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Mickey Spillane Did It Better

   Posted by: admin   in Musings

I’m asked the same question over and over: Why horror?

I’ve been creating stories for as long as I can remember.  I wrote my first story in the 4th grade for a sort of yearbook of creative writing.  My own story!  Using my own idea!  And in print!  I was thrilled!  A huge fan of Scooby-Doo at 9 years old, I knew right away that I’d be crafting the very best man-in-a-monster-suit mystery ever written.

The crime was solved after two pages of action, humor, and suspense, and my love of storytelling was born.  My next story took five pages to unmask the killer at the local Seven Eleven.  I’d set the scene, dropped the clues, and even thrown in a little bit of character development.  I bound it in a cardboard cover and drew a few illustrations.  I was a published author once more!  Mysteries were my ticket.

Middle school saw two more puzzlers, with a trio of pals for my detectives.  These were significantly longer at 50 pages or so.  Then high school brought a hard-boiled murder mystery influenced by the works of Mickey Spillane (my favorite author at the time, and still a fun read when I’m in the mood for some good booze, broads, and bullets.)  The cross-over to grownup fiction pushed my junior detectives aside.  I was now working toward a new detective series.  But the follow-up stories would get penciled cover art and nothing more.  Freshman year of college would take my writing in a new direction, and my tough-guy gumshoe would be forgotten.  Which is probably for the best.  Mickey Spillane did it better, anyway.

One Saturday night, some friends and I were driving aimlessly, as teenagers will often do, when someone mentioned the local legend of a glowing tombstone.  I’d never heard the tale, but according to our friend, a small cemetery stood on a secluded hill off one of the back roads just outside town.  If you stood on the road and looked up the hill, you would see one of the headstones glowing an eerie blue.  But when wandering between the graves, the glow disappeared, luring the curious to the graveyard but keeping the trickster hidden.

I was skeptical, but the calendar was nearing Halloween and we were 18 years old.  Any excuse to traipse through a cemetery in the dark of night sounded like a good idea.  We drove to the back of the old graveyard and damn if he wasn’t right!  A blue glow hovered at the top of the hill like a summoning beacon, but by the time we’d trudged up the long slope, the light had faded.

We thought we could figure out which stone was haunted by playing “warmer/colder,” but this was before everyone had a cell phone tucked into a pocket, and we couldn’t hear or see clearly enough from the bottom of the hill.  We never did figure out which of the dead was calling out to us.  But, of course, that was what made it a legend.

That night left me with the seed of a thought.  The seed grew over the next few days and became an idea: I could write a story about a glowing tombstone.  The action would start with a group of kids seeking out the local legend, except their search would uncover the proper stone…because this stone wanted to be found.  I sat down and wrote the first chapter.  Then another the next day.  And a third.  Soon I had nearly 50 pages of what would certainly become my first full-length novel.

That’s when it struck me.  I was more excited writing this story than I had been writing any of the mysteries.  I love reading mysteries and have a great respect for those who write them, but the plotting, the suspects, the placement of clues and red herrings…it was all so tedious.  I’d already had all the fun creating the story with my notes.  Not this time, though.  This time I didn’t know exactly where the story was headed.  I didn’t have a set cast of characters and I didn’t know who might live or die.  This story could take any turn I wanted.

Sure, it needed to follow some rules.  I couldn’t have demons pop out of cinnamon buns at the church bake sale.  But you see where I’m going with this, right?  I’d stumbled upon a different way of storytelling where I could have the excitement of inventing the story while I was writing it instead of before I wrote it.  The only limit was my imagination, and I’m a fairly odd duck so that wasn’t an issue.  For me, discovering the story is where the fun lies.  Mystery was out and horror was in.

That moonlit drive down a country road literally changed my life.  If I’d never made the switch from mysteries, the truth is I may not have continued to write.  The pages of that first unfinished novel are long gone, and I’m okay with that.  I was just finding my style.  The characters were clichéd, the prose was simplistic, the dialogue was laughable, and the setting was trite.

But the story is still a part of me.  And while I’m curious to see just what is buried in that grave, I don’t know that I’ll ever attempt to put the words back on paper.

When you find something and it’s flawed, but it shapes you for the better, should you go back and fix it?

 

If you also dig the occasional booze, broads, and bullets story, I invite you to check out Mickey Spillane if you haven’t already.

Or, you prefer a creepier tale, check out my new novel Good Deeds.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011 at 11:47 pm and is filed under Musings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment

 1 

Your article was excellent and erdtuie.

September 14th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

One Trackback/Ping

  1. D. Miles Martin » Blog Archive » A Kid Goes (Chris) Baty    Oct 18 2011 / 2am:

    […] them, and so I now write horror and dark fantasy.  I wrote about that transition in a previous post.  What I need to talk about here is my process for writing those early […]

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