Title: Whisper Lake (The Turning, Book 2) Author:Micky Neilson Publisher: Self-Published on Amazon Genre: Horror Format: eBook (410 pages)
Summary (from Amazon): “In this prequel to The Turning, the year is 1991. Jason Emblock, a U.S. soldier in Iraq, is sent back home to the small town of Whisper Lake after a vicious animal attack. But the beast that bit him was no ordinary animal. Now Jason is becoming aware of the changes–enhanced hearing and sense of smell–even as he reconnects with his lover, Celine Armistead, and seeks to confront his childhood friend, CJ, who tried to force himself on Celine while Jason was away. CJ’s life has its own complications: drug addiction and a strained affiliation with the violent drug trafficker Boil, whose schemes threaten to destroy Whisper Lake. But the deadliest threat may not come from Boil; because the beast within Jason… is about to slip its leash.”
Whisper Lake opens with an author’s note: I know you’re thinking, ‘If Whisper Lake is a prequel, shouldn’t I read it before The Turning?’ Actually, I started this series in the middle, but I intended it that way. The twists and turns will be more meaningful if you read The Turning first, then Whisper Lake. And yes, there is already a sequel in the works.”
When I devoured Micky Neilson’s previous book, The Turning, I couldn’t put it down. It was a solid throwback to old-school wolf lore with a few fresh twists, and Whisper Lake is no different. Jason Emblock begins his story like most protagonists in this subgenre: as the victim of a vicious attack that nearly kills him. From there he returns to his hometown to recover and deals with the burdens that he now has to bear. In fact, the characters’ struggle to accept the fallout from their decisions is a consistent running theme throughout the story, and it serves the narrative well.
The overall tone of Whisper Lake differs from that of The Turning, in that the latter was a more suspenseful cat-and-mouse game, centered on the POVs of no more than three major characters (and quick vignettes of minor ones). Whisper Lake puts the spotlight on a wider array of actors on the stage. With that being said, no one player is lost in the game. From tragic hero Jason to stubborn survivor Celine to the troubled CJ, every character is fully realized and given ample attention. While the narrative changes POV from chapter to chapter, it’s never confusing, and always compelling. Neilson treats everyone as an essential portion of the story. There’s no gristle here; everything serves the narrative.
The main antagonist, greasy druglord Boil, is a far different villain than the calculating Alexander (the assassin) of The Turning. Boil is a physically repulsive sleazeball who has, through his legitimate transportation front and illegal drug-running business, secured a financial grip upon the small town. He has the gift of gab and knows how to whip a crowd up into a frenzy. He bypasses traditional channels of PR and presents himself directly as a man of the people. Despite his facade, Boil is not a gentleman, and accepts zero responsibility for his actions. The current political relevance of this antagonist, whether intentional on the author’s part or not, made me loathe him with a passion. Nielson has a gift for crafting great villains, and Boil is right on the money. He succeeds in doubling the tension in the story and driving the external conflicts that the protagonists are going through, in addition to their internal struggles.
While Whisper Lake is a werewolf tale at it’s core, it avoids treading the same worn moonlit path done in werewolf stories past by interweaving its lycanthropy with high drama and elements of crime thriller. While the same struggle exists between humanity and primal desires that we’ve seen since The Wolfman, the protagonists (and an antagonist) mirror the same conflict in non-wolf-related decisions. Whisper Lake takes a fresh turn in wolf lore, making connections with an ancient Babylonian goddess and a second deity who harnesses the power of the moon. Neilson has, again, made a slight but fitting contribution to the werewolf mythos.
There is a point early in the story in which it’s revealed that a female character had terminated her pregnancy some time in her past. I want to take a moment to sing praises about the delicacy with which abortion was discussed in Whisper Lake. The character who had terminated her pregnancy was neither a hero nor a villain as a result of it, and when a friend came to her asking for advice for a similar situation, she gave the best advice she could, which was to relate her own experience and say that it was the right decision for her, at the time. She offered the most important thing she could in such a situation: her support. Kudos to the author for treating the issue with finesse and not exploiting it for sensation. Considering the themes of the book (bearing the burden of consequences and accepting responsibility for the things that happen in one’s life), this bit of backstory makes sense and gives a fair bit of insight into the character’s decisions later on.
