The Scariest Part: Mark Allan Gunnells Talks About 2B

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m happy to welcome back Mark Allan Gunnells, whose latest novel is 2BHere is the publisher’s description:

Berkley Simmons died…for five minutes.

Berkley woke up to find himself in the hospital. He discovered that his ex is dead after a failed murder/ suicide attempt. With nowhere else to go, Berkley must return to the apartment where it all happened. It doesn’t take long for Berkley to begin to suspect that his ex never left the apartment, and still wants him dead.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark Allan Gunnells:

I’ve done a few of these columns in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared to write something as I was my current release, 2B. I was excited to write it, I believed in the power of the concept, but I also entered into it with great trepidation.

Why? you ask. Because the idea for the novel had been rattling around in my head for nearly twenty years, and over the course of those two decades it had taken on almost a mythic quality. To me, it seemed like a gem of an idea that I worried I wouldn’t be able to do justice.

The origins of the novel actually date back earlier than twenty years. For that, we have to stretch back to my college years. I wrote a short story that was built around what became a big reveal near the end of 2B. To be honest, I thought the short story was rather crap, definitely not my best work, and yet…the concept itself I thought was golden. If only I could find a way to work it into a better story.

Then about twenty years ago I was living in an apartment, and I came home one night and the light in the breezeway outside my apartment was flickering and buzzing. A short, no doubt, but I had the thought that it was the kind of creepy scene you’d see in a horror movie. Maybe a haunted house story.

In this case, a haunted apartment story, I thought with a laugh, but in the next instant I had an idea for a novel. Almost fully formed, realizing I could do an interesting take on the ghost tale and finally incorporate the concept of that college-era short story into something worthy. I even instantly came up with the title, 2B.

At the time, however, I was having a lot of work stress and personal stress, and I wasn’t writing much, so the idea went onto the backburner. A few years later when I finally got serious about my writing again, the idea was there but I didn’t want to touch it yet. Perhaps I felt too rusty and wanted to knock the dust off.

The years continued to pass, and I worked on other projects, but 2B never left my thoughts. At times it almost seemed to cry out to be written, but again I kept putting it off. The idea seemed too good almost, and I remembered that short I’d written in college and feared I would take a great concept and screw it up.

About ten years ago, I did try my hand at a beginning. However, almost right away I could feel it going off the rails and I stopped after a chapter and a half. I still have that chapter and a half, and while they aren’t terrible, they also aren’t what I wanted them to be. This made me even more afraid to really tunnel into the novel.

And so another decade passed. Then last year, I was offered the opportunity to write a short novel for a cool new publisher, Valhalla Books. I provided the editor with several ideas, and I included 2B among them. This brought my haunted apartment concept back to the forefront of my mind and while there was still fear, suddenly excitement overcame that fear.

When I sat down to actually start it (ignoring the aborted chapter and a half from ten years ago), my head was filled with doubts and worries and once more I wondered if I could do this idea justice. Having a publisher waiting for the book, however, helped me to push all that aside and simply start.

And much to my amazement, the novel just flowed from me. I wrote it over a two-month period, writing every single day with no breaks. And with every completed page, the doubts and fears began to dissipate like smoke. I simply dove into that world, lived with the characters, and it seemed like before I knew it, I was writing “THE END”.

Considering that many of my novels were started then put aside for months or years before I returned to them to finish, it is actually amazing how smoothly and quickly this one came to me. Only two months.

Twenty years and two months.

2B: Amazon

Mark Allan Gunnells: Blog / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.

The Scariest Part: Douglas Wynne Talks About THE WIND IN MY HEART

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to host my good friend Douglas Wynne, whose latest novel is The Wind in My HeartHere is the publisher’s description:

Miles Landry is trying to put violence behind him when he takes up work as a private detective focused on humdrum adultery cases. But when a Tibetan monk hires him to find a missing person, things get weird fast. Charged with tracking down the reincarnation of a man possessed by a demonic guardian from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Miles is plunged into a world of fortune-tellers, gangsters, and tantric rituals.

