Finding the Fear
A Guest Post by Tim McWhorter
When asked, “where do you get inspiration for your stories?” my customary answer is “anywhere and everywhere.” I know, it’s a lame and incredibly unexciting answer. But not only is it the absolute truth, I’m sure many other writers would concur. Like a stand-up comedian who takes mildly interesting experiences and crafts them into hilarity, I do the same, but for more nefarious purposes. Most of my stories begin with otherwise ordinary people doing ordinary things. And then somewhere along the way, I cause their lives to go horribly wrong. Sometimes to gruesome effect. It often begins with watching someone’s everyday life playing out and wondering what disastrous future I can write for them. Never was that more accurate than on a recent road trip to North Carolina. Hidden among the scores of pines surrounding Raleigh is a Holiday Inn Express that served as a virtual breeding ground for new story ideas.
Let me set the stage for ya…
At the time of our trip, I had been wanting to get away for a few days to work on my next novel. So, in an effort to kill two birds, I elected to stay behind at the hotel and write while my wife and seventeen-year-old toured the nearby college campus. In doing so, I split my time between our 2nd floor room and the lobby/breakfast area. While our room was comfortable and quiet with a window that overlooked a grove of the aforementioned pines, it was the hotel’s lobby and breakfast area that proved most inspirational. People from all walks of life came and went, while I observed all from behind my laptop. And while I know that sounds more than a little creepy on my part, let me defend myself by saying that this was not my intention. I would have been just as happy had these people not distracted me and I had maintained focus on my task at hand. But, I am a writer, and observing people is part of the job.
No less than three new stories were birthed over the course of two days, solely based on people and things I saw inside the hotel. Three new story ideas. Three new distractions from work getting done on the new novel. And I only spent a couple of hours each day down there. Who knows what horror gold I missed out on while out and about seeing the sights?
Come, let me introduce you to one of the people who caught my attention…
Troy was his name. I know this because he would yell it out to people as they walked away. A sort of last ditch effort at making an introduction and injecting himself into their day. Here was Troy’s deal: he stood at the breakfast buffet one morning making pancake after pancake. And then another. And then one more. Now, I know what you are thinking: maybe the guy was just hungry. And that would be as logical an explanation as any. It would also be wrong. This guy stood at the counter making all those pancakes for one reason and one reason only: so he could talk to as many people as possible as they came up to the buffet. One unsuspecting person after another found themselves engaged in conversation with Troy. Politics, sports, the weather. I could only hear bits and pieces as I sat across the room, consuming rubbery bacon and powdered eggs, trying to fill my computer screen with glorious words. Troy’s strategic pancake making went on for nearly twenty minutes, engaging every person whose only raison d’etre was to start their day with the most important of all meals. Then, when Troy finally left the buffet counter and made his way to the elevator, he nonchalantly dropped the plate of piping hot flapjacks into a trashcan. Dude wasn’t making them to eat. Dude didn’t even put syrup on them, much less take a single bite.
So why the ruse? Why the need to simulate making his breakfast simply to converse with strangers? Was he lonely? Maybe. Could be he was a truck driver, or held some other vocation that afforded him only limited human contact. A very logical explanation. Or, (and this is where my twisted imagination took things) perhaps he was subtly gathering information from each individual for a darker, more deviant purpose. When he entered the elevator, maybe he was following some unknowing mark up to their room. Maybe his intentions were to fashion the poor soul’s back skin into a mask he could wear while dancing naked to 80s synth pop. The unfortunate truth, dear reader, is that we will never know for sure what Troy’s true motives were. I do, however, know which direction my story takes, and that alone is why I will be more cautious the next time I check into a hotel.
Because that is what I write: everyday people doing everyday things right up to the point that something extraordinarily messed up smacks them in the face. Like grabbing a quick breakfast one minute, and the next you’re sectioned off and leaving the hotel stuffed in a madman’s various pieces of waterproof luggage. Examples of these types of situations can be found throughout my latest book, a short story collection titled Let There Be Dark. From a guy in Salem, Massachusetts seeking a public restroom, to a young woman spending date night with her thrill-seeking boyfriend at a haunted house-style attraction, everyone in this collection gets more than they bargained for. And really, isn’t that what life (not to mention horror) is all about?
About Tim McWhorter:
Tim McWhorter was born under a waning crescent moon, and while he has no idea what the significance is, he thinks it sounds really cool to say. A graduate of Otterbein College, he is the author of the horror-thrillers, Shadows Remain, Bone White, its sequel, Blackened, and Let There Be Dark. He lives just outside of Columbus, OH, with his wife, a dwindling number of children and a few obligatory “family” pets that have somehow become solely his responsibility. He is currently hard at work on one of several ongoing projects and relies on interaction with readers for those much-needed breaks…