annotation by Steve McHugh
I read Stephen King’s IT when I was about 13. It was a revelation to me in terms of just how horrific a bad-guy could be and how brave the heroes had to be to overcome their enemy. It was my first Stephen King book, although certainly not my last, and it changed my reading focus away from fantasy and sci-fi toward darker fiction for several years.
For those of you who don’t know, IT tells the story of several children as they’re hunted by a being who can tap into their fears, using them to disguise itself as it hunts its prey. Most people will remember Pennywise the clown, otherwise known as the thing that made an entire generation of people hate clowns.
IT did a variety of things that over the years that I’m sure a lot of people have come to enjoy using in their own writing, but for me it was the use of writing the story in two different time periods. To see the characters age, and with them, their way in dealing with the terror they face. I use flashbacks in my own books for similar reasons, to be able to show how characters have grown and now deal with issues after a big space of time between periods.
It was about the same time that I started watching old horror movies, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Maniac Cop alongside the older classics, such as the Hammer Horrors. Most horror movies pale into significance when placed up against the true literary masters of the genre, but occasionally there was a glimmer of something special that could match even the most demented written horror story.
I didn’t know it at the time, but those years of horror reading and watching, planted a spark of an idea in my head. The villains in horror books, and movies, often prey on the weak or at least those ignorant of their existence. The good guys and heroes either sacrifice themselves for the greater good, die horribly or manage to figure out what’s really happening just in time to have a showdown with whatever monster or villain is the cause of their situation. The villains are all powerful and the heroes must band together, find hidden depths of bravery and skill, or get really lucky to defeat them.
So, when my brain began to create Nathan Garrett, the main character in the stories that would eventually form the dark urban fantasy series, Hellequin Chronicles, one idea kicked around: what happened when the good guy is knowledgeable about what’s happening? That he’s neither weak, nor concerned with the normal morals and rules that people play by? That he is in fact someone who should be feared.
There’s a line in Crimes Against Magic, the first Hellequin book, where someone says that Nathan’s the thing the monsters fear. It means that the villains of the book have to be ever more despicable and something that Nathan can’t easily defeat. I have a great deal of joy in making enemies for Nathan who don’t fear him, who taunt him just as much as Pennywise taunted the children, making them afraid and preying on their fears before killing them. Except Nathan has the capability to show the monsters why it is in fact they who should fear him. And that’s a lot of fun to write.
It’s amazing to think that something I read 20 years ago had such an impact on what I would eventually come to write myself. I think that’s the power of a truly great book, it’s something that we’ll always remember, always go back to and will change how we think about things we may not even consider at the time.