This week we are super excited to have horror writer Scott Thomas, whose debut novel is already making waves, being voted as one of the The Best Horror Books of 2017 by Barnes and Noble
Hi Scott, please tell us a bit about you and your writing.
I grew up in a small town in Kansas called Coffeyville. The first story I remember writing was in the first grade. It was about a detective who finds a headless body on a cruise ship. Back then, no one seemed to bat an eye at the subject matter. My teachers and parents encouraged me to keep writing. I’ve always loved horror, so all of my stories have had some element of that genre. I attended the University of Kansas where I majored in Film and English. After graduation, I packed up my car and drove out to LA. I knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. For the past 20 years, I’ve written for many different networks including MTV, VH1, the CW, Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. I was the co-creator and executive producer of Disney XD’s Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, and Disney Channel’s Best Friends Whenever and Raven’s Home. I was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for my work on R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour. I never expected to get involved with kid’s TV but it’s been a great learning experience and a lot of fun, especially now that I have two daughters of my own. But I have always written horror on the side. I wrote the first draft of Kill Creek over a decade ago but was never able to get it into the right hands. When I stumbled upon the Launch Pad Manuscript Competition, I thought, “What the hell, let’s see if anybody likes this thing.” Turns out people liked it, which was very cool. Kill Creek ended up making it into the Top 10, and Inkshares, one of the sponsors of the contest, decided to publish it. The response has been incredible, especially because, in a lot of ways, Kill Creek is a very personal story for me. I drew heavily on my time growing up in Kansas and also tried to pay homage to the many horror authors and filmmakers who influenced and inspired me as a writer. I love stories that begin in a very grounded place and then slowly let the evil infect the lives of ordinary people. Obviously Stephen King is a big influence, but also Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson and filmmakers like David Lynch and John Carpenter. I hope that I’ve been able to contribute in some small way to the American Gothic tradition while also telling an entertaining, kick-ass little haunted house story.
Your take on the haunted house story in Kill Creek was brilliantly refreshing and took us readers, who might’ve expected some clichés associated with it, on a truly unexpected journey. Was the decision to play around and subvert expectations of an established horror trope a conscious one on your part? Can you tell us a little bit about this process?
When I was in college, I would sometimes drive between Lawrence and Kansas City, and I would see an exit sign for Kill Creek Road. The name screamed “horror.” I’ve also always loved haunted house stories. There were many local ghost stories in my hometown—tales about places like “Shadow Lake” and “Cry Baby Bridge.” But I was kind of obsessed with this abandoned one-room schoolhouse outside of town called Old Parker. We would make up stories about the terrible things that happened there and dare each other to go inside at night. Old Parker inspired the idea of creating my own haunted house that was specific to Kansas. It also got me thinking: what if there were just some lonely, empty house in the middle of nowhere that people began to think was haunted. And what if enough people told scary stories about this place that, eventually, it was haunted. Was there always an entity in that house and these people woke it, or was it their belief that created the entity? That “chicken or the egg” haunted house scenario really interested me. I began to see the house as a major character—a structure that was never supposed to be a bad place but became bad, almost against its will. When I wrote the first sentence, “No house is born bad,” I was consciously presenting an alternative to a line in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, where she says “Some houses are born bad.” I knew from the first line that I was hoping to do two things: subvert expectations with my haunted house story and pay homage to all of the amazing storytellers who have inspired me. By making my protagonists four authors who write in very different subgenres of horror, I was able to explore horror—a genre I’ve always loved—from multiple angles. I was able to geek out without making the story too meta. In that way, I could play up some of the things you might expect from a haunted house story and then veer away from them and go in my own direction. I think starting from a place where the house isn’t really evil in the beginning—that it isn’t born bad—helped me create an entity that (hopefully) feels fresh and unique. There is also something that occurs halfway through the book that I knew I was building to, and that moment subverts what you expect from a haunted house story. From that point on, the story spins off in a different direction. It freed me from having to spend the entire novel in the house but also challenged me to find a way to keep the house present. That aspect made Kill Creek very fun to write (and hopefully to read).
Has your writing process changed since your first novel?
My writing process hasn’t really changed, but going through the editing process on Kill Creek taught me a lot about my good and bad writing habits. I’m currently working on my second novel, and I have my editors’ voices in the back of my head as I write. But overall, my process is the same: know the major beats from beginning to end; know what the plot is but also what the emotional story is; drink lots of coffee; and get my kids in bed as early as possible so I can work in peace. Oh, and beat myself up for not getting enough pages done in a day while also accepting that it’ll all work out in the end.
What in your opinion makes good horror?
I truly love all types of horror stories, so I think there are many ways to make “good” horror. For me, good horror takes its time to work its way under your skin. I love a slow burn and something that is grounded in the real world. But I also appreciate when that slow burn pays off. I like to be lured down a path and then terrified that I’ve allowed the author to take me so far from safety. A good horror story gets you to trust the storyteller, only to realize too late that she or he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your safety. It’s like being assured that a carnival ride is safe, only to hear the bolts shaking loose halfway through and seeing the smiling carnie down below, gleefully watching you experience the most terrifying moment of your life.
How do you feel about flash fiction as a medium for horror?
I believe horror is one of the few genres that can be extremely effective at any length. So flash fiction is a great way to get to the heart of something terrifying. You can freak people out with a simple image, which is a very cool thing.
What is your favourite horror short story?
“The Picture in the House” by H.P. Lovecraft, “The Man Who Loved Flowers” by Stephen King, and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Also “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken, which isn’t exactly a “horror” story but is a disturbingly beautiful descent into madness.
What scares you the most and what is your favourite horror scene/passage/novel?
What scares me the most are the things that worm their way into our everyday lives, be it losing one’s mind or being stalked by an unstable individual or having the supernatural invade our world. When horror hits very close to home—when it makes me feel as if I no longer have control of my own situation—that’s when it scares me. One scene from a horror novel that has always stuck with me is in The Shining when Danny is outside, playing on the playground equipment. He crawls into a tunnel that is covered in dead leaves and begins to sense something crawling after him. It’s a very subtle moment in the book, but I find it very scary. I also love the moment in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy when the killer (who we have seen brutally murder someone earlier) takes a victim up to his apartment. He shuts the door, and then the camera moves back down the stairs and out to the sidewalk, lingering on the apartment building as people walk ignorantly by. We never see the murder, but we know what’s happening in there.
Please give us a one sentence horror story!
He heard his wife in the kitchen, going through her morning routine—the clank of a coffee cup, the muffled voices of newscasters on the TV—and he realized that the arm draped over him in bed could not be hers.