Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day Three: Do Horror/Thriller Writers Ever Scare Themselves?

A few days ago we celebrated Halloween which is rooted in Celtic traditions having to do with dead spirits returning to the land of the living, causing mischief, and scaring people. The Celts used sacred bonfires and sacrifices to try to keep these spirits at bay, and disguised themselves by dressing in animal costumes. Another tradition, the jack-o-lantern, came from Ireland and was originally a carved out turnip, not a pumpkin. Over the years, costumes and traditions evolved, but the "scare factor" remained an integral part of the celebration--especially when featured in films and books. Today, many people throw Halloween parties, like the one in my novel, turn off the lights, and sit around telling ghost stories to scare their friends.

Even apart from Halloween, we seem to like to scare ourselves -- as long as we know we're really safe. Whether the old Dracula, Mummy, and Wolfman movies of the early 1900s, or more recent offerings such as "The Blair Witch Project," the "Friday the 13th" series, "Paranormal Activity," and many others, people like to experience the fight or flight response without actually having to do either. And then there are the scary novels by master horror/thriller writers Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jeffrey Deaver, and Nate Kenyon.

As I was working on my novel last night, a scene in which ghost stories were being shared, I found myself becoming slightly uneasy and it made me wonder: Do horror or thriller writers ever scare themselves? Did Stephen King lie awake nights because he felt like he'd made one of his characters too real -- like his protagonist, writer Thad Beaumont, in The Dark Half? Did he have nightmares about Ronald McDonald after he wrote It? Did he hesitate, if only for a moment, before taking a bite of pie after he wrote Thinner? Was Dean Koontz afraid to fall asleep, while writing The Bad Place, like his main character Frank Pollard? And how well did Nate Kenyon sleep after a decomposed corpse attacked one of his characters in his newest work, Sparrow Rock?

I didn't have the opportunity to ask Mr. King or Mr. Koontz, but I met Mr. Kenyon a few months ago online through Suzanne Beecher's Dear Reader online book clubs; so I sent him an e-mail, and he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to respond.

Donna: Nate, have you ever given yourself nightmares from something you've written?

Nate*: Sure. I've had nightmares from something I've written--and I've written about my nightmares, too. In fact, my most recent thriller, THE BONE FACTORY, was sparked by a particularly creepy dream about a man totally alone in the deep woods at night, wading through thigh-deep drifts of snow and looking for a dead body. It was so vivid and unsettling, I woke up at about 3 a.m.,
got right up out of bed and wrote that scene. The entire novel sprouted from there.

My upcoming novel, SPARROW ROCK (May 2010) gave me nightmares one night. I wrote a scene where the resurrected body of a long-dead friend returns to the bomb shelter where a group of teens are holed up to pay them a visit. That scene really creeped me out, and that night after I'd finished it, I had a dream about a high school friend of mine who died and then came back to life. Didn't sleep much for the rest of the night!

So, apparently it works both ways: nightmares can generate stories, and stories can generate nightmares--even when you're the author. Now I don't feel so bad about not being able to sleep last night after I finished the ghost story scene. It seems I'm in good company.

*My thanks to Nate Kenyon for answering my blog question. To find out more about him and his novels, visit his website: http://natekenyon.com/

1 comment:

  1. Great question, and kudos for getting an expert in the field to answer. Sleep tight!