Whisper Lake delivers the goods and expands upon elements hinted at in its predecessor. I heartily recommend this book to readers who enjoyed The Turning, and anyone who fancies a taut bit of wolf lore by extension. 5/5 stars. Grab it on Amazon.
We horror writers draw inspiration from everything.
Wes Craven credited A Nightmare on Elm Street to a story he read in the local paper. While the paranormal portion of The Amityville Horror may have been fictionalized, the shootings that occurred were not. Sometimes a real tragedy or mystery can act as a vehicle for the message we want to send, for the themes we want to emphasize. Last time around we talked about using Reddit for inspiration, and now we’re turning to Wikipedia for our nightmare fuel. From urban legends to hell-on-earth medial conditions to unexplained incidents, there’s plenty of eerie fodder for the next Great Horror Author to chew on. Brew a cup of coffee and slip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole as you read 10 Wiki pages that will inspire your next great horror story.
1. The Dyatlov Pass Incident – In 1959, nine experienced hikers trekked across the Ural Mountains. They were later found dead, having torn out of their tents from the inside and ran out into the night under-dressed for the freezing nighttime temperatures. Weird details surrounded the states that the bodies were found in.
2. Aokigahara – Also known as “The Suicide Forest”. You can probably guess why it has that name.
3. Hinterkaifeck – A mass murder in rural Bavarian Germany. Don’t read this one before bed.
4. Mary Celeste – In 1872, an American merchant ship was found adrift in the Atlantic, fully provisioned, but completely devoid of her entire crew.
5. Capgras Delusion– “…a disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member (or pet) has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.”
6. The Goiania Accident– In 1987, some thieves stole something neat-looking out of an abandoned Brazilian hospital. Within the next 4 weeks, 4 people died and an entire town was exposed to significant levels of radiation. Moral of the story: if it’s glowing, you should probably leave it alone.
7. The Cotard Delusion – A medical condition in which the sufferer, convinced that they have died, denies their own existence.
8. The Dancing Plague of 1518 – A case of mass hysteria in the Holy Roman Empire that compelled many people to dance themselves to death.
9. The Tamam Shud Case – Also known as The Mystery of the Somerton Man, this unsolved case from 1948 starts with an unidentified man found dead on a beach in Southern Australia. It gets weirder from there.
10. The Bunny Man – Reminiscent of Pennywise the Clown, this urban legend involves a man in a rabbit costume, wielding an axe or hatchet.
January 7th just saw the theatrical and On Demand release of C.A. Cooper’s psychological horror/thriller The Snare, which we praised as “90 minutes of disorienting dread.”
Starring Eaoifa Forward, Dan Paton, Rachel Warren, The Snare follows, “three friends headed to the seafront for a drunken weekend, only to be imprisoned on the top floor of their holiday apartment by a malevolent paranormal force.”
To celebrate the film’s introduction to American audiences, we spoke with screenwriter/director C.A. Cooper about storytelling, his writing process, and the darlings he had to kill for the sake of the narrative. Check it all out below.
The Snare is your first full-length feature film, and you’ve written, directed and produced it. But you’re no stranger to storytelling, you’ve been making films since you were 14 with a camcorder. What kind of stories are you drawn to?
I’m drawn to content whereby, once you’ve experienced it, it makes you see the world in a different way. Stuff thataffects you long after it’s over, and makes you feel changed by it in some way or another.
When watching the movie, I caught vibes of everything from Alice in Wonderland to The Shining to Japanese horror films like Ringu running throughout. What was the inspiration for The Snare? Did it start with a setting, a character and grow from there?
