How many of us have wondered what turns a writer into a horror writer, why someone would chose to write dark and disturbing prose? Probably rather a lot of us, emerging author Lucas Pederson enlightens us in a powerful and highly personal tale about his journey into becoming a horror writer with his emotive article Pieces of a Horror Writer...
From an early age—say five or six—I knew what horror was, though not solely from books or movies. That came a year or two later.
At five, I knew of only one monster, and that was enough for me. It's a story told many times over and not wholly unique. Sadly, many children have a similar monster stalking their homes. And so it has been since the dawn of man. But I didn't know that then. All I knew during that time was the monster who lived in our home.
That monster was my father. And nothing in the world created the most dread in the five-year-old me than the sluggish thuds of his heavy feet coming up the stairs. You see, my father was an abusive drunk and drug addict. I remember on several occasions waking up late at night when he got home. I think he made it a point to be as loud as possible. Slamming doors. Cranking the stereo up full volume downstairs. Shouting. My mother, the most courageous and loving woman I know, would go downstairs to try and calm him down. This always began with him roaring at her and attacking her verbally.
In my room, there was a vent that was pretty much a hole in the floor that opened to the dining room downstairs. Most nights my sister and I would huddle around that vent, scared, sometimes crying because of all the horrible things our father spouted at our poor mother. Sometimes they'd venture into the dining room and we'd catch glimpses of them now and then. The verbal abuse soon turned physical. The next morning there would be holes punched into walls and my mother would have fresh bruises. She'd be making us breakfast while the monster slept upstairs in their room. Some might ask why she didn't just leave him? Scoop us kids up and just run (we did spend a lot of time at our grandparents’ place if mom had an inkling he'd be particularly horrible).
I have plenty of awful memories of that time in my life (which stretched on until I was around ten or eleven when he was finally put in prison). One of which is my mother and sister escaping the house, and me being trapped inside, alone with the monster himself. But those memories are for another time.
This is about how certain pieces in my life clicked together to form the horror writer I am today.
During those years with the monster, strange things happened. Here are a couple instances: In our old house was a dirt floor basement. But it wasn't the basement itself that creeped me out. Rather, it was the wooden steps leading down...and the wall of smiley faces. That wall, it was either look at it or the empty darkness of the basement to the left. I can’t remember exactly why I went down there, unless it was to prove to myself it’s just a basement and not a portal to Hell or something. Or maybe I was scouting out a new escape route for when my father the monster went berserk. Hard to say. I was five or six, remember.
Before the basement door, which was almost always standing open for some God-awful reason, there was another small room. I think it was the laundry room. If you stood in the narrow hall you could see right through the laundry room to the top of the basement steps. But it wasn’t the steps that caught the eye. It was the crackling, curling lime green pain…and about half of a red spray-painted smiley face. Whoever made those smiley faces they must’ve held the can too close because all faces were distorted and drippy. Like they were bleeding through the wall.
It took a lot of courage, but I made it all the way down the steps to the packed dirt floor. The smell was a conglomeration of super dank and mildly oily. The only light was a bare 60-watt bulb tucked between floor joists. It was a full basement and to the five-year-old me it looked like it went on forever. Mainly because it was so dark beyond the yellowish light. I made it three or four steps away from the stairs when a long sigh drifted to my ears. Froze me in place. I think I would’ve been okay, though, if not for the shadow in one of the corners near the stairs. It appeared to detach itself from the wall and move forward. There was another long sigh and that’s all it took. I bolted up the steps like my ass was on fire. And during every frantic second I knew, I just knew, a charred hand would shoot out from between the steps and grab my ankle.
Nothing did, though. But I never ventured into the basement again. Still, every time I walked by the laundry room, there would be that bleeding smiley face. Always watching. Always smiling.
