What is the Most Disturbing Thing You’ve Ever Written About?
You know when you put that question to a horror author, the answer is not going to be pretty, and in my case, that’s doubly so. The most disturbing thing I’ve ever written about was something I assumed I’d always avoid: child abuse. I attended a panel at the Northeastern Writers Convention (Necon) a few years back in which Jack Ketchum–in response to this very question–replied that there is no line a horror writer shouldn’t cross, that if anything it’s our responsibility to cross them. And I agree with him completely. That said, I have not always felt comfortable or at all eager to tackle certain subjects, and when I have, particularly when it comes to child abuse, it’s usually been inferred rather than addressed directly. All of that changed when I wrote Jack & Jill, and that’s because that childhood trauma informed the whole story, so it became impossible to avoid. And while I think I still handled it tactfully, I admit it was very disturbing to write about. Not all my readers agreed, however, and some of them were put off by the subject matter, which is absolutely understandable. The thing is, though, that the story came about as a result of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who was an abuse victim. One day she detailed for me a horrendous nightmare she’d had the night before. In it, she’d found herself in a Boschian, Silent Hill-like town being chased by some terrible creature with a plastic bag over its face. The few landmarks she recalled from the dream indicated that it was the town from her childhood and the figure was the man who’d victimized her. Then she asked me if I would write that dream for her, which I did. Afterward, I knew there was a story there. I asked my friend’s permission to continue, and she granted it. And despite using such a terrible nightmare and a worse trauma as the jumping off point, Jack & Jill not only remains one of her favorite stories of mine, she’s proud to have inspired it and that something–I won’t say positive; maybe creative is a better word–came from such a terrible, life-altering event.
Still though, every minute I spent writing that book was an uncomfortable one.
Synopsis: At first glance, Phil Pendleton and his son Adam are just an ordinary father and son, no different from any other. They take walks in the park together, visit county fairs, museums, and zoos, and eat together overlooking the lake. Some might say the father is a little too accommodating given the lack of discipline when the child loses his temper in public. Some might say he spoils his son by allowing him to eat candy whenever he wants and set his own bedtimes. Some might say that such leniency is starting to take its toll on the father, given how his health has declined.
What no one knows is that Phil is a prisoner, and that up until a few weeks ago and a chance encounter at a grocery store, he had never seen the child before in his life.