It absolutely began with the setting.The apartment that’s seen in the film and the area where the film takes place, by the coast, all of that, it’s all a real place. So yeah, I’ve been there a few times, and I’d always have a funny feeling about the apartment. And I’d kind of start thinking, you know, it’d be interesting if it really was haunted. It was just a weird place, and it kind of reminded me of The Shining, so it got me thinking about it.
In terms of Alice, that kind of developed over time. When developing her character, I knew that something happened to Alice, there was something very wrongdeep down. Something that was making her feel the way she does in the film. It was a process of discovery, really. I remember that there was a point about three-quarters of the way through the process of writing the first draft where everything came together: “Oh my God, she’s been sexually abused!” That became the core of it, and then I started to notice things dotted all over the story elsewhere that pointed towards that. I’d think, “Oh, okay, here’s why she has such anxiety when she’s around other men and why she’s so awkward around Carl.” It just all sort of clicked into place at that point and I then rewrote the screenplay with that in mind, after I discovered what it was really about.
Absolutely, I noticed that every interaction Alice had with men in the film was unsettling.
Yeah, exactly, that’s what I noticed too as I was developing the story, and I literally got to a point where I thought, “Ah, THAT’S why she’s behaving that way and that’s why she’s so funny around men.” Writing has always been like that for me. There’ll be an aspect of a character which I don’t fully understand yet and I know there will be something there, an experience they’ve had, something that makes them tick, a trigger that defines their intricacies and is connected with all the anxieties that they have. With Alice, it was the same thing: knowing that there’s something there, something wrong but not knowing exactly what it was until I’d reached a certain point in the development where everything connected. I kind of like that, going into a story and not having all of the answers to begin with. Exploring things about your characters as you develop it, looking at how those characters might respond to certain situations and exploring it.
The claustrophobic nature of this story demands great characters, which it does very well. Those of us watching The Snare come to know Alice, Carl, and Liz very, very intimately. What do you feel is the most important aspect of building a character?
When it comes down to it, when you’re writing a story, you want conflict. So, Alice came first. I thought, who would be someone that Alice wouldn’t want to be trapped in an apartment with for an extended period of time? That’s where Carl came from. I tried to ensure that each character, at their core, had some sort of defining major flaw. Something that would trigger conflict with the others. Carl, for instance, is a really slimy sort of womanizer. Hegets off on the idea of going on the trip with the two women so he can get high and fool around with the both of them, regardless of his relationship status. Lizzy’s flaw is superficiality. She just wants to have a good time and show off. They don’t have a signal or network in the film, but you know she’s just someone who’d be busy on social media, tapping away (on her phone) broadcasting her social life to all her friends. There were actually a few scenes cut from the film that went into that a bit more, like scenes showing Lizzy’s image deteriorating and how that affected her mentally. She’s a very vain person. For me, that realism was important. They’re all a group of people who you’d see in a social scenario, people who might be okay in small doses to go for a drink with, but you know if they were confined together for an extended period they would definitely clash. Their personality flaws would be magnified to an extreme.
The main character in The Snare, Alice, is dealing with some serious issues from her past. The film itself seemed to be a meditation on the effects of trauma on the psyche. Was there any research on your part when creating that character?
The short answer is yes. It came in phases, I knew from the beginning that she was depressed and there were a lot of complex things going on with her, but I didn’t know what there were at the time. So it was an ongoing process and once I realized that it was the sexual abuse that triggered her trauma, I spoke with people who I knew had been similarly abused and got their perspective, in an effort to bring some authenticity to Alice and her development as a character. A friend of mine is also a psychiatrist and so I talked to him about Alice and what happened to her, so he advised me on how herstate of mind might beand what she might suppress and how she might suppress it. Myself and Stuart Nurse,the actor who plays the father and Eaoifa Forward (Alice) created this whole extensive backstory for Alice: when did the abuse begin? How old was Alice when it started? Does it still go on now? How frequent is it? What does Alice do now if he tries to initiate the abuse? We spent quite a lot of time on that because it was important to us because, like you said earlier, the story is a kind of meditation on that topic.
