When I began writing creatively twenty years ago, kids were the last thing on my mind. I was sixteen and just a kid myself so having offspring at any point in time wasn’t even an afterthought for me. As I grew into my twenties I thought about children, but they were second only to werewolves, Nosferatu and zombies. For me, kids and the aformentioned terrors were all in the same category. Let me explain why.
I formed werewolf stories on an almost daily basis as I went about my workday and more often than not at night. It was more so when I would walk to my girlfriends’ place in the dark when the moon was full. Melodramatic, huh? I thought about them every night I took that four-block stroll to and from her house. The girlfriend has disappeared to the sands of time, but the stories remain.
Shortly after I broke it off with that girlfriend and got with my wife, we (and I use the word ‘we’ none too loosely) became pregnant.
The year was 1999 and I was happy even though true terror was about to enter my life. However, this terror did not stem from fear that lycanthropic killers might one day devour my child. Well, maybe it did a little, but I kept a Colt M1991A1 loaded with silver jacketed hollow points to take care of that potential problem. I am kidding about the fear of werewolves, but not about the .45 pistol and silver jacketed hollow points. I thought they were pretty cool so I had a couple of boxes on hand. But, I digress.
No, my fear was about what I was going to do with this new human being in my life. My childhood was traumatic and I was afraid of carrying on the tradition of abuse I suffered as a child. It’s true when they say abuse is an endless cycle, but it’s only an endless cycle if you let it be.
A baby rocks your world in ways you’d never imagine. Ample money, the freedom to come and go as you please and late night drinking fests with good friends gives way to cash shortages, constantly interrupted sleep and baby bottles. It’s a big change to be sure.
I was in culture shock. I wanted to be a great father, but the fear of not being good enough was a weight on my shoulders. As a result, cheery thoughts of hairy night stalkers and undead bloodsuckers and flesh eaters were shoved into the memory closet. You can’t keep a good monster down so they didn’t stay there long.
The story that nagged me the most would originally be titled Genetic Terror and it came with the birth of my son, Christopher. I have to say I used to call Chris my little wolf man. When he was born his ears were pointy, almost like an elf, and they had light brown fluff on their tips. My wife knew about my love of werewolves so when I told her my idea she begged me to put it on paper. In the years we’d spent as friends she often told me I was a storyteller more than anything else. She said I was good at that stuff.
I took her advice and a few months later I finished a short story about US Marines and their British counterparts on maneuvers in Ireland being set upon by werewolves in a remote village. Sound familiar? To werewolf aficionados it is really close to the script of Dog Soldiers. I wrote that short story in 2000 and resigned it from the memory closet to the memento box. I kind of wished I done more with it then, but I believe things happen for a reason. I believe that with all my heart.
After that I abandoned writing to pursue a career as a government accountant. Eight years into my “career” I began writing again. This time it was chapter books for middle graders inspired by a made up bedtime story I told Christopher. Again, I was inspired by my child and encouraged to write by my wife. The books went over well enough as my children liked them and so did the children of others. I got praise from many publishers, but I couldn’t find anyone to publish them.
Inspiration from my children was soon to come for something else though. In the time since 1999 we’ve had two other children and they all seem to have a surprising dark side.
You see, my kids love scary monsters. Sadistic Sarah and Evil Emily are led by the Cunning Christopher and are terrors of the unholy realm. I say again, they love monsters. Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man are favorites of my kids. My children like the classic stuff, the unseen stuff, and the stuff that lurks in the dark with malicious intent. They can’t get enough of it.
It was after losing my job and needing direction that my wife suggested that I go out to write in the time I wasn’t filling out applications. I didn’t know what to put down on paper, however I was aware that I wanted a break from writing children’s fiction. “What about your werewolf story,” she said. I shrugged and said, “I guess so”, but then I procrastinated until my thirty-fourth birthday. Seriously, it was my birthday. I got kicked out of the house because apparently you can’t be around for the decorating of your surprise party. I don’t understand that, but I’m thick sometimes.
The day I got kicked out of the house was the best day that ever happened to my writing. Soon, I was out every day with the laptop, with the exception of weekends, writing.
Sarah was the first to ask me what I was doing. Hesitantly, I told her that I was writing a book called Dog World. Dog World is bloody, violent and filled with many adult words so it’s not for kids. Our conversation on the subject went something like this:
“You’re writing a werewolf story, Daddy?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Are there good werewolves?”
“Yes. There are good werewolves.”
“Do they win?”
”I don’t know.”
She climbed down from my lap and looked at me with her big brown eyes and said, “They’d better.” before rewatching her favorite episode of My Little Pony.
Emily had much the same reaction except she growled a lot and tried to bite me. She insisted that she was infected with the werewolf gene and wanted to pass it on. Christopher thought the idea was cool, but asked if I could make sure the werewolves were scarier than the ones in Dog Soldiers. He doesn’t ask for much.
My children are great inspiration for horror not because of the death-defying stuff they do on roofs and trees, but because they have unfettered imaginations. They have all inspired story and book cover ideas. My wife sketches my covers and they critique them. “No, a little darker here. More vines there. And blood.” are all true quotes from my children about the book covers. My favorite quote concerning a book cover comes from Sarah and concerns the cover for Dog World. It goes like this: “The teeth need blood on them because werewolves are blood thirsty monsters.”
Sarah also came up with the idea for the book I am currently working on titled Werewolves of the Dead. As I was finishing up with Memoirs of the Walking Dead she pulled up a chair and asked how it was coming. I told her I was almost finished and then without missing a beat she said, slipping a straw into her juice pouch, “I think your next book should be called Werewolves of the Dead and this is how it goes.” She spilled out the plot while I, impressed with it all, jotted it down.
Emily overheard us and proceeded to go on a terror spree jumping out from closets and small nooks, howling like an overgrown were-pup. Chris confirmed the genius of the idea before refocusing his attention to his homework. My wife, Tabitha, was stunned, but she thought it was awesome, too.
Children are impressionable though they’re not the little China dolls some parents make them out to be. I let my kids watch classic black and white horror and some newer scary movies because of what I do. They know what Daddy writes and they love it. Among their cousins and neighbor kids they are considered awesome all because their dad writes scary stories. Kids are tough little monsters. And if it weren’t for mine, I doubt I’d be as twisted as I am now.