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Is That Me In There?
By Hunter Shea
The question writers get asked most is, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s not always easy to answer, but we’ve all tried at one point or another. To me, it’s like trying to explain where dreams come from. Then there’s this question, right near the top of the list. “How much of yourself do you put into your books?”
Now that’s a good one. Everything I write has a little bit of me, somewhere, even if it’s just the turn of a particular phrase. Writers are all like Alfred Hitchcock, dropping ourselves into the background with each work. Sometimes we pour more of our soul/life/character/hopes/desires into a book than others. A good deal of it is planned and deliberate, and then there are those wonderful moments when something bubbles up from the subconscious, down your arms, into your fingers and onto the written page. This usually happens when you’re in ‘the zone’, those periods of time when it seems the book is writing you, not the other way around. Getting into the zone is a writer’s biggest high. Think Freddie Kruger, hissing, “What a rush!”
I often end up revealing more about myself than I ever intended, but thankfully, I write fiction so most folks don’t know what’s true and what’s a product of my twisted imagination. Hell, I once wrote a novella and the process made me realize my true religious beliefs! For me, being able to write is like having a little internal exorcist/psychoanalyst. Best part is, I don’t have to pay him!
I thought about the question, “How much of yourself do you put into your books?” in relation to my latest book, Forest of Shadows. It deals with a man who won the lottery on the same day his wife died in her sleep. He’s left a shell of a man, beset by anxiety, hunting for ghosts but afraid to face real life. Now, I’m just a regular guy with a 9-5 job. I have never even sniffed winning the lottery, and my wife is very much alive. My life couldn’t be further from the story that took me years to write.
But that’s not true at all. I went through my book, looking for all the bits of myself that I left strewn across the battlefield. What I saw was staggering. I’m everywhere! Sure, there are a few things I intentionally put in that mirror my life, or at least my life at the time I wrote it. Like the main character, I’m a long suffering Islander fan. Yes, I do dream of winning the lottery and leaving the rat race behind, so I thought it would be cool to invest in a character that was granted my wish. Part of the book is set in Alaska, a place I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid. The research on Alaska was fun and I got to live there for a while, at least in my mind.
And now comes the weird part. There are whole threads that, looking back now, make me realize just how much crap I was trying to work through. The main character suffers from crippling anxiety disorder for 5 years. Some years before I wrote the book, I had a bout with it that lasted about 6 months, a total ride through hell. I didn’t realize as I was writing it how closely I was describing my exact panic attacks, from the triggers to the reactions. Reading them was like reliving my worst nightmare, but in a way, it also provided a kind of catharsis.
On to the next. I made the main character’s wife die in her sleep because, at the time, I thought it would be a perfect reason to show that money, even millions, can’t buy happiness. The thing is, my wife dying has been one of my greatest fears. She has a rare disease that’s caused all sorts of problems over the years and we’ve faced the grim reaper a few times. I know now that I was trying to tell myself that this is what I would become if she were to pass away. And I think I was providing a roadmap to getting myself better, should that ever, God forbid, happen.
On more minor levels, there are characters that talk or say things just like I do and references to music or even cars that are on my way-cool-bitchin’ list.
Thankfully, not everything I write is like this, or else I think I’d bleed myself dry after only a few books. An old book I wrote really has nothing of me, except my dark sense of humor. Another is populated with my close friends, where I’m the straight man, setting them up from time to time.
No matter what degree, though, the reader takes a piece of me with them. Writers bare their souls, willingly or not, consciously or not. It’s what we do. It’s what builds that connection to the reader. It creates believable characters and situations. Ultimately, what we write is one long epitaph. Want to know exactly who I was after I kick the bucket? That little obit in the paper won’t do. Check out my books and stories and articles. That was me. Gee, I hope my great grandkids don’t think I was a tool.
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About Forest of Shadows and Hunter Shea:
The dead still hate!
John Backman specializes in inexplicable phenomena. The weirder the better. So when he gets a letter from a terrified man describing an old log home with odd whisperings, shadows that come alive, and rooms that disappear, he can’t resist the call. But the violence only escalates as soon as John arrives in the remote Alaskan village of Shida. Something dreadful happened there. Something monstrous. The shadows are closing in…and they’re out for blood.
Forest of Shadows is Hunter Shea’s first full-length horror novel, but his short stories have appeared in dozens of magazines and he is also the author of the critically acclaimed novella, Father Exorcist. His second novel with Samhain, Evil Eternal, will be out next spring. Hunter Shea is the dark alter-ego of an ordinary man who happens to write children’s books, the first of which will be published by a division of Random House in 2012.
He lives in New York with his family and savage rescue cat, where he’s working hard on his next novel.
Visit www.huntershea.com -- he’s always happy to hear from you.
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