Speaking of the cast, you’ve been described by the actors and crew as a bit of a perfectionist, doing take after take until the result is to your satisfaction. Is there anything that didn’t make it into the script/film? Were there any darlings you had to kill?
Yeah, we actually shot various different versions of the ending to see what felt right. So (SPOILER ALERT) when Alice returns home at the end of the film, most audience members thus far have assumed that things go back to the way they were and that the abuse from her father continued. But the original ending of the film actually had Alice murdering her father.
Now that’s what I thought she was going to do, as she trudged back to her home! It could still be speculated that she does that eventually, it’s just not shown onscreen.
Exactly. The (discarded) ending was intended to show that she had grown and changed as a result of her experiences in the apartment. Ultimately we pulled away from that in an effort to be more ambiguous. So now, when that door closes in the final moment of the film, it can be read a number of ways, as we don’t see what happens once the door is closed. Things may have gone back to the way they were with no real change, or perhaps Alice decides to fight back one day like she did with Carl in the apartment.
There were lots of scenes that were also pulled because they didn’t sit right with the, mood, tone and atmosphere we were trying to create and maintain throughout the film. We’d often ask, “Would you see a scene like this in The Shining or The Exorcist?” If the answer was no, then the scene was usually cut. There was an extended sequence where they try to lower each other down the balconies so they can climb down the side of the building to escape.It played out like a sort of fun action sequence, but ultimately felt off-tone.We’d been building this atmosphere of dread, and we got to this scene, and the whole thing suddenly slipped into an action movie. We feltthe audience would dial out and both the atmosphere and sense of dread would be compromised. The scene stayed in the edit for a really long time but was literally cut days before finishing the film as we knew that it would ultimately have to go.
It sounds like you made a good choice, difficult as it might have been. What are the worst and best parts of the screenwriting process for you?
I find the initial development of ideas to be the most challenging part for me.What Itend to do is I try to clash things together until I find something that excites me.When I find something that excites me I’ll start toying with it until it works within a short paragraph, and I try to discipline myself to the point where if it doesn’t work as a single sentence, it won’t work as a film. I have a fear that I’ll miss a fatal flaw in an idea that was apparent from the beginning and will end up hitting problems much further down the line that could have been addressed much more easily at the beginning of the process. I try to be disciplined in the early stages to make sure that something is really working in a basic form before I develop it further. Once I feel I’ve got a strong idea, the rest of the process for me is then mostly problem solving, which is something that comes more naturally for me. The hardest part is always trying to walk that fine line. Trying to come up with something that’s original, but not inaccessible. But once I’ve got something that works in its most basic form, then I’ll feel much morecomfortable exploring it in greater depth and sinking much more time into it.
When telling a scary story, what’s the most important part of building dread?
What I did was try to explore that myself, by repeatedly re-watching The Shining and The Exorcist during the early stages of writing. Really. I found that EVERYTHING has to work: the core idea, the execution of that idea through the screenplay, the performances, the lighting, the makeup, all of it. If you compromise any bit of it, it won’t work. Every compromise you make chips away at the overall impact. In The Shining, the atmosphere was what made it work so well for me, and I tried to do a similar thing with atmospherein The Snare. Photographic composition is very important for me and contributes largely to the overall atmosphere so should never be compromised. It all had to feel consistent, which brings me back to those scenes that ultimately didn’t make it to the final film. Anything inconsistent with the tone, the atmosphere, it was cut.
You seem to be quite comfortable within the genre, will you be staying with horror in your future films? What are you working on now?
Yes, I think so. Not exclusively, though. Moving forward, I’m working on several projects, two of which are horror. The other is more of a psychological thriller, but has a dark tone with and a few horror elements and influences in places. All three are still in the writing stage, but I’m collaborating with screenwriters on all of them this time. Moving forward, I’dlike to be slightly more removed from the writing process. I find it becomes so difficult to remain objective when writing, directing and producing at the same time. I also find it to be a faster and more efficient process when collaborating with others as opposed to working alone.