Another spooky instance was not at my house, but at my grandparents’. Actually, there were a lot of spooky things going on there. But one stands out the most. I might’ve been six or seven at the time. I was sleeping in one of the bedrooms in the lower part of their split-level house. Ever have those dreams where you’re falling? Sure you have. Everyone does. Well, my dream was like that but someone was laughing at me as I fell. And just before I splattered onto a black sheet of nothingness…I woke up blinking and staring at myself in the wall mirror across the room. I was standing on the bed, arms stretched out like being hung on a cross. I couldn’t move. Then, whatever force was holding me finally let go and fell backwards. If I had been up the bed an inch or so more the back of my head would’ve caught the metal headboard. Bang, Lights out.
So my introductions to horror, at first, were—to some extent—of the real life variety. Maybe the ghostly things were just my young imagination going wonky. Or maybe I was really seeing and experiencing things I couldn’t (and still can’t) explain. All I know is when I played with my action figures or went outside to pretend I was a badass ninja my imagination dulled fighting human adversaries and brightened into monsters. I made up mini stories and scenarios where I had to find a monster or ghost and destroy it by any means necessary, which typically involved the initial jump kick to the throat. Because, BADASS NINJA. Anyway, that was the point where I began coping with the horrors of real life and creating my own. The ones where I could defeat the monsters and didn’t have to hide. My own little fictional worlds.
I saw my first real horror movie when I was about eight, I think. Not that I was allowed to watch horror movies, but curious. The very first horror movie I watched, terrified out of my mind from beginning to end, was A Nightmare on Elm Street. I think I was staying at friend’s house, or maybe we were visiting Mom’s goods friends in Iowa (we lived in Minnesota at the time and would later move to Iowa), I forget which. Things get a little blurry about the specifics. But I think it was while we were visiting my mom’s Iowa friends because those their kids were all about horror movies. They introduced me to a lot back then, for good or ill, and became my best friends at the same time.
A Nightmare on Elm Street struck a deep nerve in me. Maybe it was the older, evil man after the kids (reminding me of my father). Or maybe there was something just so damn terrifying about a monster that could kill you in your dreams. After watching the movie, the went on to the Friday The 13th movies, which were scary too, but none of those plucked at my nerve endings like Freddy Kruger’s finger knives screeching along a rusty pipe. Or the almost child-like glee Freddy got toying with those poor kids. I literally had nightmares for quite a while after seeing the movie. And in every one, Freddy was there. He was the monster after me in my dreams. Yet, no matter the nightmares or how much it all terrified me, I also began falling in love with it. Embracing the scare. That movie led to more horror movies and before I knew it, I was addicted. Before all that, I was into action movies. Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Lundgren. Those were the dudes that kicked ass for me. Those soon faded to the background of my interest as horror crawled to the forefront in all its dripping, snarling, clawing glory.
I began to draw then. Sort of a purging of the monsters onto paper. Nothing really good, but I felt in control of the monsters finally. I’d found a new way to cope through art. But eventually it wasn’t about coping anymore. It was about creating something scary and amazing. Sometimes I’d even write little stories to accompany the pictures I drew.
Now let’s fast-forward three years or so. My father was tossed in prison where he’d never hurt us again. We picked up and moved to Iowa after Mom met who would become my future step-dad. Big changes abound. Suddenly I was once again the new kid in a different school, fumbling my way around and trying to make new friends. The kids of mom’s friends were still my friends, but they were a year or two older than me and were different grades. So, I needed to make new ones. And it happened surprisingly fast. I was in sixth grade by then. My true introduction to Iowa youth. Everyone (well, pretty much everyone) was quite welcoming. I made friends, some of which still remain my friends till this day, like my good buddy, Josh.
Still, this was a turbulent time. The world was spinning around me like cray and there I stood wondering which way to go or even who I was. I started drawing a lot more. Really working on it. Honing and polishing whatever talent I had. Those drawings, as gruesome as they were, provided a great outlet for my anger, loss and confusion. And as before, I wrote really short stories to accompany the drawings. Not really prose. More like descriptions and actions, or maybe a brief origin story. I read books, but nothing amazing. Nothing that truly took me away from my bedroom and to a different world or life.
