Doctoral student Eric Hansen is in the second year of his counseling psychology program. His first psychotherapy client for the year is thirteen-year old Greg. The boy has been seeing apparitions of children, presumably long dead, roaming outside his bedroom window at his father’s house. For Eric, this case covers disturbing ground. Just a year earlier, a freshman at the university named Will appeared at the clinic and reported similar harrowing images, only to discontinue his therapy after one session and never return. The haunting of both Greg and Will jolt Eric’s recollection of his own traumatic past and he is drawn into a whirlpool of unspeakable horror well beyond the scientific realm of psychology. Told within the context of multiple therapy sessions, Dead Works is a horror novella in which a young doctoral student must help a boy make sense of ghostly and terrifying visions while simultaneously struggling against a world where acts of brutal evil threaten to destroy them both.
This little section of a dream sequence for Eric describes a hallway that was actually the "old school" portion of Our Lady of Mercy School in Port Chester, NY. This section of the school was probably built in the early 1900s. The new portion was built in the late 1950s - it existed when I started K-5 in 1959. Anyway, just a note to explain where this hallway came from.
While I had the basic plot line of Dead Works outlined in my head, I was missing an underlying theme. Then, the disturbing incidents at Penn State were revealed. Paired with the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church that had been in the news for about a decade, I suddenly knew I had my underlying theme: the horror of child abuse. Incidentally, my research took me to a website called Bishop Accountability. Among the documents and evidence of the church's crimes is a particularly sickening letter written by a priest in the 1940s. The tone of the letter is so disturbing that it is difficult to read. But, once I read it, I knew I had the "voice" of the evil priest for my novel.
Eric and his peers are doctoral students in counseling psychology. This practicum class allows them to talk about their psychotherapy clients and seek feedback from the professor and peers about the therapy process.I frequently teach practicum classes like these - although students bringing up haunted clients is not an everyday occurrence. What is common, though, is the experience of being overwhelmed by a client. These are relatively inexperienced therapists, after all, and they are in training. Most of the time, students think well on their feet and do a good job. Even when they are stumped as to what to do, they often make good decisions in how to handle tough situations. This is an example of an exchange in practicum.
I'm not sure when my enjoyment of back-story research in fiction began, but I always found this "detective" work performed by characters to be riveting. When characters examine old newspapers or perform Google searches or check out old volumes in libraries to figure out some ancient connection to present day horrors, I am glued to the book. While this tactic has been used hundreds, if not thousands, of times, when done well the author always has the opportunity to throw some shockers into the mix. And, I'm a sucker for the device. I love it. So, I couldn't help using the same tactic in Dead Works - and shamelessly using the tactic multiple times throughout the novel. This is one example.
I knew early on that a significant portion of the novel would take place within the context of therapy sessions. Eric Hansen is a doctoral student in counseling psychology and one of his clients is 13-year old Greg. The plot would be driven by disclosures during the boy's therapy and the rehashing of a trauma experienced by Eric. The therapy sessions required a life of their own - they needed to augment the action and be captivating. As a psychologist and university professor who often supervises students like Eric, I know the process isn't always dramatic. So, I needed to set the tension right away and forecast what would be the likely dramatic action - and still be true to the therapy process.
When fourteen year old Ryan Perry moves to his grandmother’s coastal home in South Carolina, he is haunted by a malevolent entity masquerading as his double – a specter of ancient evil intent on destroying Ryan. As the hauntings become dangerous, Ryan encounters an additional threat: two menacing feral boys and their caretaker somehow connected to this other twin. Ryan soon realizes that in order to save himself and his family, he must confront the all-to-real presence of an unimaginable evil. Birth Offering is a horror novel about a boy thrust into a living nightmare, and the cumulative psychological impact of evil actions by multiple past generations.
This house is actually based on my recollections of Two Meeting Street Inn, located in Charleston, SC. We honeymooned there 30-plus years ago and returned about 10 years later. So, my memories of the place were nearly twenty years old when writing the piece. But, I stuck with those memories and made the house "my own" - and considerable smaller than this inn.
This section describes Ryan's first encounter with his "twin" - who isn't really a twin but something menacing. I wanted it to be understated, but it is hard to understate the supernatural. I also wanted to make a point that Ryan sees his reflection in the glass - and then see the double over his shoulder. That part was meant to be creepy. Seeing himself first and then his twin over his shoulder - not as a reflection, but from the outside. What is unspoken is that momentary "double-take" that Ryan must have had.
