TODAY’S BREW: Columbian Something On Sale
I’m a big Joe Hart fan. I’m a fan of him, personally, as exemplified by our status as roommates on Twitter. I’m as big a fan of his work. (He just tweeted this line from his new work in progress: “He lived a life of seldoms, of almosts, and mostly nevers.” UGH. I want this on a tombstone, but not mine.) The man can write horror the way I want it; classic, all but gore-free, and scaring me to the bone with its chilling implications, imagery and language. More The Shining than Nightmare on Elm Street, you know? His flash fiction is the best in the business, if you ask me, and so when he offered up THE WAITING, his latest novel, for me to read, I put on my little winged shoes and flew to his side of the apartment and grabbed it, slobbering and clawing when he tried to pull it away saying I could only have it if I said please.
Follow Joe’s blog where you can read his brilliant work. http://authorjoehart.blogspot.com/
I asked Joe to tell me where he comes up with this stuff. And he just goes on and on and on. I had to slap him to get him to stop, but it was the funny kind of slap, not the insulting kind.
HERE’S WHAT HE SAID.
I get asked a lot of the time, ‘where do you come up with this stuff?’ or ‘how did you think of that?’ Sometimes people ask with wonder, and others tentatively, like I might leap toward them and bite their face off if they say something wrong. (Note to self: Quit wearing Hannibal Lecter mask when speaking to readers.)
Anyways, it’s the most common question authors get asked, and sometimes the most infuriating.
What do you mean, ‘where do I come up with this stuff?’ It’s just there, all right? Okay?! Now leave me alone! Jeez!
I’m kidding, of course, but I do think these questions test us as writers because it points the mirror at us and forces introspection about creativity in general. Personally I love getting asked those questions because it makes me really slow down and figure out exactly where the ideas do come from.
I guess the simple answer is, I think about things. A lot. I’m always telling a story to myself in my head, always wondering, asking questions- what if? Or, what would this character do? Out of the questions come answers. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes not so good, but that seems to be the process.
In my case, I make up creepy things. And since my genre is the one designed to scare people, my ideas can actually be tracked in a fairly clear way.
I ask myself, what am I afraid of?
This works pretty well because I’m somewhat jaded when it comes to horror. I watched Predator when I was six. I started reading King and Koontz when I was eleven. I used to dare my cousin and get dared in return to walk out in the middle of the night and do a lap around our old barn.
It takes quite a bit to scare me. So if an idea comes to my mind that does give me a shiver, I write it down and make a scene out of it. Sometimes I collect these scenes for months without knowing how they’re going to fit together, or if there’s a story at all. But usually if they start stacking up, I can arrange them in a narrative. Joe Hill once said to start small and write one good scene, then another after that, and just keep going. My process is close to the same. If I can scare myself silly by playing out a scene in my head, I run with it and weave it into the story. I did this several times in my latest novel, The Waiting, which in my opinion is the creepiest thing I’ve written to date.
But even before you can scare readers, you have to make them care. There is no fear if a person has nothing to lose. I’ve asked myself this question over the years: who is the most dangerous person, someone who has nothing to lose, or everything? I would have to side with everything, and for me this correlates directly with a reader’s engagement. A reader has to care about the characters. They have to care about the plot. They have to be emotionally involved in the story, and then you can flip the lights off on them and scream at the top of your lungs. If they don’t care, you can sling blood and guts at them continuously and they won’t move, except to shut the cover.
HEY THERE, IT’S ME, JULIE AND I DECIDED YOU DESERVED AN EXCERPT FROM THE WAITING. I love this because it takes place in a creepy ass basement. I love the idea of finding weird shit in basements, and bet you do, too. So, read:
Evan searched blindly until his fingers met a switch box. Knowing full well if this switch produced no light he would retreat up the stairs, he flipped it up. Three dim bulbsblinked on in a line across the basement, casting everything in a sick glow. He was about
to step onto the basement floor when he looked down—
—and saw a small child standing less than a foot away.
Evan’s feet tried to backpedal, and a strangled moan fell from his mouth as he tripped and landed hard on the stairs behind him. The treads bit into his ass and lower back, but he barely noticed, his gaping eyes locked on the child facing away from him.
Just as he was about to spin and flee up the stairs, already forming a plan to grab Shaun from the couch and haul him to the pontoon, Evan realized that the child hadn’t moved.
He waited, his breath too large for his lungs. His eyes traveled down the back of a little girl with dark hair wearing a purple dress, except something was wrong. Several dark slits were cut into the back of her knees.
Evan sighed and placed his sweating face into one palm.
