In his book ON WRITING, Stephen King gives would-be writers a series of suggestions on how to create successful novels. Among them is one that has to do with scheduling. Write every day until you finish your first draft (with your office door closed). Then put the manuscript away for six weeks before you re-read, polish, and send it off to friends and colleagues to give you comments and advice. Then (with your office door open) take their suggestions and FOLLOW THEM.
It seems like a reasonable plan. One question though is what to do during those six weeks when you are not working on your current novel? King says you need to KEEP WRITING but write something else. He often filled his time by writing short stories.
After I finished the draft of my first horror novel, TAKEN BY WITCHES, I set it aside and looked around for other work to do. Another writing instructor had suggested that I read King and following his example in putting together horror scenes. Having read almost all of King’s works by then, I knew what I considered the most gruesome of all King’s horror. It’s (I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler) the scene in The Dark Tower in which the Crimson King finally murders Walter.
So, just as an exercise, I worked and reworked that scene, analyzed and dissected it, got my version of it as good as I could get it. But then what? I was looking for more exercises in horror, a chance to write scenes that were as gory and scary and terrifying as anything I could ever imagine.
That evening I watched a rerun of the Dick Van Dyke sitcom, which, interestingly enough, featured young suburban 60s housewife, Laura Petrie, left home alone while her husband and her son go off on a camping trip with their next-door neighbors. She’s all alone. To add a touch of humor, her neighbor (a dentist) asks Laura to babysit his pet parrot who has been trained to repeat the phrase, “DON’T BE NERVOUS, DON’T BE NERVOUS.” So of course, whenever anything scary happened in that Long Night’s Journey Into Day (the name of the episode), the bird pipes up, “Don’t be nervous! Don’t be nervous,” and Laura nearly jumps out of her skin.
I loved the episode and decided to build on that premise: a 60s housewife who is very used to having her whole family around in the evening is suddenly left alone with nothing but a creaky old, empty house and her imagination.
I started building on that horror premise, scene after scene, but not by adding things that were merely her imaginings. What if there really is an intruder who is trying to break into her home, who knows she is alone, who keeps coming after her.
In between drafts of my more conventional novels, I practiced writing those scenes for years. But, as I went along the scenes began to shape themselves into a story, and I found myself faced with another question, “WHY would the character in a TV situation comedy suddenly be threatened by a homicidal maniac?” The answer seemed obvious to me: Because the writer of the TV series had changed the show from comedy to horror.
GREAT! GREAT! I said to myself, but how could I keep it going, get the most out of the premise? The characters in my story gave me the answer themselves. When my new heroine, Lacy, finds herself nearly murdered by that maniac intruder, she gets into her car and drives across town to the writer’s home, to find out what he’s doing. She confronts the writer of her series, learns that he has indeed turned her safe little sitcom into a horror show, and then she asks him to give her some means to defend herself. Of course, he does. He gives her a new attitude as well. She actually starts to enjoy standing up to these murderers. In fact, she enjoys becoming a dangerous murderer herself.
After ten years of writing my exercises in horror, I’ve put them together into a series of novellas. The first is available from Amazon right now. It’s called, SEXY SIXTIES SUBURBIA – THE SITCOM MURDERS I. Check it out. But beware. I’m just now putting the finishing touches on book two, SEVENTIES NEWSROOM – THE SITCOM MURDERS II. And it’s even more horrific than the first. So if you enjoy being terrorized and horrified, I’m talking about Karen Slaughter level of horror, please give Nicholas Victor (my extreme horror pseudonym) a try. Buy a copy of The Sitcom Murders anywhere e-books are sold.