It's been a while since I blogged and it feels right for me to go back a bit. I want to think about the beginning of my desire to write dark fiction and what I've been trying to achieve.
I was writing before reading Lightning, but it wasn't all that dark.
Before reading Lightning, I was writing funny (to me), weird stories. I was about ten or eleven, filling school exercise books with characters having fantastic adventures. There was one about a detective where the storyline was led wherever I found jokes, mostly based on words having double meanings. I forged endorsements from celebrities.
And then there was one that filled several exercise books about two aliens that came to Earth to search for a friend. They landed naked and didn't realize. They were very violent and not too bright.
I followed that up with a story where the aliens disguised themselves as humans by inhabiting one. She had a connection to the aliens for the rest of her life. I've been writing that story for years.
When I went to secondary school, a friend bought me a copy of Lightning because he knew I was into writing and the author and I shared a first name. I thought it was funny. It was cool to see part of my name on a book cover. Yes, I used to cover up the Koontz.
Lightning didn't turn me onto horror fiction. True, I don't remember knowing much about its existence before Lightning and it was my first horror novel. But what Lightning did was deeper than that and I'm grateful.
It was the first novel I read for fun. Before that, I was trudging through books that were assigned by teachers. You'd turn up the next day at school and answer comprehension questions to prove you'd read it. I don't recall connecting with any of those stories. Not one.
Lightning was another breed of book altogether to my eleven-year-old mind. I felt like the author wasn't writing down to me. I felt like I'd opened a door to an adult conversation and just sat down quietly, without anyone noticing I was in the room. (Later, reading Stephen King would be like peering through a keyhole. First, to access the novel. And then again to look into his characters' darkest places; places even they don't want to look at too closely).
Roughly, the plot of Lightning, is about a girl called Laura who has the worst luck. She's born during a lightning storm and the doctor botches it, because he's an alcoholic, and she ends up in a wheelchair for life. Or for one possible life. Because, fortunately, she has a time-travelling guardian who chances upon her as an adult, falls for her, and decides to fix her legs by going back to the moment of her birth and slapping the doctor. Unfortunately, the time travelling machine is pretty accurate in terms of time but not so much place. And the guardian is a Nazi. And another Nazi follows him through. And the doctor isn't the only bad thing that's in store for her.
[Spoiler mostly ends here]
It sounds a bit ridiculous, right?
It's awesome. For a while, I was reading it every year.
The main thing I loved about it were the characters. This was the first book where I actually cared what happened to the main character. I wasn't just reading to find out or answer questions. I cared. I still do. I can still see her. And her flame-haired comedian friend. And the nazis threatening to destroy it all.
Laura could have dropped a plate or broken a nail and I'd have been upset. Throw in a sadistic, time-travelling Nazi with a grudge and a map to her location and I'm hooked.
It's time I reread it and did that writerly analysis during which I decipher how Koontz (you have to drop the first names to be writerly) created such a compelling character and evoked such empathy. As I remember it, Laura, as in many of Koontz books – at least the ones I was reading - is "perfect." She's smart. She's kind. She's beautiful. And she's not a dick about it. She has overcome adversity. Normally, a character with no flaws would be unrealistic, but it worked.
While this story had a profound affect on me and what I thought novels could do, I've not focused on creating amiable characters. My first protagonist was Simon the serial killer. I wrote that The Hollow Places five times and he's a murderer in all of them. Aliens in the head will do that to you. But, while it was okay for me to write an unsavory character, I was at least aware that the reader has to give a shit. Good or bad, it just has to matter. You don't have to like them, you just have to mind.
While The Hollow Places has flaws, the reason I persisted with writing and ultimately publishing the story is that - after years on the shelf – I reread it and it moved me.
Simon's taught himself not to exist like other people. All my villain Firdy wants is to be like other people.
What they wanted mattered to me, as did whether they succeeded or not. Sometimes I think about them. Like now.
Dark Fiction Author
I write mostly dark fiction.