The year is 1991 and a series of grisly murders has rocked New York City in the run up to a visit from the Dalai Lama. The police attribute the killings to Chinatown gang warfare. Miles — skeptical of the supernatural — is inclined to agree. But what if the monster he’s hunting is more than a myth?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Douglas Wynne:

By the time a book is released, it’s usually been a while since I wrote and revised it. My memory of the details can be a little foggy. With each round of edits and proof reader corrections the story feels farther away from the close up immersion I had in the early drafts. You tend to just zoom in on the corrections and areas for improvement an editor suggests and work through them. Then, when release time comes around, I scan through and pick a couple of passages to read at bookstore events (ah, remember bookstore events from the Before Times?) or these days on Zoom and hope I still like what I’m reading now that I have some distance from it.

But with every book I’ve written, it seems like there’s always one scene that stands out and lingers in my memory. A scene that doesn’t fade over the many months of the process. A scene that comes to mind first when I think of that book. Sometimes I can remember writing it. What music I was listening to at the time and how it felt to get lost in the story. Other times I might remember getting sucked in again while editing, like I’m reading someone else’s work, with even my constant inner critic holding his breath for a few minutes.

When I sat down to revisit The Wind in My Heart for this post, I knew which scene that was right away, and (as usual) I think it might be the scariest part. I have a lot of different goals as a fiction writer and they vary depending on the genre or project at hand. I’m often considered a horror writer, though I dabble in fantasy, crime, and sci-fi. But my one aim above all others is to build suspense, in small ways and large. Suspense about what a character might say next in a dialogue, about some intriguing bit of backstory only hinted at when it’s first mentioned, and ultimately about who lives and dies and how characters come out the other side of a book changed.

Then there’s the suspense of a man we’ve come to care about venturing down a dark hallway toward flickering candlelight, registering the mingled scents of spilled blood and incense in the cloying air, and wondering as he touches the grip of his gun if it will do him any good against what he’s about to confront.

That’s the scene that stayed with me. Miles Landry, a hardnosed private eye hunting down a reincarnated demon and beginning to wonder if there might actually be something to this weird case he took on for what he thought would be an easy payday from some superstitious Buddhist monks. The previous night, Miles visited a fortuneteller the monks sent him to, and after a cryptic I Ching reading she told him about the bad vibes she got off a peacock feather he retrieved from a murder victim. The feather is one of Miles’ only clues in a series of murders rocking Chinatown, so when he finds it missing from his coat pocket the next morning, he goes back to the fortunetelling parlor/herb shop of Lily Lao, thinking she might have pocketed it after pretending to be freaked out about it. Maybe people are playing games with him.

But what he finds in the candlelit backroom of the shop is no game.

I may have got my own hair up while writing that scene, but it wasn’t the only scary part of writing this novella. I was raised Catholic and have digested as much Catholic horror as anyone, but for the past twenty odd years my real spiritual affinity has been with Tibetan Buddhism. Those years of study armed me with the details and philosophy to write a supernatural thriller from a somewhat exotic point of view. But it’s one thing to write about stuff you don’t believe in and another to take on a spiritual system that’s close to your heart. Add to that the fear of misrepresenting a culture I wasn’t raised in and you have a recipe for trepidation.

The tantric Buddhist concept of gods and demons is different from the Western view, and it’s part of what I find fascinating and alluring in the Tibetan worldview. In a nutshell, it’s a more psychological model. There’s an explicit understanding that the deity of compassion or the wrathful demon protector is a potential of consciousness inherent in every human mind. Those potentials can be activated with a series of intensive practices under the guidance of a qualified teacher whose job is to make sure you don’t over identify with the possessing spirit and have a psychotic episode.

The villain in my story identified with Yamantaka, Lord of Death, and now embodies him as a reincarnated serial killer. I find hope in the Buddhist idea that we may all, with practice, learn to embody angels of compassion. But the flipside of the coin is never denied. We all carry wrathful demons in our psyches, too — forces that must be tamed and rehabilitated. And the right conditions can awaken them. Maybe that’s the scariest part.

