What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing Writing Horror Stories?


I never knew my biological father really.  I only have two memories of a man and I'm not sure he's really my father.  But that's another story. There are memories there, never the less.  Before I go on about them, I would like to add this disclaimer.  It is absolutely and emphatically terrible of me to give so much credence to two measly memories when so many other people in my immediate family consumed my day to day life.  My family worked hard to care for me as a premature baby and continued to work tirelessly to get me back to health before starting school.  In those formative years, I am sure my life was filled with joy and healthy routine and meals and stories and love....a lot of love.  Unfortunately, it's the rare, chance encounters of people who ignore you that stand out in ones mind.  In that respect, I feel as though the human mind and its capacity for memory is logical but never the less, profoundly unjust.  That being said, I move along with the story.


The first memory is me sitting in his lap, peering over a thin, pearl steering wheel driving down the street leading to my grandmother's house.  The sun is shining on the red interior of the car and I can't wait to show my mom that I'm "driving".  I could not have been more than three years old.  As an adult now, I can see that this is a standard "man trying to be a cool dad" kind of thing.  I can still recall the thrill as he let go of the steering wheel and for once in my very short life, I had control of something....dangerous and larger than me.  The feeling was terrifying and sickening and fantastic all at once.  As quickly as we arrived in the driveway, he was sadly, gone.  He did not show up for what, by childhood standards seemed like eternity.  Which brings me to my second memory.  The second memory is more important and vastly more vivid.  


I was a little bit older and he showed up out of the blue and with apresent under his left arm.  My grandmother hadn'tsaid anything about anyone stopping by.  There was no small meal prepared like she would do for a friend or a guest or a neighbor.  Part of me still wonders if I was not the only one surprised.  The man said the box was a going away present and he wanted me to have something of his before he left.  This news should have made me ask questions about where he was going or if he was coming back but it didn't.  I was a kid who was used to his absence and I gotto open a present on a day that was not my birthday or Christmas.  Tearing the ribbon and opening the box, I had no idea what on earth it was.  


This memory stands out so clearly because at that moment of confusion, I stared up at him.  My memory of my probable, so-called biological father's face made flashed like a mental photograph or imprint in my mind.  His face is happy yet serious.  I can still see the deep lines carved around his eyes.  They weren't gentle lines like that of my grandmothers face.  The lines were so harsh that for a moment I was lost in them, wondering how they got there.  He stared back at me and explained that this was chess and it was all he had to give to me that was his.  I looked down at the gift.  


My childhood brain jumped to a line in the song The Little Drummer Boy about being poor and having nothing to give. It was my Grandmother's favorite Christmas song and so the importance of the generous moment some how wasn't lost on me.  I matched his demeanor and returning my gaze to the board, it seemed to shimmer in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the bay window.  He helped me to set up the board.  As he showed me how each piece moved , I memorized it.  I memorized it because there was this feeling like he was desperately converting some crucial information to me.  I picked up each piece and mimicked the movement like he did.  He smiled when he saw that I could remember the right moves.  

He stood up from the floor, towering over me and the board like a giant peering across a valley.  As he stepped away from me, I felt very small.  As quickly as he arrived, he said he had to go.  It was another flash appearance and disappearance.  He messed up my pony tail and told me something I wish I could recall.


Throughout the rest of my life, three coping mechanisms emerged when I felt trapped or under immense stress.  Writing, music and chess.  When my mother found some of my teenage writing hidden in a notebook, she said it was too upsetting to read.  It was too scary and in her view, inappropriate for a young girl to be writing. Fortunately, it scared her and deterred her from rifling through my room again.  When writing horror at home became banned, I took solace in a neighbor who knew chess and would play on Sunday afternoons.  Both writing and chess gave my logical mind ways to escape the aches and pains of being a teenager, to find a solution to my problems or just feel accomplishment in a world in which I had little say.  


In 2000, I started setting aside time each day to write.  The horrors of my teenage era stories were gone but I still enjoyed the complete freedom of the genre.  Eventually some short stories were published.  My personal life fell apart a few years later and I took solace in writing my first long piece of horror fiction.


My first two novels were successfully published because they were hack and slash.  The horror novel publishers liked more gore and less intelligent plot.  The writing had been therapeutic but I was short on cash and extra time.  If writing were going to be a hobby, it had to pay something.  Anything.  


I wanted so much to be published that I did what the editors told me to do.  I wrote for the marketing trend and for sales and I thought I would enjoy the benefits.  Selling out though still meant small to nil in royalties as I was still new to the playing field.  Little money, reworking a story until it wasn't really mine anymore on top of a rough patch in my personal life made me miserable.  I wondered what it might be like to write something just for myself.  Could I get a publisher to believe that horror could be clever as well as exciting?


As an experiment, I wrote the short story, "Death Match", an intimate story of two Detroit juvenile inmates forced to play chess to the death.  Much like Poe's 'Pit and the Pendulum,' intensity rises as the situation becomes more and more inescapable for both players.  "Death Match" proved chess could be an exciting driving force to move a story along.  From there, I spent the next two years, teaching music by day, performing in Detroit on weekends and writing, "Eternal Kingdom" by night.


"Eternal Kingdom" brings together individuals trapped in life, at death's door or ruined by circumstance.  They are given a chance to play a life size, gladiator style version of chess.  The winners are granted immortality.  The losers are put to death.  Much like my own life, chess is a way for both sides of the board to find a way out of their misery.  Writing this book gave me the chance to ask moral questions like, what is life really worth?  What would a person risk to have the chance to devote their eternal lives to their work or vocation?  If tomorrow were the end what would you do with today?  I was taking a risk making a horror novel a work of intellect but to my surprise, it was well received and published.


I have since lost the chess pieces and board that my genetic donor left with me.  Somewhere along the way, I realized the gift he gave me wasn't in the box but rather in the game.  As I stare at the cover of Eternal Kingdom, I wonder if he's out there somewhere. Did he read it?  Would he care?  I wonder if he will ever know the part he played in the making of a novel.  


The rest of my family and friends have contributed so much to my life.  Everyday, every week, every month, they've been there.  Their steadfast generosity is a constant stream of helpful spoonfuls.  So why didn't all that dedication make it into my book?  Why do writers find inspiration in the rare cases?  I've given this a lot of thought and here is my best conclusion.  When there is a meteor shower, the tiny rocks falling to earth may or may not become newsworthy.  The small stream of rocks make small but steady impacts on the surface of the earth.  But if a meteor the size of a car is headed towards earth, the rarity of the event and the impact crater that it leaves behind is noticeable, not just for what it leaves behind but also for what it blasts away.  The mark it leaves is so significant that it never completely returns to how it was before.  Good or bad.  Right or wrong.  Justified or not, it's the stuff that inspires due to our humanity.