We’ve talked a bit about where to submit horror, and some inspirations from folklore, but horror is all around us. (Just look at the headlines…)
Keep a notebook of ideas with you at all times. Whether it is a small physical notebook; a larger spiral; or an app in your phone like Notebooks Pro or Evernote. Have sections for names–both for characters and creatures; settings–like haunted houses you might read about or abandoned asylums; and bits of plot that might occur to you.
You can add other sections as you see fit. Folklore that strikes your fancy. Photographs that inspire you. Song lyrics or poems that create an appropriate mood. Textures, like fabric swatches, that bring in a tactile element.
You never know what will create the moment you are looking for to move along the story. Write down your nightmares. Scribble bits of conversation. Always be collecting those bits of inspiration. You never know when you might need just that one little spark you found last year.
Horror is all around you. Keep your eyes open for it.
Way back in 2013, I came across a call for submissions looking for collaboration between two writers who’d never met in real life. I reached out to Kerry Lipp, whose writing style and sense of humor I admired, and asked if he wanted to write a story with me. Neither of us had ever done that, so we stumbled our way through 3900 words of a ridiculous tale of a man who wakes up physically dead but still mentally sharp. It was creepy, disgusting, and hilarious. We sold it.
I asked is he wanted to do another one, and he said, “Sure! Whatcha got?” So, I sent Kerry this scene I had written but didn’t know where to go with. It featured an aging (but bad-ass) bounty hunter interrogating a punk. He loved the character, Johnny Headcase, and wrote another couple thousand words. We went back and forth, each trying to leave the other on a mad cliffhanger or an “impossible” situation for our heroes to get out of. We laughed and said “holy shit!” a lot, and overall had a blast writing this thing. At some point, we realized that we’d been at it for a while and checked the word count. We had written over 25,000! We’d made a novella! This was kind of amazing, as we had only planned on writing a short. However, the story wasn’t done yet, so we kept at it. Somehow, we blasted past 50,000 words and…we had a book!
One of the characters, Gavin the Werewolf, was still under contract with a publisher (they had first rights of refusal), so we offered the novel to them. They loved it, worked with us to edit it so it was publication-ready, and we were stoked. Unfortunately, the publisher, after much soul-searching deliberation, realized that this book, while a hell of a fun read, did not, in fact, fit the demographic of their readership. They produce horror and romance books, and this was neither. Sure, it had monsters: vampires, trolls, goat-demons, and more. Sure, it had sex (rather a lot of fairly graphic sex). But it wasn’t really horror. It wasn’t romance. It was this weird hybrid, genre-jumping, unclassifiable thing. So, they gave it back.
Kerry and I sent it out to a couple of other publishers who passed on it. We tried not to take it personally. Then, I asked my publisher, LVP Publications, for whom I am the Managing Editor of Collections and Anthologies (impressive title, no?) if they’d take a look at the book. They said okay, to send the first chapter. The first chapter is crazy short. So, they asked for the first five. And then they asked for the rest of the book. Then for character descriptions. They accepted it!
Kerry and I had written an origin story for one of the four main characters: Lydia, a half-human, half-demon warrior, and asked if they wanted to include it as a sort of coda. They read it and asked us to write one for each of the other three. We were like, “Oh. Okay. Sure.” And, somehow, managed to crank these out too. So, after five years or so, HEADCASE is finally about to see the light of day. It’s being released serially, one quarter at a time (with an origin story attached to each), in both eBook and paperback. There will also be an audiobook available, once all four sections have been published.
This is a series of firsts for me: first novel, first time having anything serialized, first audiobook. I couldn’t be happier with the responses we’ve been getting so far! People are excited about this crazy little book. No one more so than me and Kerry, of course. We started the sequel, so you know. Hopefully, it won’t take another five years to get this one out!
So, because I took a chance and asked a virtual stranger to write a story with me, I have not only a debut novel imminent but also a solid friendship with someone I genuinely admire and get along with well. You never know until you reach out. Thank you for listening.
Here’s a link to the book trailer. If you think it’s something you’d like to read, the preorder links are in the YouTube video’s comments. You can order just the first section, the first and second, or the whole shebang.
[Since the new WordPress editor embedded the really cool video, here are the links for your convenience:
Horror ranges from the silliness of Scooby-Doo to the terror of The Ring. But some of the most interesting and insidious horror comes when an everyday object becomes unexpectedly evil.
Look at Cujo. The book, and subsequent movie, are visceral and terrifying–and yet, they are about a rabid dog, not some demonic creature. Any dog can be bitten by a rabid animal and go on such a rampage. The story terrifies because it could happen to any household in any neighborhood.
Would Child’s Play have as much impact if Chucky were not a doll? One of the most innocuous toys possible…something in any little girl’s room.
If you are setting out to write horror, don’t think only of the monsters. Think of the mundane items in your world and see if there is something you can turn into the catalyst of your story. Perhaps the water fountain in the square suddenly starts poisoning people. Why? Is it a human intervention, or is there something more devious at work? Perhaps a vengeful water spirit?
Maybe a pet songbird suddenly starts singing words–words that prophesize murder. (Wait…I think I want that one…)
The point is, horror doesn’t have to be full of ghosts or demons or vampires to bring a shiver to the spine. And, sometimes, it is better when it isn’t.
The mockumentary genre can be very hit or miss. Sometimes, it works; sometimes, it doesn’t. I would say, in this case, it is about 90% spot on. There are a few scenes that make you wonder about the size of the film crew that must be involved…but it generally works.
Looking first at the movie, the geniuses behind the “script” (according to the IMDB site, it was mostly improvised around an outline), Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi also directed and starred in the film, along with Jonny Brugh. The three vampires walk the film crew through a few days nights in their undead lives. It’s a fun romp, but I think the dynamics of the household work better in the TV series because of the introduction of a female perspective.
The introduction of Nadja into the house gives a lot of new possibilities to the action. The relationship between Nadja and Lazlo is really interesting to watch. Natasia Demetriou is delightful, and I always love Matt Berry. I had never seen Kayvan Novak before, but I like his style. I think having the familiar be part of the household is also an interesting twist.
The call-back to the movie in the episode “The Trial” is also nice, having the original vampires be part of the Vampire Council, as well as some other familiar faces, was a lot of fun.
Part of the charm of the franchise is the discovery, so I don’t want to give away too many details. I would definitely recommend both the movie and the series, and give the whole franchise 4 Bats.
Monsters. The mainstay of horror, aren’t they? Vampires, werewolves, mummies–these are the creatures that everyone turns to when they hear the word “monster.” Perhaps that should be qualified–these are the stereotypical creatures that American readers/writers turn to automatically. And that’s why they inundate the pages of books and the frames of films we are familiar with.
The point is that there are so many under-used monsters in the world that putting aside the vampires, mummies, werewolves, and ghosts for awhile and exploring these lesser-known creatures in our fiction and film might be to everyone’s advantage. 😉