The Wind in My Heart: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop

Douglas Wynne: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads / BookBub

Douglas Wynne is an author of horror thrillers, including The Devil of Echo Lake, Steel Breeze, and the SPECTRA Files trilogy. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and his writing workshops have been featured at genre conventions and schools throughout New England. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son and a houseful of animals.

The Scariest Part: Keith R.A. DeCandido Talks About ANIMAL

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to host my good friend Keith R.A. DeCandido, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for some years now. His latest novel, co-written with Dr. Munish K. Batra, is Animal. A portion of the novel’s proceeds will go to the San Diego Humane Society, as well as a number of other animal funds and sanctuaries. Here is the publisher’s description:

Renowned surgeon and humanitarian Dr. Munish K. Batra and international best-selling author Keith R.A. DeCandido have worked together to bring you Animal, a pulse-pounding, thought-provoking thriller that will leave you questioning whether noble intentions justify horrific acts.

Interpol Agent An Chang has been chasing a masked serial killer for more than twenty years, a killer who targets those who harm innocent animals. When the serial killer strikes again — two people dead near a meatpacking plant by a culprit wearing a cow mask and soon after the CEO of a water park is brutally killed by someone wearing an orca mask — Chang heads to California to finally catch his vigilante killer.

What Chang shockingly discovers in California sends him on a wild-goose chase from the streets of Shanghai to around the globe. What Chang is beginning to understand is that the killer’s motives and history are far deeper than anyone realizes. So, who is the real animal?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Keith R.A. DeCandido:

I don’t know if Chapter 15 of Animal is the scariest part of the thriller that I cowrote with Dr. Munish K. Batra, but it was certainly the hardest part for me to write. And that was against some pretty stiff competition…

Animal is about a serial killer who specifically targets people who harm animals. Dr. Batra has spent a great deal of time travelling the world providing humanitarian aid to Third World countries as well as nations that have suffered natural disasters, and in those travels, he’s observed a lot of instances of cruelty to animals.

An incident that particularly stuck with him was seeing dog and cat carcasses being hung in shops in China, intended for food. As someone with a dog as part of his household, Dr. Batra found this appalling — as did I when he and I discussed it. The backstory of our killer is that he was living in Shanghai when his dog was taken and killed to be made into food, along with many other dogs.

When it came time to write that part of our killer’s backstory, I was dreading it. I wrote it from the POV of the child, who was five years old at the time. I had to draw on my experiences dealing with five-year-olds (I teach karate to children, including a lot of four, five, and six-year-olds), as well as my memories of having a Golden Retriever, Scooter (who unfortunately died at the ripe old age of fourteen in 2015).

One of the scariest aspects of growing up is losing your innocence. A child is often lucky enough to see the world as uncomplicated, rarely having the need to make hard choices about life—or even easy ones, truth be told. Particularly children who are fortunate enough to live in stable households, they’re able to live their lives without worry or cares.

So when tragedy strikes, it can be devastating. In this case, we have a kid whose father (a diplomat) is away from home a lot, and his mother is emotionally distant. He loves his older sister, but she can’t spend every moment with him.

Their dog Nandita, though, is another story. She loves the boy unreservedly, and is always there to play with him and snuggle him and run with him and lick him and love him. There is no love on this Earth more devoted and all-encompassing than that of a dog — especially a Golden Retriever.

Which means that losing Nandita is the worst thing that can possibly happen to him. A five-year-old can barely process the notion of loss as it is. To make the loss be of the thing in the five-year-old’s life that brings him the most joy, the most delightful, wonderful, unconditional love is simply devastating.

And holy crap, was it devastating to write.

I’ve never been hugely affected by gory horror or psychological horror. I mean, I appreciate it and enjoy it and love it when it’s done well, but it rarely affects me on a visceral level. But the horror of loss for a small child is something that always gets me, because that level of betrayal, of fear, of devastation is so much greater in someone who hasn’t experienced enough of the world to be mature and/or cynical about it. Which makes it that much nastier.

