How often and to what extent do you research when you are constructing a story? If it wasn’t already clear given that I do the day-to-day’s on Readers Digested, I am very fond of the horror genre and dark storytelling in-general. It is something I have always enjoyed ever since I was a small child, and a lot of what I write tries to encapsulate how I felt with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play and other series’ I was exposed to.
My first horror novel Catherine: Forever with Love exemplifies that, as does Lunacy’s Dance, offering surrealism and identifiable, distinctive antagonists to battle against. Catherine: Forever with Love features a walking skeleton and a man with a wolf-shaped helm. Meanwhile, Lunacy’s Dance features a mad doctor named Dr. Rindan and a man with a lion-shaped helm. In the context of both novels, the characters are presented on a surface level.
The lion and wolf characters are both unique characters with their own distinct stories to be told. The lion character’s real name is Lu Murk and the wolf character’s real name is Naru Kass. In the horror stories, they are shown as ghosts of their former selves, they are less themselves and more like they were boiled down into their strongest emotions, like anger and hatred. This is how the character are shown in what I call Horror Maharris, a sub-sector of my writing’s literary world. In the Fantasy Maharris, however, they both serve as distinct characters in the upcoming Aeonian series (which is set after my second novel The Red Flux and my fifth novel Katalene the Hollow, respectively). Their connection to each other and the series is largely built around their relationship with Dr. Rindan, a surgeon under the thumb of Odeo Hassius, the leader of the Kudos group and the main-antagonist of the Aeonian series.
I know, I know, a lot of this likely sounds like vague information at best, especially for those who might not be initiated into what I have created. The reason I went into such detail is because I wanted to show the amount of depth I have behind the world-building and lore of Maharris. Every story I write isn’t exactly set in the same universe, but I at least try to make them reactive to one another. It is something that is overlooked my casual readers, but noticed by eagle-eyed enthusiasts, and greatly fulfilling for me as a writer.
Over the years, I have done some research for when I write my stories, but I have always argued the level of merit and in what ways such research should be incorporated.
On March, Friday the 13th, of this year, I made Lunacy’s Dance available on Amazon for Kindle and Paperback, as well as on the Readers Digested Patreon subscription service. Scott Moore and I are both alike in the sense that we don’t offer ourselves any chance to recoup after each publication. The train has to keep chugging, and so, I am an open-book with what I am working on. Readers can see the current six projects I am working on at Mishmashers.com and I do my best to update it as often as I can.
After Lunacy’s Dance, I should have begun finishing up Roxwale: The Heir’s Brother, a third novel set in Fantasy Maharris, but, for some reason, I decide to start on a novella called The One Two Punchline. I wanted to have a black-comedy horror novella to premiere on the Rabies & Germs magazine. After that, it is Roxwale, and then, I edit up what I have already written for The Canes III, but, then, after all of that, I will start on The Black Sands Saga.
The Black Sands Saga is the cornerstone of what I want to talk about on today’s White Fox Podcast. I have been racking my brain on a novel called Spade for over half a decade now. In-fact, I even make a small reference to Adrian Spade in my very first novel Blind Salvation released back in 2015. The novel has been my Moby Dick, so-to-speak, in that I could never find the right way to go about pursuing it. The Saga is a lot, lot different from Lunacy’s Dance and Catherine: Forever with Love. It isn’t about escapism and entertainment, although it does have elements of dark humor in it. It has very real connotations and is a lot, lot heavier.
The Black Sands Saga is a trio of intersecting story-lines, so-to-speak. It follows a young Detective named Jean Marx who relocates from the crime-ridden slumps of Urgway to Hardan as a new serial killer referred to as The Ashland Vulture begins to inflict himself upon the area. Meanwhile, an aspiring actor named Jeremy Crider becomes affiliated with an underground criminal enterprise run by a man named Robert Spade. And, as all of this occurs, a second serial killer, the Salutations Killer, is making his rounds as well.
