Kidnapped! The Search for Originality By D.W. Gillespie

The Search for Originality

I’ve always wondered if William Shakespeare ever struggled with what he considered original stories. Think about it. At that point, humans had been coming up with stories and scratching them out for thousands of years. All the weight of that ancient Sumerian storytelling must put a heap of pressure on old Bill to, you know, be original.

I’m being silly here of course, but it’s just another way to bring up the old, but very true adage: there’s nothing new under the sun. This has been true for a very long time, but I do admit, it feels extra true nowadays. The internet has led to a boom in the content of every medium imaginable. There’s just so much stuff out there. How can a writer ever hope to be original?

Well, there are a few approaches that people can take. A lot of writers have embraced the world they live in, leaning into the remix culture. It’s a delicate balancing act, taking from everything that’s come before with a wink and a nod to the past. Do it right, and the results can play as well-read and playful. Do it wrong, and it comes off hollow.

I’d say the best examples of this approach come from Quentin Tarantino. In a summary, his work might play as completely rote, even played out. The pieces of the puzzle might not be new, not original, but the feel of it, the music so to speak, is its own thing. I haven’t gotten around to reading Ready Player One yet (I do plan to), but it certainly looks like one of the most divisive “geek” properties I’ve ever seen. People tend to love it unabashedly or dismiss it as crass, nostalgia-driven junk food. One way or another, the music isn’t there, at least not universally.

The other approach, of course, is just to keep fighting the good fight and trying your damnedest to craft something new and different. It’s a fool’s errand of course, but sometimes it’s the refusal to give up that counts. I tend to lean in this direction, even if I know full well that I’m no more original than the next guy. Overly referential work without finesse just comes off as lazy to me, so, if only to placate myself, I try my best to make things that feel different.

It’s not so much about form or language, it’s just trying ways to turn a plot in a way that, hopefully, keeps the reader guessing. It might just be a small twist on the usual formula or a red herring that plays with your expectations. For my novel, Still Dark, it was all about the antagonist, Apex. The reader almost immediately understands what he is, because all the markers are there, all the signifiers you expect for this sort of villain. It’s not until much later in the novel that you even question your assumptions. Whether or not I, or anyone else, is successful, is up to you.

 

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D.W. Gillespie

When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kidnapped! The Music of Still Dark by D.W. Gillespie

The Music of Still Dark

I like to dream in movie trailers. Do other people do that?

It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid, just staring out the window, a tune in my head, picturing video game characters starring in a massive budget movie that may or may not crossover with whatever franchise I was into at the moment. I’m slightly ashamed to say that the Mortal Kombat movie that hit theaters was not nearly as entertaining as the one in my head, but it did have a pretty entertaining soundtrack, at least to a fifteen-year-old.

Not much has changed, at least in this regard. I still like to daydream listening to music, building little movie trailers in my head, only this time, the trailers are based on my properties. Having a handful of tunes in mind while working on a book can be a wonderful source of inspiration. I can’t count how many times I’ve been trying to crack a scene when the answer just falls into my lap, delivered on a musical platter.

Sometimes, it seems too easy, a bit like cheating. All I have to do is find the right song, the right combo of lyrics and sound that makes the story just sort of bloom without hardly any effort at all. So, in the interest of sharing, here are a few of the tracks that played midwife to my debut novel, Still Dark. For bonus points, give them a listen in between reading breaks and see if you can find where they actually had an impact.

Came Back Haunted, Nine Inch Nails

I’m a fan of a wide, often embarrassing range of music. I won’t go into all the details, but you might not expect a horror writer to listen to so many video game soundtracks, but here we are. Nine Inch Nails might be as cliché as you can get for a horror writer, but dammit, I don’t get to pick and choose. It just sort of happens, that little click that gets its hooks in you, and before you know it, you’ve listened to the same song forty times in a row.

This track doesn’t exactly blaze any new ground, but any Still Dark fans should give it a listen, especially after finishing the book. Imagine it from the perspective of Apex, the central villain of the novel, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Johnny Cash, Heart of Gold

If the last one was the ballad of Apex, this one is a solid fit for Walt, my favorite character in the book. He’s an adventurer who’s past his prime, a fella who’s seen a lot and lost even more. Out of everyone, he’s got a solid cause to be bitter, but he refuses to. He’s never really stopped looking for that heart of gold, even though he’s getting old.

I chose the Cash version just because you can really hear the gristle coming through, and Walt’s nothing if not gristly.