Alright, I’m gonna wrap this up by asking a question that divides writers everywhere. Outlining before writing: yay or nay?
Ah, that’s tough. For me, it depends on the project. Sometimes when I’m developing something, I’ll plan out every moment on index cards and will write up a storytreatment in a very structured way, and I’ll delay the actual screenwriting process for as long as possible until everything is outlined. But sometimes,other projects manifest rapidlyand I can visualize the entire film beat by beat, and I just have to write to get it out.I tend to find thishappens a lot less often, and I typically leantowards planning more often than not. I’m not too strict about it though, sometimes I’ll come up with a scene halfway through a pre-planned screenplay which takes the story off in a completely different direction and this is something I usually like to explore.I wouldn’t recommend being absolute about it; pre-planning can give you structure, but it can be fun to just explore and see where the story takes you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk horror and writing. Looking forward to the release over here in January!
Thanks for having me, this was great.
The Snare is out nationwide in select theaters and On Demand now.
Last month, we at Horror Writers successfully hosted our first horror flash fiction contest. We received a slew of entries covering every horror sub genre imaginable. Goreporn, southern Gothic, dark fantasy, even zombies made their way into the submissions inbox. I had the honor of judging the entries and while some submissions never made it past my inbox, I quickly began seeing some of the same plots pop up over and over again. While the twists were novel the first time I read them, they quickly became old hat by the third and fourth submission using the same plot device. Read on to see if that story you’ve been brewing is as original as you thought it was.
1. “The Shyamalan Revelation”: Guy does mundane things, but then OMG HE’S BEEN DEAD THE WHOLE TIME. This was by far the most common plot device I’d read among the entries. If you don’t have anything new to add to this cliche, please, for the love of horror, stop it.
2. “The Gothic Victimization”: People are in a haunted place, with no other point to the story beyond that. Spooky things happen to flat characters who are there just to be spooked.
3. “The Jonestown Plot”: The naive protagonist joins a new religion (often via a Craigslist ad), which turns out to be a cult that kills and/or sacrifices it’s newest members.
4. “The Exterminator Deception”: A man narrates his day as if he’s an exterminator, referring to his prey as “vermin”, “bugs” or “rodents” and then after he dispatches them it becomes clear that the exterminator was actually killing humans the whole time.
5. “The Home Buyer’s Caveat”: A young couple embarking on a new life together buys or inherits a home that turns out to be built on an ancient burial ground, mass murder grave site, or crime scene. As seen in “Poltergeist.”
6. “The Adorable Harbinger”: A bringer of death and suffering is disguised as something cute and innocent, like a child or a fluffy pet. It kills everyone and escapes at the end of the story. As seen in the Adipose episode of Doctor Who.
7. “The Table-Turner”: A predator (maybe a pedophile, maybe a pickpocket) stalks his/her prey, and the prey turns out to be a vampire/demon/supernatural entity. As seen in the Stephen King short story, “Popsy.”
8. “The Soothsayer Dismissal”: A realtor/fortune teller/child will warn about bad juju present, but the protagonists rationalize every strange event until it’s escalated to the point that someone dies or they need to call a medium/priest.
9. “The Dallas”: Unsettling, weird things happen, and it all turns out to be a dream or the insane visions of an unstable narrator. This offshoot of The Shyamalan Revelation is both a cop-out and a letdown to readers. As writers, we’ve all written ourselves into a plot corner at some point. Put in the work and get your characters out in a believable manner.
10. “The Victim Strikes Back”: A bullied kid is now grown and takes bloody vengeance on his/her past tormentor. In the beginning you think that he’s some cold, heartless murderer until the backstory is revealed, then…he’s still a cold, heartless murderer, just one who’s been bullied before.
