Toward the end of 2016, I completed the monumental task of realizing my ambition for The Eerie Series, with its first installment, The Horrible Hand! As a review…the concept for the ES is a lineup of novels based on grade-B horror/suspense films made in the 1950s-60s by a fictional director, Anthony Miles. The books focus on the action both before and behind the camera, the theme of redemption which runs throughout, and the tumultuous life of Miles himself. The books are illustrated with public domain photos of people as actors, and of settings with which they are merged digitally.
The genesis for this project was, again in review, my childhood fascination with the Crestwood House Movie Monsters storybook series, which briefly retold the classic Universal horror films, augmented by stills of scenes from them. Over all the intervening years, I felt that there was something there that could be built upon for a more adult (and completely unique) method of storytelling. After several false starts, I set forth to put my inspiration to work. And now, everything old is new again.
The Horrible Hand! was written over a period of roughly two years. I took my time with it, because I wanted it to be right; the ES project was a brain child of mine, and I felt I owed it as much time as it took to be realized. Set in a greedy clan’s family mansion following the murder of their patriarch, the “novelized” version of the bogus title film follows the dark and stormy night after the reading of the will, which includes mysterious disappearances, vicious quarrels and ominous threats, secret skulduggery, and much soul-searching on the behalf of nearly all the characters. Plus the phantom specter of the dead patriarch’s hacked-off hand, which terrorizes the household.
The story may not sound like much (and it isn’t), but my intent was not so much to tell a brand-new tale as to tell an old chestnut with a brand-new slant to its plot. In this case, most likely as a reflection of my own life in recent years, I chose to bring out the theme of redemption for the characters involved. Essentially, I saw that theme as a gift offered to each person in the story, who would then decide for themselves whether or not to accept it. Just as we do. And this theme, I have decided, will be the backbone of the entire Eerie Series. It’s unusual. It’s risky. It may not be successful at all. But I feel that it’s right.
It didn’t start out that way. As originally conceived, THH was to be just another old-fashioned horror story told in a fairly unique way, with the background information of the director and players added for further intrigue. But what I found happening as I progressed along with the writing was…I started to like the characters. And not only to like them, but to feel for them. I saw so much of myself in them and their various personal “traps” (and how could I not, for every writer exposes his subconscious in his work?) that I softened toward them, and decided to give at least most of them another chance. And by so doing, I believe I added a layer of depth to the work which raises it reasonably above the routine.
The writing was a pleasure throughout. I never felt roadblocked or stymied, or as though I had written myself into a corner. The story really wrote itself after I had worked out the details of plot and character; this is usually the case, which is why it pays to do your homework in the prewriting. And when the book was completed, I understood somewhat the notion of post-partum depression. I didn’t want it to be over. I literally MISSED the people I had created more than I ever had before. I was actually sad to let them go! And maybe this is because of that extra layer added by the redemption theme, which humanized them, through the influence of a spiritual author far greater than me.
Who knows? All I can say is that after the last four years, and what I’ve seen and been through, I’m willing to freely admit that anything is possible.
By the way, I’ve already had a couple of people ask me if Anthony Miles, the creator/director of the ES “films” is me. My answer to that is, yes and no. The best way of putting it is that Miles and I share many attitudes and character traits, but he possesses guts and ambition as I could never match, to fulfill his dreams. His history is not, in relation to me, at all autobiographical, but in essence, he is what I would be if I could. Get off my ass.
There is also Miles’s passing similarity to the much-celebrated Worst Director of All Time, Edward D. Wood, best known for his 1959 schlock opus Plan 9 from Outer Space. Like Wood, Miles struggles against great odds early in his career to make his artistic vision a reality…however, unlike Wood, Miles has genuine talent and knows what he’s doing.
My goal now is to self-publish THH by mid-September, around my birthday. After that, I plan to give it a showcasing at two local libraries and a Books A Million. It is currently being read by a circle of friends and acquaintances, to obtain their opinion; two or three have already responded very favorably.
2016 was not a good year for me (or anybody, apparently), so having THH to distract me was extremely helpful. But around Christmas and immediately after, I went through a very dark period where I simply could not create. It wasn’t that I was roadblocked; I have a million ideas. I just lacked any kind of motivation or will to see anything through. I know that another severe depressive episode was largely responsible, but I guess it may also have been that THH had taken so much out of me that I was tired, and needed recharging. For over two months into the new year, I just scribbled out plot scenarios, and a few of them are really good; I plan to eventually use them. But it wasn’t until about a month ago that I came up with what I think of as my “rebound” project.
Midnight Steps is a photonovel, a term that I coined myself. Like Flickers and the Grymwyck series, it’s a long short story, or novelette, with illustrations. In this case, I’m going all out in making the piece a homage to silent horror/suspense films, with its plot partly borrowed from three of Hitchcock’s earliest films–The Lodger, Blackmail, and Sabotage.
Set in an unnamed city in 1927, MS is the story of a highly dysfunctional family who run a bookshop, which is merely a front for criminal activities. The teenage daughter, June, falls in love with the family’s new boarder, Ethan…only to find out that he may be the psychopath stalking and murdering young girls in the city. When Ethan gets June pregnant, and hits her, causing her to lose the baby, June’s formidable mother seeks revenge by poisoning him. June finds out…and the pivotal question is, will she simply stand by and see it happen, or try to save him despite how he has treated her?
A lot going on there. I think it’ll be fun, especially the illustration process. I was inspired there by, of all things, the rock bed beside my patio, because every time I go outside, I see faces in the rocks. Strange as it sounds, I developed a yen to do something artistic with this, and so my characters’ faces will be the various rock faces that have stood out to me, photographed, given expressions through photo editing software, and connected to other photos of the characters’ bodies, which I will draw. The complete figures will be set against appropriate backgrounds found online. I’m going for fun and for atmosphere, even calling the project “an On-the-Rocks Production”. My thinking is that it will be a fairly brief endeavor, and not so demanding that I can’t see it through, but demanding enough to hold my interest until it’s time to wrap up The Horrible Hand! MS is another instance of old fascinations breeding new works, for I have always loved and been inspired by the silent era.
Future projects? I’d like to (maybe) do another puppet storybook featuring Mr. Teeth, and/or start another major project, which will most likely be a play. I have several interesting ideas in mind for that.
Oh, by the way, I also played Scarlett O’Hara last fall. No, really.