The Day I Tried To Live, Soundgarden

Look, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t even know half the lyrics to this song. Chris Cornell was a hell of a good screamer, and all that yelling just gave you a mood as opposed to a meaning. With this one in particular, it’s all about that repeated mantra…

“One more time around.”

Maybe it’s about how hard it is to be a rock star, or maybe it’s about drug use. I don’t really know, but for me it fits well with the novel, especially with Laura’s arc. Every time she thinks she’s done for, that she doesn’t have anything left, there’s one more time around.

 

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D.W. Gillespie

When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

Still Dark on Amazon

Kidnapped! The Idea of Still Dark by D.W. Gillespie

The Idea of Still Dark

Explaining where stories come from, especially to people that don’t write, is a bit like explaining snow to someone that grew up in a desert. It’s not that they can’t understand it, it’s just such a foreign concept.

So, the short answer to, “How do you come up with ideas?” is very simple. I don’t. There’s no soul searching, no long hours of deep thought. It’s more of a… pop. If I was a cartoon character, there would be huge, orange balloon letters appearing over my head every time I thought of a good story.

I’ve told people as much before, and they don’t seem to want to believe it. Something about the lack of effort on my part is almost offensive to them, as if they expect some romantic ideal of a writer, me staring out at a sunset with a glass of wine in hand as I ponder the mysteries of the world.

It really is that simple though. It could be brought on by pretty much anything. A conversation. The way a house looks driving past. A combination of all these things. And of course, dreams. I always welcome a good dream, even if nothing satisfactory comes out of it. I’ve carried slivers of dreams and nightmares with me for over a decade before the story finally creeps out of it, alive and wriggling.

All of this isn’t to say the actual writing itself isn’t work. It’s a ton of effort to take that idea and turn it into something people would want to read. This is especially frustrating when it’s a good idea. You get to where you can feel it almost alive inside of you, trying to claw its way out, and the only thing between it and the world is you and your patience and willingness to usher it into existence.

This leads to the bane of writers everywhere, the dreaded writer’s block. It’s a problem I look at from two angles. On one side is the question of the ideas themselves. As I already said, they just seem to come to me, so the possibility has always existed that they might just stop. Just thinking about that is pretty damn terrifying, especially because it seems so hard to actually control.

The flip side is when writer’s struggle to finish a work, something I’ve dealt with myself from time to time. This one isn’t nearly as tough to handle, at least for me. It usually comes down to just getting something out there on the paper. Once it’s there, I can actually figure out how to fix it.

For Still Dark, the idea came from the most wonderful and mundane spot imaginable… from a dream. Like I said, no effort from me, at least not at the idea phase. A single image from the book, described pretty much identical to my actual dream. Like a little seed, the story sort of grew up around it. All I had to do was keep watering it.

 

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D.W. Gillespie

When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

Kidnapped! The (Almost) Apocalypse of Still Dark by D.W. Gillespie

 

The (Almost) Apocalypse of Still Dark

Not to dive too deep into spoilers, but my novel, Still Dark, flirts with some apocalyptic scenarios. They’re handled subtly, and it certainly isn’t the focus of the book, but it is a bit of me dipping my toe into a world of fiction that has always fascinated me. The idea of dealing with, living through, and especially, living after an apocalypse is a bit like standing on the edge of the cliff and wondering what it would be like to leap over. I’m both drawn and repelled at the same time.

Clearly, I’m not alone. Just look at The Walking Dead, one of the most popular shows on TV. Even now, as entertainment has grown fractured and overloaded with almost endless options, you could strike up a conversation with most strangers and odds are, they would have at least seen a few episodes of that show.

Or, take long running franchises like Mad Max or Planet of the Apes. Or just consider the ubiquity of zombie stories and novels in the horror fiction world. There’s something about the apocalypse that we just can’t get enough of. The question is, why?

I’d guess the reasons are many, but a few rise to the top of my mind. For one, the end of the world always seems to be a bit of a mirror for people. Whatever the cause of the downfall of society, there’s always a question that lingers: What would I do in that situation? The Walking Dead, in particular, leaves me daydreaming after an episode as I consider how I would reinforce my house, what sorts of power tools would make the best weapons, and how long I could drive before running out of gas. It’s almost an active thing rather than just a passive show.

That’s the fun way to look at it. The other, much darker reason for the staying power of apocalyptic fiction is the undeniable fear that comes along with the world we live in. We have it good. Regardless of your political beliefs, there’s no denying that fact. Sure, we might strive to have it better, to fulfill our great potential, but we have wonders in our very pockets that our ancestors might go mad just looking at. We can talk with strangers across the face of the planet. We can barely miss a day of work because of diseases that would kill an entire family a hundred years ago. We have more entertainment to throw away than ever as we drink coffee grown in a different country.

