This week I'd like to thank horror author John Everson for stopping by Frightening Journeys to share some of his world. I first got to know him a few years ago, when I was still thinking about writing fiction, and he's been an inspiration to me, especially when I've had doubts about myself and my abilities.
John, tell us a little bit about your latest release.
The 13th revolves around Castle House Lodge, an old resort hotel from the early 1900s that has been abandoned for 25 years, since an occult mass murder took place there. Now, David Shale, a cyclist in training to make the Olympic team, discovers that the old hotel in the hills outside of Castle Point has re-opened... as a private asylum for pregnant women. When his new girlfriend turns up missing, not to mention several other local women, David finds himself teaming up with rookie cop Christie Sorensen to try discover what is really going on in the newly opened and historically cursed asylum. And what is behind the red X on the basement door...
What frightens you?
Crazy people. Zealots. Narrow-minded people. Violent people. Backstabbing people.
I guess really just... people!
Where is the most frightening or haunted place you've ever visited? Tell us why.
There is an old abandoned cemetery near the town where I grew up called Bachelor's Grove. It's more of a sad spot, than a frightening one, but it is reputedly one of the most haunted places in Illinois. I visited there once to write a "haunted places" article for the newspaper I worked for at the time, and the sense of loss there was palpable. There aren't a lot of gravestones though the place dates back to the 1800s—from when the original settlers came to that area. No new graves have been dug there in almost 50 years. But the stones that remain are weathered and old and many of them defaced and fallen.
Because of its lonely positioning (in the middle of a forest preserve, just out of sight of the main road), it has been the site of satanic ceremonies and drinking parties. In other words, much abuse and desecration. And the local legends are rife with descriptions of phantoms being seen on the side of the road near the cemetery. Everything from what appear to be car headlights that spontaneously appear and disappear to farmer's wagons careening into the neighboring pond to a spectral woman walking along the side of the road with a crying baby in her arms. As a boy scout, I used to hear all sorts of legends about the place and it sounded scary, but intriguing. As an adult I finally visited there a couple times, and didn't meet any ghosts. But it was a sad place... almost a place outside of time.
Are there any common themes to your main characters?
I think many of my characters are driven by personal obsessions, whether it's the pursuit of pleasure or security or career. In Covenant there are a few levels of obsession going on, not the least of which is a "deal" to maintain security at the expense of all else.
In Sacrifice, there is a sexy serial killer who has rebelled against religion to become obsessed with the "dark side". Her obsession with the pursuit of power and pleasure and revenge lead her to perform any murder or degradation imaginable to achieve her goals.
A similar obsession drives the "villains" of The 13th, while our hero, David, is obsessed with his goal—that of making the Olympic team. All of my characters are driven by something that puts their lives out of balance, whether they're the heroes or the villains. But they tend to strive singlemindedly for a goal at the expense of their lives.
How do you go about outlining your novels?
Well... I didn't for the first three books! I started with a vague idea of the beginnings and the possible ends and I just... started writing. The creation of the story from... nothing... was what I enjoyed about doing those books. I ended up "backward outlining" them once I was substantially into the narratives because I needed some kind of cheat sheet to know what had happened in the plot as I got deeper into the writing (I have a horrible memory!) But I didn't carefully plan them out ahead of time. I wanted to tell myself a story... and I spun them as I went.
Since I've sold those books, I have since written one novel, Siren, where I outlined ahead of the writing, because the publisher, Leisure Books, had to know what I planned on writing before they would contract it. That novel turned out really well and was the first book I sold ahead of the writing, which was a different way of working for me. It will be out next summer. In some ways it was a better experience, because I knew I wasn't writing 90 000 words for nothing. On the other hand, it was challenging because I had to figure out so much in advance of the writing, and then stick at least fairly close to the outline I'd submitted... I couldn't just veer off into left field if the mood struck.
Research? Love it? Hate it?
Hate it! I like to make stuff up, and research only slows you down from the fun part! It is sometimes a necessary part of the writing, but it's definitely not my favorite.
Any useful links you'd like to share?
Well, I hope people will check out my website, www.johneverson.com. I've got information on all my books there, as well as my blog, free short fiction and samples of the bookcover art I've created and music I've written. I don't just work on fiction, I like working in other creative mediums too! People should also visit the micro-site for The 13th. It's got the usual information on the book, but it also has an interactive "map" which we created based on the map and character photos I used as my personal guide while writing the book. I had put together a "cheatsheet" kind of map at the start of The 13th so that I would consistently describe the places in Castle Point, as well as photos of people who looked like the characters—it was just a visual aid to help me get those details right. (I apparently still managed to screw up a character's eye color at one point in the text!)
Anyway the web map is pretty cool in that you can click on the various locations in the town and pop-ups appear with photos and bio-sketches of the book's characters. You can see that at www.the13th-horror.com.