I can trace my enjoyment of the creepy kid sub-genre of horror back to around 1960 where my six-year old self was terrified, yet simultaneously fascinated, by the movie trailer of the Village of the Damned. So, as I decided to start writing horror fiction, I guess it was no surprise that kids would be the main protagonists in my first (and subsequent) efforts. I ended up with multiple kid characters in my debut novel, While the main character is Ryan Perry (my hero), Birth Offering has not one but three creepy kids. Two kids, Hugo and Max, are my favorite creations. These kids were monsters, but their actions and their behaviors had to be tempered with those that made them look very much like 12 and 9 year old boys. The grounded characteristics really provided an extreme contrast to the horrifying nature of their actions when the deeds become evident.
My family and I were on vacation in Edisto Island, South Carolina. We came upon this road that contained one live-oak tree after another on both sides. The result was like a cathedral, with the huge oak branches joining together overhead and Spanish moss hanging from the branches. The sight was breath-taking. All I could think of was, what would it be like to be chased by something monstrous through this "tunnel" of vegetation. From this thought, Birth Offering was "born".
This excerpt was fun to write. I was able to showcase what the two "feral" boys really were - something supernatural - but also portray the actions of one of them as a 10 year old boy who was behaving just like, well, a boy.
On an ordinary night in a quiet, upper-middle-class neighborhood, eighth-grade classmates Chloe Danvers and Spencer Genovese sneak out of their homes to investigate a weird clicking noise. They watch as a shadowy figure slinks through their street, dashes around a house, and disappears. The next morning, they learn that the Hoffman family has been murdered. In their efforts to find out what happened, Chloe and Spencer discover that no one else can see or hear the malevolent being they glimpsed. Only a shared medical condition enables them to sense its presence. Their illness provides a measure of protection from the creature, but not for long. It becomes aware of them and begins taunting them in a series of disturbing events. Now they must determine its weakness … and stop it before it goes after its next victims.
Somewhere along the line, I got the idea to write a novel about an aswang - a ghoul/vampire from the Philippines. I wish I could remember the "aha-moment", but it is gone forever. I do recall my efforts to learn about aswangs. The internet was quite valuable as you can imagine. Sites related to monsters, cultural lore, and "eyewitness accounts" provided helpful tidbits of information. There were YouTube videos and picture galleries to help with the construction of the plot. There was even a horror movie produced in the Philippines. Unfortunately, I could only watch the brief sequences.that had been uploaded. The entire film wasn't available. As you could imagine, there are no consistent accounts which allowed me to adapt the aswang to my purposes to fit the storyline.
The beginning of a story should grab a reader by the collar and never let him or her go - or so I've been told. My previous three books, despite being horror, start rather gently.For this book, the first sentence jumped onto the screen of my computer with little thought. I think it's quite an attention-getter. You know that somehow Spencer will have to face whatever it is that killed the Hoffmans. I never changed it through all the subsequent revisions. I've never had a story start so easily.
Thirteen-year-old Griffin Rinaldi seems like a normal kid. He plays basketball at the Y and he’s just learning to talk to girls. But Griffin doesn’t feel normal. He’s been diagnosed with Depersonalization Disorder—he feels disconnected from his body and at times he doesn’t know if he’s dead or alive. And it seems to be getting worse. Following the brutal death of his abusive father, Griffin is haunted by a red-haired kid only he can see and who wants him to do things he doesn’t understand. Griffin's only sources of support are his grandfather, Soren - a regional author of Outer Banks ghost stories - and his same-aged cousin, Tanner, a boy coping with his own troubled life. When a rare blizzard strikes the Outer Banks, Griffin recognizes the red-haired boy as a vengeful specter from Soren's tales. To make matters worse, his well-meaning aunt has convinced his mother he’s under some sort of spiritual attack. Unsure if the mysterious boy is a symptom of his disorder or an entity with evil intent, Griffin finds himself in a struggle to save his life, his sanity and maybe his very soul.
A key plot element for The Disembodied is a mental illness called depersonalization disorder. Thirteen-year old Griffin has been diagnosed with this condition, and this section describes how a school counselor initially informs Griffin's mother of the possibility.
The legend of the Gray Man on the coastal Carolinas is legendary. I've always loved the tale and there are a number of versions - depending on who has seen the ghost. Here is my take on it as experienced by boy first hearing the story from his grandfather.
I was teaching a psychotherapy interventions class for the doctoral students in our counseling psychology PhD program. We discussed techniques in light of "clients" we could find on Youtube. People routinely video blog their struggles, many in thoughtful ways. We were watching a video posted by a young man who was describing his symptoms of depersonalization disorder. I thought "what an interesting plot device for a horror novel." Within 30 seconds of this thought (and my internal exploration of a storyline involving this character's haunting visions while experiencing depersonalization), one of my students calls out, "hey this guy would be a great character in a novel of yours." The rest is history.
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