This is, without question, an age of wonders. And every one of us knows, whether we want to admit it or not, that it could be gone in the blink of an eye. When the food runs out, or the gas runs out, or the dead starts to rise, those wonders will disappear and some of us will do anything to survive.

It’s terrifying, and like all terrifying things, we work it out through our fiction. Still Dark shows the reader both sides of the coin, the before and an aftermath presented in a way you might not expect. I hope you have as much fun thinking about the what if’s as I do. After all, if we watch someone else go through hell, maybe, just maybe, it means that we won’t have to go through hell too. I for one, hope we’re right.

 

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D.W. Gillespie

When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

Still Dark on Amazon

Kidnapped! My Favorite Horror Movie by D.W. Gillespie

My Favorite Horror Movie

I’ve been writing for awhile now, long enough to get a bit wistful from time to time. Now that my first novel, Still Dark, has finally released, it’s fun to look back on the many influences that got me here.

I’m not so different than most horror fans when it comes to what I like. Books, movies, music, and games all sort of just blend together. From time to time, people ask me. “What’s your favorite (fill in the blank).” In most cases, I don’t always have a great answer. In all honesty, there are plenty of times that the last really good piece of entertainment I consumed feels like my favorite. In other words, my ‘the best thing EVER’ in my mind changes with the wind.

Except for horror movies. I always have a good answer for when someone asks me what’s my favorite horror movie. Oh, it might change at some point, and there could be a new flavor of the week to bump it off the list from time to time. But at this point, after a solid decade plus of watching this film at least once, maybe twice per year, I’m quite certain that my favorite horror movie is…

The Thing.

I know, it’s not the most original answer, but dammit, it’s a good one. John Carpenter’s remake of the classic story Who Goes There is seeped in dread and paranoia. Scene after scene unfolds giving us just enough information to make us think we know what’s going on, but we never really do. The whole movie is a puzzle, and we keep getting pieces that don’t quite connect. I’ve watched The Thing so many times now, and I almost always get something new out of it.

It’s a subtle type of storytelling, one that I still don’t think I’m confident enough to attempt. Carpenter trusted his audience to fill in the blanks, and years after the film’s sputtering at the box office, a thousand in-depth essays and studies have proven his faith well founded. It’s been picked to pieces by people far smarter than me, and my favorite read of the bunch is of the ending.

After destroying the research station and leaving the thing no place to hide, MacCready rests out by the burning ruins, waiting to die. Then, Childs emerges from the ruins and the two decide to wait together, neither sure if the other is the shapeshifting thing. Taken at a glance, it’s a nice, ambiguous ending, but some think it hides the truth in plain sight.

Before the movie ends, MacCready offers Childs a drink, which the latter happily takes. Keen eyes noticed that the bottle matches the Molotov cocktails that MacCready used to burn down the station. Was it liquor or gasoline? And more importantly, would the thing know the difference? It sounds far out, but watch it again and notice the little chuckle Kurt Russell gives as Keith David takes a sip.

The movie is full of stuff like that, little choices that the actors make based, no doubt, on the direction they were given from Carpenter. It takes The Thing from being just a good horror movie to a legitimately good movie on its own terms. If you haven’t watched it in awhile, give it another shot. It’s a hell of a good flick.

 

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When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

Amazon Link

Kidnapped! I Heart Monsters by D.W. Gillespie

I Heart Monsters

I’ve always been asked why I choose to write horror. Now that my first novel, Still Dark, is out, it’s a fair question to consider. Usually, it’s asked by people who would much prefer I write something pleasant. My mother, for instance. It’s a question that comes with a fundamental misunderstanding of how the creative process works, at least in my case.

The truth is, I don’t really have much of a choice. Sure, I’m the one in control of the how, but not so much the what. First or third person, experimental or straightforward, these are the things I can make clear, concise choices on. These are the things I play with, tweak, and generally try to get better at. But all of that is just method. All I have are what the magic things that float around above my head choose to drop into it, and that’s almost always horror.

So, the better question might not be why do I choose to write horror, but rather, why do you only come up with horror or variations thereof? That’s a genuinely interesting thing to consider.

Maybe my home life. Maybe being the youngest child for most of my life. Maybe being an introvert. No one’s personality is a simple equation, but the mixture of personality and environment made me into a little daydreamer who loved all things spooky. I used to tear through any kid-friendly short story horror collection I could find.

