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 Troop

The TroopThe Troop by Nick Cutter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes you just want a good, fast-paced, gross horror novel, and Nick Cutter’s THE TROOP certainly delivers on that, but Cutter also gives us well-drawn characters we come to care about and situations that both terrify (that cave!) and move us emotionally (the outstanding turtle scene). The book started off slowly for me, but boy did it pick up! By the end, I was convinced I was reading a horror novel that would be remembered as a classic for years to come. Highly recommended, as long as you can stomach a lot of very gross body horror and gore.

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And Then There Were None

And Then There Were NoneAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Believe it or not, I hadn’t read any Agatha Christie before, so I thought I’d start with what is perhaps her most famous mystery, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. The book held a number of surprises for me, some good, some not. Getting the things I didn’t like out of the way first, I was very surprised by how sparse the prose is. There’s very little in the way of description or detail, to the point where it reads almost more like a script than a novel. (Although in Christie’s defense, I found there was often just enough for my imagination to fill in the blanks.) There’s not much in the way of characterization, either. In the earlier parts of the novel, I had trouble telling the difference between several of the characters, particularly the older male characters like Justice Wargrave, Dr. Armstrong, and General Macarthur.

Still, once I got used to Christie’s style, I enjoyed AND THEN THERE WERE NONE very much, especially as the story went on and the number of suspects dwindled while the number of victims grew. I’m proud to say I figured out at least one small part of how the mysterious U.N. Owen pulled it off, but certainly not all of it, and I most definitely did not guess Owen’s true identity. I can see why this is such a popular novel. It’s the ultimate locked-room mystery, where the room is a remote, isolated island and there’s a good chance the killer is still be locked in with you. Definitely worth reading!

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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.

 

 

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