That only happened about year later. My mom got an offer for a good job up on the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My aunt and uncle already lived there, so we’d have a place to stay. Mom, my sister and I, we packed things and drove all the way up there, leaving my step-dad behind. He was to keep the homestead warm just in case Mom’s new job didn’t pan out. So…there I am again. Uprooted and placed in a different town, in a different state, in a different school. Again, the new kid in school. It seemed a little tougher to make friends up there. Not sure why. I met some really cool people, but none of them really became true friends. Among the differences I faced was the snow. Lake effect snow. When you’re surrounded by three Great Lakes, that’s pretty damn devastating. It was the most snow I had ever seen and I lived in northern Minnesota for most of my young life. AND THEY STILL HAD SCHOOL. Not once did the school close because of snow. I know, crazy, right? They were tough folks up there, that’s for sure.
But living on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wasn’t all that bad.
For one, I read my very first Stephen King novel. CUJO. It was also my very first horror novel. And it changed my life forever. Never before was I swept into a book and stuck there. All of the characters were so vivid and real. From the beginning I had this creeping sense of dread that kept me rapt and turning the pages. For the first time, I had been drawn into a novel, one that really scared me and left me blinking in dismay at the end. I remember putting the book down and thinking two things: 1) That was the best book EVER, and, 2) I wonder if I can write a story like that?
I scribbled down a few pages of what I thought would be the best, scariest book ever written, only to abandon it a couple days later.
All of the pieces hadn’t clicked together yet, you understand.
And there was the fact that I didn’t really like it much on that old Peninsula. I felt as though I just didn’t fit in and that I never would. This led to a small bout of depression. Eventually Mom had my step-dad come get me and bring me back to Iowa. I returned to school the following week and was once again amongst friends. I guess that’s where I belonged after all. I was never a popular kid. I was just me and no one hated me for it. Well, as far I know, anyway. I drew more than ever. One horror picture after another. The stories I wrote for them also grew longer more like actual stories.
Eventually I slackened on the drawing and began writing more. Through my teen years I wrote a lot of short stories. None of them were really any good, but I was having fun and (unknown to me) finding my voice. By the time I was nineteen or twenty, I started taking the writing thing more serious. I joined offices on Zoetrope and there I met fellow writers. Some were veterans of prose, others were like me, still working on craft, voice, characters, dialogue, ect. The basics, really. We had a lot of fun in those days with friendly writing competitions and all. Many writers from there moved on to the big time. John Mantooth, John Rector, John Hornor Jacobs, just to name a few (Johns). I know I’m missing a few more, but you get the idea. All became friends. Everyone taught each other and learned as we went. Kevin Wallis, John Miller, Shari Wice, John Lovero, just to name a few were all the best. But there was one guy who really took me under his wing and taught me how to be not only a better writer and storyteller, but a better person as well. A.J. (Jeff) Brown is that guy. And if you haven’t already, you should pick up a few of his books. His stories are among the best, in my opinion. A.J. taught me so much (still does). He turned my rapid machinegun prose into something with more substance. Over time we became good friends, almost like brothers.
And here, my friends is the final piece that clicked into place and formed the writer I am today. Not to say that I’m not continuously trying to improve my craft. I am. Every day. But without all the pieces in this article I definitely wouldn’t be whole.
You see, horror for me, isn’t just a genre. It’s not all about the scares, monsters or ghosties. For me, horror encompasses everything. Every emotion. Just like it encompasses my life.
Piece by incredible piece…I became a horror writer.
Sometimes, the membranes between worlds thins and something slips through… Taking their kids on a hunting trip to Maker's Woods, Sergeant Kris Jensen and her Special Ops friends, Brooke and Melanie, soon realize they are the ones being hunted. When one of the kids goes missing they search the area, finding a nest with ravenous creatures that move very fast and bend light to appear invisible. But the creatures aren't the only danger. One of Kris's friends gets black goo on her and becomes infected with an obsidious interdimensional spore. As a covert military base sends out units to neutralize the interdimensional threat, Kris, her son, the kids, and friends fight to survive against an enemy ripped from a loved one that will stop at nothing to infect them and overrun our world with its offspring. Kris battles the ultimate nightmare. One that refuses to end and might ultimately destroy her and the entire human race.