The worst nightmare I ever had as a kid was when I was around ten or eleven. At that age, I had a tiger puppet that I wore on my hand constantly. Daniel Striped Tiger (named after a character on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) only came off my hand when I was eating or bathing. And then one night I had a nightmare that I was walking alongside a set of train tracks near our house that was about thirty feet below the sidewalk. Somehow, even though there was a fence to prevent it, Daniel had come off my hand and fallen down onto the tracks where I would never ever see him again. I could see him down on the tracks, but there was no way to get him back.

I woke up screaming, and then I stopped wearing Daniel on my hand all the time. (Mind you, I still have that puppet, sitting on one of my bookshelves…)

When I wrote Chapter 15 of Animal, I tried to re-create that feeling I had when I woke up from that nightmare.

Whether or not it worked I leave to y’all to decide if and when you read Animal.

Animal: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powells / Bookshop / Animal website

Keith R.A. DeCandido: Website / Twitter

Keith R.A. DeCandido is the author of more than fifty novels, more than seventy-five short stories, a mess of comic books, and more nonfiction than he’s willing to try to count. Recent and upcoming titles (besides Animal) include the Alien novel Isolation, the fantasy/police procedurals Mermaid Precinct and Phoenix Precinct, the urban fantasies A Furnace Sealed and Feat of Clay, the military science fiction novel To Hell and Regroup (written with David Sherman), the graphic novel Icarus (with Gregory A. Wilson), pop-culture commentary for the award-winning web site Tor.com, and short stories in the anthologies Bad Ass Moms, Pangaea Book 3: Redemption, and Horns and Halos. He’s also working on more projects in collaboration with Dr. Munish K. Batra. In addition, Keith is a third-degree black belt in karate (which he also teaches), a freelance editor for clients both personal and corporate, a musician (currently percussionist for the parody band Boogie Knights), and possibly some other stuff he can’t recall due to the lack of sleep.

The Scariest Part: Jeff Strand Talks About THE WRITING LIFE

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to host my good friend Jeff Strand. I’ve known Jeff for many years now, and together we co-host the infamous annual Necon Roast at the Northeastern Writers Conference, or Necon for short. His latest book, The Writing Life, is a special one, not just because it’s his fiftieth book, but also because it’s his first work of non-fiction. Here is the official description:

Jeff Strand, whose work Publishers Weekly has called “wickedly funny” and Kirkus has called “ridiculously stupid,” has had one of the least meteoric rises to success in the publishing industry. But he eventually got there, even if he should probably put “success” in quotes.

He’s been at it a long time, and has learned a lot of lessons along the way. And he shares them with brutal honesty in this very book, along with plenty of hilarious (and sometimes painful) anecdotes about his career.

This is not a book that will tell you how to format a manuscript or write a compelling query letter. It’s a book about how to cope with rejection and bad reviews. Book signings where nobody shows up. Helplessly watching your peers go on to greater success than you. He’s been through all of that and so much more, and in these pages you’ll have a bunch of laughs as you commiserate and figure out how to get through it all.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jeff Strand:

The idea of writing my first non-fiction book wasn’t scary. It would be about my own experience, not a meticulously researched book about 14th century gardening techniques and how they related to the class struggle. Excluding the infant and toddler years, I’ve been doing this my entire life, and with my fiftieth birthday looming, I knew I had plenty to say.

I also wasn’t scared to be sharing a lot of embarrassing, sometimes painful anecdotes. This book is not a celebration of my career. When choosing which tales of my writing life to share, I went with the ones that were useful and funny. Nobody needs my advice on how to cope with good reviews. An anecdote about having a well-attended, successful book signing is not nearly as funny as the one where I got kicked out of the store.

The premise of The Writing Life is not “Learn from my success!” but rather “Oh, yeah, I’ve been there, and here’s how I kept going.” I’m not the hero in all of the anecdotes, and that’s the whole point.

