This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Max Turner, whose latest novel in the Night Runner series is New Order. Here’s the publisher’s description:
How can a guy who can’t find two matching socks be qualified to lead anyone?
An ancient prophecy declared that Zack Thomson, orphaned son of a great vampire hunter, would come back from the dead and either lead humanity into the light—or destroy it. Now the End of Days for vampires is here, the old order is eroding, and from the ashes of that ruin a new world will arise. Will Zack become the great leader the new order so desperately needs? And which of his friends, allies and enemies will survive to learn the answer?
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Max Turner:
Every writer has to be a sadist. We have to make our heroes suffer. It’s the only way to show what they’re made of. As a consequence, whether you read horror or not, you should at times, in any story, find your hackles rising in anticipation of something awful. Depending on your genre of choice, the nature of that awfulness will vary, but it must be present in some proportion for a story to move you. When writing my first novel, Night Runner, a YA coming of age story with elements of fantasy and horror, I was mindful not to go over the top when constructing my hackle-raising scenes. Now that the narrator, Zack, has suffered through two novels and grown up a bit (and my audience along with him), I thought I could take some chances in book three, New Order, and write a few scenes that were darker and more frightening than any I’d tried before.
This was a challenge. I do not live a terrifying life. My kids are well behaved. My wife is nice to me, even when I don’t deserve it, and I work in a high school, which hasn’t been scary to me since they got rid of the strap. I only experience horror in movies, print and in dreams.
I have nightmares. Dreams of apocalypse. They are not pleasant. Still — in terms of producing sheer terror, none rival a dream I had often, starting when I was a young teenager and continuing into my mid twenties.
It only happened in my parent’s home. I would experience a ‘false awakening.’ (I believed myself to be awake, but was still asleep and dreaming). From my bed, everything would look normal, my maps and Star Wars posters hanging where they should be, my desk, books and collectables all shelved and in order. But something was wrong. A sense of unease would settle in. I would try to sit up, then discover that I couldn’t move. No amount of concentration would change this. I couldn’t even close my eyes. At the same time, I’d become aware that something was approaching the door to my room. I can only describe this as an evil presence, a malicious entity whose intent was to take full advantage of my inexplicable paralysis. The slow tension and my growing sense of helplessness created a fear so visceral it easily eclipsed any terror I’ve experienced in real life (for which I am extremely grateful). Then I would wake for real, and relief would tingle through every muscle fibre in my body.
The evil presence never revealed itself. Still — it got the better of me every time.
I wanted to mimic that distressing combination of realism, powerlessness and fear in a scene involving Zack. This required a few changes, most notably how to properly represent the evil presence. Something so vague had the power to terrify me in a dream, but in print, a more concrete villain was needed.
I drew upon images of Cenobites, Giger’s aliens, cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers (yes, I suffered the indignity that was C.H.U.D.), John Carpenter’s Thing, the aliens of the Mos Eisley Cantina, and even the late, great Vincent Price. The result was Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a pale, self-mutilating, spidery-limbed vampire with a corpulent face and body, covered head to toe in leaking pustules. Not the kind of guy you want to bring home to your parents. (The Addams Family being the pleasant exception).
In my scariest scene, Zachary’s dream is invaded by Pestilence who takes control of the dreamscape, renders Zack immobile (I can relate), then tortures and drowns him. Not a pleasant experience, but Zack has to suffer… Then he gets to show us what he’s made of.
Max Turner is an author of urban fantasy, and a science and phys-ed teacher. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and three kids. He is a lover of games, history, art, music, sports and all things creative. His first book, Night Runner, was a Red Maple Honour Book and was shortlisted for a Sunburst Award. The sequel, End of Days, was shortlisted for an Ottawa Book Award. The third book in the series, New Order, hit store shelves in 2015.