I’ve seen these tropes used in some outstanding horror stories, and used well. The trope was subverted, or the story was self-aware and satirized the cliches in horror, as we’ve seen in films like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Cabin in the Woods. Sometimes a more creative writer will use the trope as a tool, a cog in a much bigger nightmare. In those cases it makes for a great story worth telling, but the harsh reality is that these ten plots made up the bulk of submissions that I received. In an era when anyone can self-publish their work online and call themselves an author, the need for originality is of the utmost importance. We can do better than these dreadfully common tropes, for the greater good of the genre.
Your flash fiction, “Christmas Blues”, earned the Grand Prize in our flash fiction writing contest. What compelled you to write it?
I was compelled to write the story while watching the opening scene from ‘Krampus.’ As I watched people fighting and running like animals for merchandise, I started thinking about the people who are not fortunate enough to provide a lavish Christmas for their families. I wanted to write something that had to do with that. I put myself in the shoes of a very depressed and desperate man that would do anything for his family. And of course, a bit of myself is in that character.
Christmas Blues features a family man grappling with a life-changing decision. What have you put most of your effort into when writing this story?
I just had this image in my mind of a man with a scared and worried face, pacing a dirt road that led to a crossroad. I kept getting into that character and started feeling the way he would feel; having a family of my own. So the effort I made was getting lost in the character while I wrote it with full attention to his dilemma.
What did you edit OUT of this story? Did it start out differently?
I didn’t edit anything out. I had planned to make it longer but the story wouldn’t allow me to. When I got to the end, I left it obvious as to what decision he made.
You’ve already published a book, “Short Tales of Horror”. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I did a lot of research before making “Short Tales of Horror”. The first research I did to craft my writing was reading books about it. The one that I call my “bible” is Stephen King’s ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’. That book helped me a lot, and showed me mistakes I had made. I started writing in 2012, but I was nowhere near ready until 2016. Each story was different than the finished product. I edited and edited until I got feedback and felt the stories were right. I felt confident enough and wanted to release it on my own. But as far as researching for a story I use the handy-dandy Google search. I also observe people a lot. I’m the quiet guy that soaks up the audience around me for my disposal (haha)
I want to talk about your process. How many hours a day do you write? Are there any rituals or things you can’t write without?
My writing process is not where I want it to be. I plan to write 2000 words a day at the least. But in 2016 I would write whenever I was summoned to. Inspiration would just hit me. But after winning the Horror Writers contest (and getting motivated by my fiancee), I feel it’s time to really get serious with my writing. When I write, I have to have to have coffee or green tea, and music that I feel the main character would listen to; it’s usually creepy soundtrack music.
What are the worst and best parts of the writing process for you?
The worst part of the writing process is getting stuck or feeling like what I write isn’t flowing well. I end up finishing later, erasing it, or start over the next day. The best part about writing is getting excited about what’s getting written down. It feels like I’m not the one doing it. It feels like the story is writing itself and I’m just a vessel for it’s horror. Sometimes I stop while writing the story and say, “Wow.”
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?
My favorite character this far is a young man I haven’t written about it. He’s extremely cynical, but he is an interesting character. I plan to write his story next.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would tell me, “Do not–I repeat–do not stop writing. Music is not going to be fun to make later on, so stick to writing. You will enjoy writing even more than you do now. Read as much books as possible and write every single day.”
So far you’ve won a writing contest and self-published a collection of stories online. Do you consider yourself a professional writer? What does literary success look like to you?
I consider myself a professional writer that needs to take it more seriously now. What I consider a literary success is getting published. I really want that.
What other projects are you working on right now?
I’m not working on anything at the moment, but I plan to write the story about the cynical young man I was talking about.
What would you like to see in the horror genre in the future?
I would like to see less cliches, less torture porn, and no rape scenes unless the rapist gets murdered for it. I strongly oppose anything rape.
I ask all authors this final question: Do you believe in outlining/prewriting?
No, because the story writes itself. My muse (which is a skeleton man dressed in a black suit and tie with a type writer), may be able to tell you if he outlines it, but I’m sure the story is never outlined.
E.Reyes lives in Tucson, Arizona with his fiance and three children. His book, Short Tales of Horror, is available on Amazon.