His voice sounded hollow, but speaking gave him the strength to stand and wince at the throbbing ache settling into his back. Evan moved down the last two treads, his heart returning into the realm of normality as the doll’s face came into view. Its eyes stared across the basement, its mouth covered in duct tape.
The bubbling dread within his stomach that had receded only moments ago began to build again, the hairs rising on the back of his neck. Evan didn’t move any farther into the basement, his eyes fixed on the doll’s face. Visions of its head slowly turning toward him corkscrewed through his mind. If that happened, he wouldn’t just cry out, he would become a scream embodied.
Trying to shove aside the blaring fear within, he bent and grasped the doll’s miniature arm. Its plastic flesh felt cold to the touch, as if it had been soaking in ice water. Evan shuddered, waiting for the frigid limb to writhe in his palm. Even as the rational part of his mind tried to quell the stampeding fear, Evan noticed his hands shaking. He turned the doll over once, studying it. It didn’t look very old or used. In fact, it appeared almost new. When he flipped it over again, he started as its bright blue eyes blinked shut, but realized it was designed to do that when lying flat. He studied the gray tape covering the doll’s mouth, it chubby cheeks visible above its gag. Evan set the doll on the floor beside a stack of cardboard boxes, giving it another sidelong glance before stepping fully into the room.
The basement ran the full length and width of the house, and even with its low ceiling, it felt like a cavernous space. To his right he saw what must have been Jason’s grandmother’s sewing area; a dust-covered sewing machine sat amidst a field of threaded bobbins atop a desk. Beside it, several baskets of yarn lay in bundles, their wrapping sealed and new.
Evan moved forward, running his hand along a workbench that ran along the wall.
A pegboard of hanging tools glinted in the soft light, and numerous drawers lined the front of the bench. A few support beams studded the floor in random places, furthering the feeling of being in a cave.
As he approached the opposite end of the room, Evan saw a wide worktable covered with a white sheet and littered with several stacks of papers held down by oblong brass paperweights. A few sprockets and thin chains were coiled within trails of oil.
Beyond the table stood a massive shape partially concealed by another sheet, this one dark and splotched.
Evan moved closer to the hidden shape, noting the electrical panel in one corner as well as a hulking furnace and water heater. Several cobwebs danced in the rafters above, and gradually the silhouette beneath the makeshift tarp became apparent.
A grandfather clock.
But it was the biggest Evan had ever seen. Rounding the table, he tugged once at the sheet covering its bulk. It fell to the floor, and he stepped back.
The clock didn’t have a single pendulum encasement, but three. The two towers to either side of the center lacked actual pendulums and sat lower, like the shoulders of a crouching giant. The wood frame was dark, stained a deep obsidian, with elaborate molding that swirled and curved on the outside of the frame. Three glass doors covered the pendulum encasements, their handles and hinges cast iron, with the center door being the widest, almost big enough for a man to walk through comfortably. The clock’s shining face was the size of a large dinner plate and had four separate sets of timing hands. Instead of numbers around the outer edges, bunches of delicate, curving lines were etched into the silver plating. The slicing brink of a moon dial peeked over the top of the clock’s face; the crescent moon carved into the steel bore an uncanny malevolent smile, with two empty sockets for eyes. Above the face, the molding came together in two pointed horns that nearly met in the middle.
That’s the scariest fucking clock I’ve ever seen.
Evan frowned. How could a timepiece be scary? He chided himself but couldn’t deny the aura the clock gave off. It hadn’t been engineered to be beautiful. As far as he could see, it was quite the opposite.
Evan’s hip bumped the worktable, and one of the paperweights rolled off the pile it held down. He reached out and stopped it before it plummeted to the floor, marveling at its weight. Only after lifting it close to his face did he realize that’s exactly what it was—
a weight for the clock. Its brass casing shone beneath the light, and a small pulley grew from its top.
Evan spun the little wheel a few times before placing the weight back on the table.
A diagram on one of the pieces of paper drew his attention. Evan picked the paper up and spent a few seconds squinting before realizing it was an inner illustration of the clock’s face, “the bonnet,” as it was apparently called.
“On it like a bonnet,” Evan said to the empty room, as he placed the paper back on the pile. He turned toward the clock, wondering whether or not he should replace the sheet. The soulless eyes of the moon at the clock’s peak gazed at him, almost imploring
him to come closer.
“No thanks,” Evan said, and crossed the basement to the stairway, shooting only a cursory glance at the doll as he passed.
He paused at the light switch, running through different options before sighing and flipping off the power to the lights. The basement plunged into darkness, and with all the restraint he held in his body, he managed not to pelt up the stairs into the welcoming light of the kitchen.
I KNOW, RIGHT?? Go buy THE WAITING right this second. http://t.co/P3IvkebeMa