The series thus far will be comprised of three separate novels, one from the perspective of Jeremy Crider, one from the perspective of Detective Marx, and one from the perspective of the Salutations Killer.
As it may sound, The Black Sands Saga is an ambitious effort, and, in-terms of the amount of moving pieces I have in mind, it is a story that will require a lot of thought and consideration on my part.
Because I choose to set my stories in the fictional world of Maharris instead of focusing on an actual serial killer with actual victims, I feel that I afford myself a necessary liberation. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe I have a responsibility to readers and an accountability to myself to be empathetic and articulate with what I want to depict.
Because of this, I have studied nearly every serial killer on the criminal database, I have spent years reading about and trying to understand their psychology and mindset. It isn’t something that is casual and light-heart as a morning paper, but I won’t deny or pretend that I am not intrigued by it.
If there is any one thing I want to accomplish as a writer, it is empathy and consideration. Any person who takes the life of another human isn’t a person I would like to have coffee with, but I know and understand that they are more than that act and are multifaceted. Calling a serial killer a monster dehumanizes them, and I know why you would want to do that. No one wants to believe that a person can inflict such cruelties on another person. But, by compartmentalizing things away in different categories merely because they are inconvenient, no one will ever understand how to treat it or understand why it happens. And, maybe it is a search that will last forever, maybe we will never be able to make sense out of such senseless tragedies, and yet, I find that trying to is one the best facets that separates us from them.
I have found it beneficial to offer a distinction or an asterisk to what I do. I have studied for writing The Black Sands Saga, but I have not jotted down any information and I have no blatant desire to incorporate psychosis I have seen exhibited by other serial killers in the development for The Vulture and the Salutations Killer. Instead, I have studied. I have studied and I have faith that when I am faced with developing the characters, I will have all I need in-order to answer what needs answered.
I don’t want to create a hodgepodge of character tropes and cliches. I want to be empathetic of them, of the Salutations Killer and The Vulture. They will have committed atrocities, but they are not my boogeyman, but my character-study and a part of my larger journey. I don’t want it to be – oh, so Strangler Joe did taxidermy and so, my character will do taxidermy, or Michael Murderhands had an overbearing mother, my character will have an overbearing, ahem, father. Because, while that might make for a solid story-line, I have to have it be more organic than that, not only because I think it will make for a better story in the end, but because there is no reason to writing it if I don’t.
I am still developing exactly what I want for The Black Sands Saga to accomplish. I know it has elements of a black-comedy in it, and I know it has elements of horror and sadness, but I don’t know what it will all become in the end.
Director Michael Haneke once did an Austrian-Swiss horror-of-personality film called Benny’s Video, about a young boy who murders a girl with a captive bolt pistol. Now, it has been years since I last saw the film, but what I got from it, from the way it depicted Benny thereafter, doing mundane tasks and so on, was that it was meant to take the piss out of society’s glamorization of serial-killers and I can understand that on one extreme or another. It shows that serial-killers do exist beyond their worst action and can often not be very obvious, I find that intriguing and horrifying all at once. In a lot of ways, our perception of serial killers is a lot like our perception of famous celebrities. We hold them up on a pedestal. It is difficult to imagine either of them existing in the day-to-day world. No one thinks about Tom Hanks raging at the television screen after he loses a game of Pac-Man and no one thinks about how Michael Murderhands is a big fan of milk chocolate.
We imagine that celebrities only do glamorous things and we imagine that serial killers only do evil things, both are very different mind you, but, what it comes down to is this – serial killers have been on my mind a lot. I think the reason that’s why it has taken me as long as it has to do The Black Sands Saga. Because I am afraid to peer in and see what stares back at me in turn. I hope that by the end of The Black Sands Saga, I feel educated on some level.
I hope that I feel like I have a better understanding of the human condition, and I hope I can capture the honest, unflinching depth I desire.