Friday, September 17, 2010

Observational Horror

When my book City of Demons was set to be published, I asked author Gary Braunbeck to write the introduction.  In what turned out to be both brilliant and humorous, Gary made the following statement about me:  This is a man who does not see the same world the rest of us do.  I do not mean he sees the world differently than us – he sees a completely different world, and that mad sparkle in his eyes tells you that Scott Johnson is warped in the best of all possible ways – the embodiment of what Oscar Wilde called, “… the divine madness of absolute clarity.”

It, and another blog I read from a fantastically talented writer, got me thinking about the subject of inspiration.  It's a common thing for folks to ask us where we writers draw our inspiration, and while I'm often prone to talking about my "Muse" and other existential methods of pulling the creepy-crawlies out of my ears, there is one place where, to me, there is no short supply of horror.  And you're sitting in it now.  The real world. 

Jerry Seinfeld made his whole career on what he called "Observational Humor."  Years before, George Carlin did the same thing, but he phrased his description that part of his job was "reminding you of the shit you already knew, but forgot to laugh at the first time."  Keeping with that same idea, I suppose a great deal of what I do could be called "Observational Horror."  It might be that I see things differently, or, as Gary said, I live in my own little world.  But to me, there are horrific things all around that most people just don't see, or don't want to think about.  

For example:  You walk down the street and you see a child walking a large dog.  Most folks laugh because the large dog is pulling the kid down the street and it's a tug-of-war that the dog will win.  I see that and I wonder who, exactly, is the pet?  Is the child the one on the leash?  Is he leading the child somewhere that the child obviously doesn't want to go?  The child is pulling back with all his might, but the dog drags the child along behind him with sadistic indifference.  There's an untold story there, of what they do when I can't see them anymore, and that's where the horror lies. 

Another example:  Mimes.  Just what the hell are they anyway?  Street performers?  Some say so, but to me, the silent creatures are terrifying.  Think about the Mime trapped in the invisible box...What did he do to get stuck there?  How long will he have to stay in his prison made of air?  Till he starves?  And who put him there?  I have a theory that there is an entire race of Mimes, and that they're bent on enslaving us, but first they have to learn how to mimic us.  That's why they follow people along in the park.  Their one flaw, however, the way we'll always be able to identify them, is that they can't talk.  When one of them figures out how to speak, we're all doomed. 

Take a good look around the room (if you're in a room with other people).  Who is smiling?  What do you think they're smiling about?  A joke?  Something their significant other said?  The body they have cooling in the trunk of their car?  Look around and see, really see how much of your environment you can take in with your senses.  Look at the tiny forgotten shadows on the floor, the space under the bookshelf, and ask  yourself what lives there.  That little chip out of the paint in the wall?  Was it always there?  What did that?  I shudder to think what it might have been.  

Here's one that keeps people up at night...There's an old internet rumor (that has been refuted by Snopes) that, while we sleep, we unconsciously eat about a dozen spiders a year from the things crawling over us, into our mouths and noses and ears, and we never know about it.  We're asleep.  We're vulnerable.  What else happens when you sleep?  If it's true what some say, that our reality is formed by our own perceptions, then think about this:  What happens when we sleep, and our perception is no longer active?  Does the world just blink away?  Probably not, because of all the other perceptions out there.  But what would happen if everyone fell asleep at once?  Ponder that one while you're lying in bed with the spiders and see how much sleep you get tonight. 

What I'm trying to get across here is that inspiration can come from anywhere.  The tiniest thing can set off a chain of firing synapses that bring about the most horrific story in the world.  The most innocent look might actually the piercing stare of a serial killer.  (Incidentally, and I'm not in any way condoning behavior like mine, but it amazes me how many people get paranoid if you just open your eyes as wide as you can and smile.  Not blinking adds a whole new level of menace.  Just FYI from your weird uncle Scott)

So look around.  See what there is to be seen.  Take it in, roll it around, and cover it in your own brand of nutty awesome sauce, and see what comes out.  I'm willing to bet it'll be something wonderful. 

Until next time.

