On Writing Dread

There are two questions that every writer is asked at every event they attend: how did you get published and where do you get your story ideas from? Today I’ll tackle the latter. Stephen King would agree with me that writers are always writing. Even when they’re not physically writing, it’s all happening in their heads and percolating like a strong cup of Joe. King also says in his book, On Writing, that novels come from two opposite ideas thrust together to form a really unique plot. Something different. Like pig’s blood and telepathy. This is my story of two opposite experiences that shaped how Dread came to be my latest novel.

I have a talented writing friend, Dan Waltz, and we communicate fairly often, usually when I am in the midst of some publishing crisis and I cry out to him for his knowledgeable saving graces. The other times we talk are when we think of writing ideas which come at all hours and in all forms. Let me start by giving you a glimpse of Dan though. He is a zombie fan, who has written a terrifying novel called Viral Bound. We actually met at the Flint Zombie Walk years ago where he was photographing the Walking Dead and I was one of the undead that afternoon. He’s also an artist whose vehicle truly supports his work. You will know what I mean when you see him driving his billboard on wheels around Grand Blanc. Back to Dread and Dan though. It was nearing Nanowrimo, the national contest where authors write a novel in the month of November, and I had no clue of what I would be writing, but Dan did. He sent me an article that helped create one of the timelines for Dread.

It was really interesting to us both and I told him, there’s a ghost story in there I could use. Little did I know it would become the foundation for the entire mystery. Immediately after reading as much as I could find on that article, and others like it, I started researching the legend of Cry Baby Bridge. I could not believe how much folklore existed, particularly in Southern States, about a local bridge where something tragic happened and you can either see or hear a baby if you go there late at night and turn off your headlights. It was spooky.

So I had a piece of my conflict from the article: madman runs out of woods and scares stoned teens, then beats their car with a baseball bat. I would use this storyline for a 1970s timeline and channel my parents. And I even had a setting with the creepy bridge, but according to Stephen King, I needed something opposite to add to the mix. This didn’t take much thought because I had an experience a few years prior that connected in sort of an odd way.

Flashback to my beautiful cousin Cierra turning 16 and hosting a Black and White Gatsby Gala in Fayetteville, Georgia at her home. My mom, two babies, and I went to surprise her. We stayed the weekend and one evening at dusk, we were sitting out back around a campfire. I looked over and noticed a metal fence two lots down that did not blend well with the Georgia colonial mansions that surrounded us.

“What’s that lot?” I asked my uncle.

“Next doo- ya mean?” he drawled in his now Southern but born New Yorker accent.

“No, no. Down a ways. That metal fencing,” I said.

“Oh. That’s the slave cemetery,” he replied.

“It’s haunted,” my aunt chimed in, telling us various stories of teens going through on golf carts at night to check it out. One time, wine drunk, she hid and scared the hell out of a few local senior tough guys.

“Want to check it out?” he asked.

“Hell yes,” I said and we tromped through some brush and then climbed the six foot fence into the graveyard which was gated shut.

What I saw changed me forever. Broken headstones. Weeds rising up around graves. Misspelled names on headstones. Graves marked with crosses only and no names. Haphazard rows and columns. Graves marked with the word, Baby. Later that night in bed I continued to research slave graves and cemeteries, particularly down South where there has been a revitalization of reforming the system so families can trace their ancestry and visit their loved ones’ tombs. Then awhile after, I placed it into my subconscious and left it there, grateful my family has a place where we can visit our loved ones.

That was it, I thought, after Dan sent me the article. I could merge the two somehow: the article and the slave cemetery. So began the second timeline for Dread which occurs in the late forties in a small southern city surrounded by woods. How would these stories intertwine aside from sharing the same setting years apart? Now that’s why you need to read the book. Coming soon.

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