But my other books were all completely made up. People might’ve been offended by the gore or the potty-mouth, but I wasn’t going to hurt anybody’s feelings. The Writing Life is not a blistering takedown of the publishing industry by any stretch of the imagination, and nobody gets hit harder than me within its pages, yet there’s still some collateral damage. My fear would be somebody saying, “Hey, it’s really not cool that you shared that.”

The obvious solution was to get permission. Author Stacie Ramey got kicked out of the bookstore along with me, and it was mostly her fault, so I sent her the appropriate section for her blessing. Jim Moore, my co-author on The Haunted Forest Tour, signed off on my delightfully amusing tale of what it’s like to write a book with Jim. My best friend as a kid said it was okay to write about this one time that we did something really, really stupid.

In other cases, I knew I would never get their blessing and didn’t care. I went with the “Don’t name names, and stick to the truth” approach. If an unnamed editor shakes his fist in rage because I wrote about him being a total douchebag…well, I can live with that. The target of one scathing anecdote about unprofessional behavior at a book signing probably isn’t going to read it, and if he does and says “Hey! That’s me!” maybe he’ll recognize that you need to behave better at these kinds of events if you don’t want to make an anonymous appearance in a non-fiction book.

Then there was the middle ground. I wasn’t going to try to track down every single person who is referenced in this book, and in most cases their actual identity is irrelevant to the story. I ultimately wasn’t happy with my last agent, but in the extremely unlikely event that she reads this book when she couldn’t be bothered to read the last novel manuscript I sent her, I think she’d agree that it’s a fair account. I write about my frustration with some editing experiences, but it’s also balanced out by sharing examples where editors saved my ass.

That said, the whole concept of sticking with “funny and useful” anecdotes means that I’m not focusing on the positive. I was one of the pioneers in the field of e-books, long before the Kindle came around, and it sucked. I worked with a lot of great people and have a lot of fond memories, but I do not write about the early years of being an e-book author with much in the way of nostalgia.

My hope is that if my fellow authors from that era read the book, they’ll laugh and nod and say “Oh my God! He totally nailed it!” My fear would be that they read it and think, “WTF? We had fun and we were way ahead of the curve! What’s with all the trash talking? Screw you, Strand!”

Yesterday, after Nick invited me to write this guest blog but before I’d decided what I specifically wanted to write about, I got a Facebook message from Susan Bodendorfer. She published my very first novel in May 2000. She wished me a happy birthday, said how proud she was of my accomplishments, and said that she couldn’t wait to read The Writing Life.

And I broke into a cold sweat.

I could say many, many great things about my experience with Wordbeams. But in The Writing Life, my point is that people in the year 2000 frickin’ despised e-books. I didn’t write about working with a wonderful editor; I wrote about beginning my career with everybody saying “That’s not a real book!” and how I coped with it.

Also, there’s a part where I talk about Enclave, a round-robin novel that Wordbeams published. It’s a very funny story about being the final author in line and having to wrap up a narrative that had become a complete disastrous mess. After getting Susan’s message, I quickly re-read that part. Maybe it wasn’t so bad…ummm, nope, I sure wasn’t very kind to the Enclave experience, was I? Damn.

It’s been twenty years. Will she laugh? Will she wipe a tear of heartbreak from her eye? Will she vow blood vengeance against me?

I don’t know. And that, kids, is the scariest part!

UPDATE: Her reaction was 1) Ha ha, oh yeah, it totally sucked to be part of the e-book world back then, and 2) Yes, Enclave was total garbage.

The Writing Life: Amazon / Powell’s / Bookshop

Jeff Strand: Website / Twitter

Jeff Strand is the author of 50+ books, including Pressure, Dweller, My Pretties, A Bad Day For Voodoo, Wolf Hunt 1-3, Clowns Vs. Spiders, and a bunch of others. His greatest glory is co-emceeing the Necon Roast with Mr. Nicholas Kaufmann.

 

 

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