Maybe it was the monsters. I love monsters, always have. It’s the reason I was fascinated by Beowulf while everyone else was rolling their eyes in English Lit. Just imagine what Grendal’s Mother looked like! To this day, I lie awake in bed at night, thinking of new combinations of parts like a kid with a messed up lego set.

“What if the teeth were on the bottom of the feet?!

I’ve always adored monsters for all the reasons that we (humans) have loved them.

Maybe it’s just because being scared is a hell of a lot of fun. It makes us all feel alive, knowing how close we might be to being dead. It’s the top of the hill on a roller coaster. The knock on the door of the supposedly haunted house in your neighborhood, moments before you run away, your lungs burning. It’s (I can only assume) the sick feeling in your stomach when you look out the door of the plane you’re about to jump out of.

Sure, there are other reasons, but do you really need them? I could go on and on about how horror reveals a deeper truth about human nature, about how monsters reflect the world around us, about how horror changes to uncover the fears of every generation. All of these things are true, and interesting to consider, but it doesn’t change the simple fact that this shit is just plain fun.

So, for all my current and hopefully future readers, please, dig deep. Study and discuss my books with friends (please!). Psychoanalyze your favorite writers, and try to find the truth hiding under the covers. Pick at those loose strands until they come to pieces. For horror fans, you’re just doing what comes naturally.

But don’t forget…sometimes, us writers are just doing what comes naturally too.

 

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D.W. Gillespie

When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim, and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

 

Kidnapped! That Time a Movie Scared the Crap Out of Me by D.W. Gillespie

That Time a Movie Scared the Crap Out of Me

Now that my first novel, Still Dark is out in the wild, it’s fun to look back on some of the things that helped make me the writer I am, including some of my favorite movie moments.

Let me paint the picture for you.

It was October 2000, and yes, I had to look that date up. My wife and I, still together after all these years, were just dating at the time. I was 20 at the time, and though I would consider myself a solid fan of horror at the time, there were some woeful gaps in my knowledge. I was a child of the 80’s, and I’d seen more slasher films than I could count, but older, classic horror films had mostly dwelled in the background, looming and waiting for me to seek them out. None loomed larger than The Exorcist.

Up to that point, probably the scariest film I’d seen in theaters was The Blair Witch Project. Some of you will laugh, and I understand why. Those of you who were there, in the wild west days of the internet when you could actually trick an audience into thinking they were about to see the last days of three film students, well, it wasn’t really funny. I knew it wasn’t true by the time I went into the theater, but dammit if it didn’t feel true. By the time I made it home, parking among the dark trees without a streetlight in sight… let’s just say I walked very fast up to my front door.

A year later, my girlfriend in tow, The Exorcist rereleased in theaters, this version with never before seen footage. This was it. The big boy. The grandpappy. I think we were laughing about it when we sat down in the back row. About a half hour later, that shit wasn’t funny.

I can still remember, vividly, the moment where the movie had me. The moment where I knew it wasn’t all just hype built by a simpler time, by a movie going populace that just wasn’t as tough as I was.

The mom comes home, stops in the kitchen, and for a brief moment, a face lingers in the dark. Just for a second, so quick, I wasn’t even sure it was ever there. Then, outside her daughter’s room, another quick flash, a different face filling the entire door. She checks on little Reagan, and all seems well. Then, as she leaves… is that a shadow growing on the wall. A shape of a statue from earlier in the film. Now, she’s downstairs. Talking. Just the sound of voices is enough to put you at ease after all that unbroken silence. The scene is over, the tension is gone, and then…

A scream. The mother turns. Her daughter walks, BACKWARDS, down the stairs, straight into the camera, where she vomits up blood.

Holy shit.

That was just the beginning. The atrocities continued, piled up, multiplied, and by the time I walked out of the theater, I was in a daze. I didn’t run up to my porch that night, but something much more disturbing happened. The second I laid down in my bed, I saw that face, that pale, white, toothy face. Every night for about a week, I saw that face.

My son’s a budding horror fan now, and even though he’s probably too young, we’ve torn through a ton of the 80’s slashers (the AMC, toned down versions). He knows what The Exorcist is, mainly because he’s always wanting to know what scares me. For the past year or two, he’s asked if he’s ready for it.

“No buddy,” I tell him. “You got a ways to go.”

 

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D.W. Gillespie

When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim, and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

Still Dark on Amazon