When Everything Is Dark…Turn On The Night
By John Everson
Editor’s note: Go to the new site for The Pumpkin Man: http://www.thepumpkinman-horror.com and ask the online Ouija Board your darkest questions! And then enter the Contest to win free autographed John Everson books or e-books, as well as autographed CDs from the band New Years Day. Make sure you note that you are entering the contest from Literary Mayhem when you enter the contest — someone from LM will win an e-book edition of The Pumpkin Man, and everyone will be added to the Grand Prize contest!
Have you ever walked down the stairs to a basement in the dark? At the start of your walk, you’re confident and cool – just crossing a shadowy patch on some creaky wooden steps to get to the light switch. But probably more often than not, by the time you reach that light switch and flip on the electric, your heart is pounding a little faster than normal. Your chest might be tighter. The hair on the back of your neck is prickling…
And then the light goes on and you’re inwardly laughing at yourself for being so foolishly fearful. There’s nothing there. It’s just an empty, mildewed basement with a little drip over there on the north end near where the furnace drains to the outside.
That last paragraph? That’s the domain of horror movies and literature. Taking those basic fears that we all have, upping the ante and exploiting them to the nth degree.
I have a lot of people tell me they can’t do horror – they can’t stand the blood; they don’t want to be scared. And when you think about it, why would anyone voluntarily ask to be scared?
For the same reason that people go on rollercoasters. The rush.
I love rollercoasters almost as much as haunted houses. But in both types of “thrill rides”, the adrenaline rush you get is a controlled thing. Even though your instinctive fear button is pushed, you know in your head that the spooks are fake and the rollercoaster is not going to careen off the tracks.
Not usually anyway.
As a kid, I could get almost the same heart-pounding adrenaline rush from a good book that I got from a haunted house. I could lay in my bed at 1 a.m., after everyone had gone to sleep, and if the story was good… I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. And then the scares of the story would transpose into the real world – if someone was being stalked in the book, I could hear the floorboards creaking on the other side of my bedroom door. My heart pounded faster. My body perspired. I held my breath and listened while at the same time aching to turn my attention back to the story in my hands… Books as a 4-D experience?
The job of a horror author is to take our basic fears of the dark, or of being stalked by a predator, and amp them up. The more they are cranked up on the page, the better the thrill for the reader, right? Or to put it another way, when everything is dark… turn on the night!
With a book, you can’t shock your audience with a well-planted sound effects cue like you can in the movies. There are no audible screams when you turn the page. You can’t use a jump cut montage to shock your audience into gasping. No, you have to delve a little deeper into the darkness of the human psyche, to really dredge out some creepiness that will then stick in your readers’ heads and grow… until they can’t stop thinking about it.
And hopefully, when they do think about it, they get that adrenaline rush.
When I wrote my fifth novel, The Pumpkin Man, I wanted to give readers a bit of a rollercoaster ride… if that rollercoaster wound through a hidden cavern filled with piles of bones and the voices of the dead!
The book begins just after Jennica has lost her father in a bizarre murder. But then she also loses her job and her apartment. She must ultimately lose everything about her quiet, comfortable life for her to really face herself… and her family history.
Because Jennica inherits a cottage in Northern California that once belonged to her aunt… who just happens to have been a witch. And when Jenn and her friend Kirstin go to live in the house for the summer, they find themselves in the middle of a horrible murder spree by The Pumpkin Man, a killer who replaces his victims’ heads with jack-o-lanterns carved in near-perfect imitation of the victims. His killings grow closer and closer, and Jenn quickly realizes there is no escape for her without facing him head on. Her only way out of becoming a victim is to find the way to end his reign of murder once and for all.
With a mix of urban legend and the occult creep factor of a Ouija board thrown in for good measure, I really tried to create a novel in The Pumpkin Man that would trigger some of that adrenaline rush that you get when the dark closes in.
People ask me a lot why I write horror. I guess I should ask them why they ride a rollercoaster.
Because sometimes fear is fun.
I hope readers will find The Pumpkin Man goes beyond the simple fears of the dark and packs a little extra “night” that will keep you turning the pages faster to find out what happens at that last, fast corkscrew turn.