Finding Inspiration, Atmosphere, and Mood for Odd Occurrences by Andrew Nance
Imagine you’re in a car parked outside a dilapidated cabin deep in the woods. It’s around midnight, there’s no moon and no nearby streetlights, so it’s as dark as a night can get.
Some friends are with you, one of whom says in a hoarse whisper, “There’s someone sitting on a log behind us.”
You all can see the person on such a dark night because the figure is softly glowing. An undercurrent of fear begins to stir. Everyone stares at this luminous being who has no eyes, nose, mouth or ears. Trying to rationalize what you see, you and your friends reach the conclusion that it’s a dummy coated with glow-in-the-dark-paint and put there as a prank. Then it stands, and the mood shifts to terror. The screams start when the figure takes its first step toward the car.
That’s a great premise for a scary story, but it’s also something that actually happened to me when I was a teenager over forty years ago. I think back to that event when I’m writing horror so that I can try to put the atmosphere and mood of what took place into my stories. And believe me, I thought about that night a lot when writing Odd Occurrences, Chilling Stories of Horror.
Inspiration comes in many forms. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with the supernatural. There was a period of time when I was around six or seven that my family would conduct seances around a card table. I loved ghost stories, both telling and listening, and I am proud to say that I terrified my share of babysitters with tales I came up with. I was a monster movie fanatic, and couldn’t wait for the weekend to arrive. Back then there were only three TV channels, but one of them usually featured a late-night monster movie on Saturdays. Thankfully, my parents didn’t discourage my passion and let me stay up on those nights. I watched the great black and white movies, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, over and over. I could recite lines along with the giant monster movies, King Kong, Them, The Giant Behemoth (talk about a redundant title). I got chills from movies about ghosts, The Haunting, 13 Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill, and more. In the fourth grade I began to seek out books that featured these creepy topics, but back then, books for kids usually had friendly ghosts and monsters who were nice. So, I began to look through my dad’s bookshelf and found great horror from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, and more.Books, movies, word-of-mouth stories, actual events, and one more ingredient that I’ll talk about momentarily, are the things I use as inspiration for the stories I write to help develop mood and atmosphere.
When I write for adults, I stick to murder mysteries, but for kids, it’s the scary stuff. It was my passion when I was young, so I guess that’s why I want to share it with middle grade readers. One of the great challenges I face is that kids today are so different than when I was that age. Luckily, my wife is head of the drama department at the county middle school for the arts. I build a lot of sets at the school and my wife brings me in to act in some of their productions. I get to see and experience, first-hand, what middle-schoolers are like these days (good news, you guys are cool and fun).
When I first started to work on Odd Occurrences, my wife cast me to play Fagin in the musical, Oliver! Over the weeks of rehearsals, I talked with the cast and crew about my writing project and they gave me some great insight into what kids today would consider chilling stories of horror. Three of the stories in my book were directly inspired by these fantastic kids.So, I can add real middle-schoolers to things that helped inspire Odd Occurrences.
In 2007 I wrote a book called Daemon Hall and in it, I revisited an urban legend about a babysitter and a crazed killer. The climax of the story was the moment the babysitter learned that the killer was upstairs in the same house she was in. I ended it there, without saying whether she got away or not. I was surprised by how many emails I got complaining that I left the story unfinished. Because of that, I know young readers want to know how things turn out. So, I’ll finish what happened to me and my friends at the cabin in the woods when we saw the ghost.
There were six of us crammed into a station wagon. The glowing figure was about thirty-feet away when it stood and started walking toward us. This inspired most of us to scream. It was too dark for Chris, who was driving, to see the ignition and he kept stabbing at it with his key and missing it. Panic set in, and for some odd reason, Brian, another friend, and I started to giggle. Chris finally got the car started when the figure was about ten-feet from us. Still in panic mode, Chris forgot which knob to pull for the headlights, so he was literally yanking knobs off the dashboard and throwing them back over his shoulder. During his mad search, Chris hit the windshield wipers, and I can still hear the squeak-squeak as they swept back and forth over dry glass. Just as the figure got parallel to the one of theback doors, Chris found the headlight knob, turned them on, and we raced out of there. Like the title of my book, it was an Odd Occurrence.
Andrew Nance had a twenty-five-year career as a morning radio DJ. Today, he spends his time writing and acting onstage in historic St. Augustine, Florida, where he lives with his family. He is the author of Daemon Hall and Return to Daemon Hall: Evil Roots. You can find him online at https://www.andrewnance.net/