Shameless Plug:

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two Bits of Shameless Self Promotion

My new book, VERMIN:  Book One of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles, just hit Amazon, and I hope lots and lots of people buy it.  Stanley Cooper is an average guy, short, dumpy, with bad hair.  But an industrial accident left him dead for seven minutes.  When paramedics revived him, he discovered he had the ability to see dead people.  And not just ghosts, but the living energy that surrounds all things.  A telephone call from a panicked stranger sets events in motion that puts Stanley in the middle of a bizarre string of robberies and murders in Pittsburgh, and it's up to him, his best friend Maggie (who is a witch) and a skeptical cop named Taylor to find out what's going on and how to stop it before it's too late.  

Order it HERE!

Here are a couple of excerpts:

     It takes a lot of guts to come forward when something weird or frightening happens to a person. Most people feel like no one will believe them, or that people will blame them and laugh behind their backs. And most people are right. It leaves people with a sense of hopelessness, that there is nowhere left to turn. When people begin to feel that way, those dark forces win. I don‟t mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally. They win a victory, a conquest over a soul when a person loses hope. Someone experiencing what Shannon claimed to experience has to be at wit‟s end to come and find someone like me. Most of the time, they dummy up and don‟t tell anyone. When it first happened to me, and I thought I was losing my mind, sure, I mentioned it to a few people: a shrink here and there, a few friends, a bartender or two… My friends stopped hanging around with me, the bartenders cut me off, and the shrinks told me I was suffering from some sort of post-traumatic-stress-syndrome brought on by my “passing.” 
     They never say “death,” always “passing.” “Passing” sounds so much nicer, less final than “death.” “Passing” sounds like something a person might do walking between two rooms. It doesn‟t sound like what happens when a piece of safety equipment fails due to production cutbacks, dropping a person thirty feet onto the back of their head. It doesn‟t bring to mind waking up on a gurney with a sheet over one‟s head and a paper tag on a persons toe. That‟s not “passing,” that‟s “death” with a capital “D.” 
     Good things came out of it, though. I developed a new respect for people I might have thought were crazy before. I also quit drinking and smoking. I‟ve heard of so many people who‟ve had near-death-experiences who came away with the “live for the now” attitude and saying things like “I‟ve been dead, so nothing scares me.” 
     Frankly, the thought of dying and not coming back scares the ever-loving Hell out of me. People talk about seeing the long corridor with light at the end or seeing dead relatives. When I died, I saw nothing. I saw darkness. I didn‟t even get to float up above my own body or relive my life in fast forward. Just black. Just cold. 

     People say they don‟t believe in magic or ghosts. They call people like me and Maggie delusional or say that we‟re living in a fantasy world. Magic isn‟t real, they say, and there‟s no such thing as ghosts. They go along their happy daily routines, safe and secure in the knowledge that the unexplainable or things that go bump in the night aren‟t real. These same people are the ones who avoid shops like Maggie‟s, who watch me as if I might do something spooky, and are the first ones to scream and run if so much as an odd noise is heard in the old dark and creepy house. They say they don‟t believe, but it‟s a lie. The trouble is they do believe, but they don‟t take the time to try to understand. They believe, but they‟ll never admit it to each other because that would let the possibility in that there are things in the world that don‟t fit in with their neat little model of what life is supposed to be. In the light of day, it‟s easy to say there are no such things as ghosts, or possession, or haunted houses. In the dead of night, tucked in bed, hiding beneath the blankets while the sounds of footsteps cross the floor and the sounds of breathing come from under the bed, everyone believes. 

And Now, More Shameless Self Promotion
Okay, so it's not really self-promotion per se, but it is something I hope lots of folks check out.  My darling and talented wife, Tabatha, just opened up her own online store to sell jewelry, objects d'art, and other stuff that she hand-makes herself.  Seriously, look at Lurch over there and tell me that's not cool.  He's already sold, but there are lots of other zombie heads, necklaces (I have a "Hand of Glory" that I refuse to take off), earrings, book marks, and other stuff.  Oh, and where is her store?  Just go to Monsters Under Glass and help support artists like Tabby and myself.  I can't tell you how wonderful I think her artwork is.  So jump over there already!