Child’s Play” where the main character, Maggie, is a widowed mother of a five-year-old boy who has an imaginary friend named Edgar who talks to him late at night. Only Edgar might not be so imaginary and Maggie’s son might not be so safe.

Abandonment and the fear of being alone is also something I like to play around with. A flash piece I wrote earlier this year that I plan to resume re-submitting to horror magazines next month deals with this very thing. In “When Daddy Comes Home,” Opal Brown will go to any lengths to keep her husband from leaving her and her young girls again. It’s safe to say, this story doesn’t end well for anyone involved.

All of these stories have Big Bads that are regular people just like you and me. These stories aren’t necessarily “scary” in the traditional sense of the word, but they are unsettling, discomforting, and definitely disturbing. This is why I write horror – to take my readers, and myself, to the darkest depths of the world we inhabit and embrace the scariness of our pending mortality because only then can we truly be brave when we’ve faced death and continued to live.