A Day in the Mind of a Horror Writer… or … Why My Brain is Different From Yours


NEWS FLASH- The Imaginings will be on sale for September (my birthday month) for only .99!  Spread the word, enjoy the book, and if you get the chance and would be so kind, leave a review when you’re done.

What does the future hold?

Back before zombies started becoming passé (although the true horror fans among us will never stop liking zombies entirely… just as we believe that vampires will once again be scary), my friend and professor Dr. Kyle Bishop wrote a book called American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture.  Next week I’ll be featuring an excerpt.

But without further ado…

(AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: I know and trust most of you who come to my site and read my random thoughts, but for anyone else, I ask that you respect the content of my brain.  My main intent with the following post is to entertain, but there are also seeds of stories scattered throughout the piece.  Let me harvest them.  Thank you.)

Okay, NOW without further ado…

You awake.

Some days you want to keep dreaming.  Some days you’re glad the dreams weren’t real.

If it was a good night in your house in the middle of nowhere, you actually slept all the way through without any nightmares that made you sit up, put your hand on your wife’s chest in an apelike protective manner and whisper, “I just saw something outside the window,” before falling back on the bed, instantly asleep.  (Your wife loves when this happens, by the way.)

Occasionally you sleep with your eyes open apparently.  At least this is what people have told you, and it makes sense.  When you’re having a nightmare, you will often project that nightmare into your bedroom.  Because after all, if there’s some light in the room, your eyes are registering your surroundings, even if you’re asleep. (This makes your middle of the night activity even more physical… and very often much more vocal, as well, in your cries for help.  Your wife loves those times, too.)

But now you’re awake.

You have the summer off from teaching, which means you have time to do all of the projects that need to be done around the property.  Today you are starting by working on  your deck.  You’re reasonably coordinated, but several times during the morning, you drop something that, without fail, will slip between the boards, falling into the six inch space under the deck.  On your hands and knees, you can see your carpenter’s pencil in the shadows under the deck, specks darting through the thin slits of dusty light, but the positioning of the low deck is such that you can’t look under at the same time as you get on your stomach and reach under.

You saw this one while staining the outside of your house

You start to think about what types of real life creatures live under the deck.  But the pencil is just a little beyond your grasping fingers, so you wriggle a little more on your belly, pushing to reach just a little further into the darkness, starting to think about what types of fictional creatures might be living under the deck.  Probably things with stingers.  And fangs.

Just a little farther…

Your father asks you to meet him in town to help him pick up a bay window for his dining room.  The seven miles from your house to the interstate is a death trap for a variety of wildlife.  Deer are the most dangerous obstacles for drivers in the evening, but the rabbits have a rough go regardless of the time of day.

As you pass the carcass of a deer, your first thought, even before wondering how the car or truck that hit that deer ended up, is the impulse to switch your air from “fresh” to “recycled.”  If nothing else, you know that the smell of anything is actually miniscule particles of that thing, ergo you’re actually inhaling tiny particles of that yummy cake you smell in the kitchen.

And the smell of death?  But even beyond the realistic, you wonder about some sort of bacteria that will turn you into a zombie or something.

Zombie me

But you refrain from switching the dial on the air.  You’re not crazy after all.

Not long after getting on the interstate, you see in the distance a few police cars pulled over by a copse of cottonwood trees.  There’s an ambulance.  And a firetruck.  And as you get closer you see it’s more like five police cars.  As you pass, you catch a glimpse between the cop cars of the tailgate of a white truck turned over in the trees.  And again, before you think of how the driver of this accident fared (okay, maybe you think that first, but not long after…) you wonder why they need that much of a law enforcement presence at what appears to be a single vehicle accident.

Drugs is probably your first thought, but if you’ve already been thinking along these lines today (maybe that nightmare is still fresh in your mind) your first thought is, What caused him to crash?  And then you think about The Stand.  Was the driver actually a soldier who escaped from a military base, but not without being infected by some sort of Super Flu?

Or maybe it’s something that will turn you into a zombie.

Apparently I have a thing about zombies

Oh, and you’ve had several dreams where after being chased by the bad guy, you actually became the bad guy.  You’ve been a zombie, a vampire, and even just someone who was shot to death by the mafia but still walked around talking to people.  And it was so much less stressful to not have to be chased anymore.  Now you were the bad guy.

Click here for “Another Oldie but Goodie”

You meet your father at the lumber store.  He’s been to visit his mother, who is 98 years old, slow on her feet, but still sharp as a tack on most things political.  He tells you that apparently she has been hearing imaginary music.  At first she blamed it on her neighbor, but then she started hearing it elsewhere.  “Ave Maria” is one of the songs.  She’s stubborn so she doesn’t want to see the doctor.  That night after going home, you will start to write your second ever Friday Flash Fiction piece entitled Another Oldie but Goodie.

After delivering the window and visiting with your parents, you go back home just as dusk is settling.  You go out to your 6500 garden (living in the middle of nowhere means you have to prove you’re using your water) carrying a steel humane trap.  Something has been eating your broccoli and cantaloupe.  You hear something rustle in the foliage.  Maybe just a breeze in the corn.  Or maybe something hiding under the huge leaves of the pumpkin vines.

Did it just get a little darker?

Is there anything out there?

You shout out, “Is there anything out here?  Now’s your chance to come out and show me where you go under the fence?”  At first you are picturing a rabbit, maybe a cottontail.  Then you visualize a jack (you already wrote the Flash Fiction piece Run, Rabbit. Run.  And while you’re really not that freaked out about jackrabbits, you really did have that apocalyptic dream you mentioned in the story).

Click here for Run, Rabbit. Run

Then you wonder what else might be under those leaves, and a shiver runs across your arms, up your shoulders and your neck.  You remember the old saying, “Like someone just walked over my grave.”  But there’s not another sound.  Whatever it was is silent now.  Waiting.  As the sky goes from blue to gray. Watching you.  To black.

If you get some time to yourself after setting the trap in the garden, you might sit and pore over any of the difficulties in your life with your Other Self.  It may be about things that make you feel guilty, confused, or even sometimes elated.  Most times you come to a better place in your thinking and attitude, but not always.  And this voice often seems a separate entity entirely, one who thinks things beyond your control.

As you write this, you wonder if maybe there are actually two other voices in your head, because now that you think about it, there is definitely a different tone between the voice that brings you to a better place and the one that will sometimes think horrible things.  The proverbial angel and devil whispering in my ear? you wonder.

Later that evening, after dark, you go outside to turn off the sprinklers for the yard.  It’s a short walk around the house to the spigot, over a concrete pad and a little gravel.  You’re barefoot.  It’s dark outside.  Again, you’re barefoot.  But certainly most anyone would be a little leery of this.  Scorpions.  Spiders.  Snakes.  Stink bugs.  You could’ve easily slipped on a pair of flip-flops, but for some reason, you rarely do.  You try not to picture them on the dark ground as you quickly turn off the water.

You know they’re out there.

And then it’s time to go to sleep.  When you lay down your head, you hope that you will sleep the whole night through in your house where the closest neighbor is about 400 yards away, without any nightmares that will make you sit up, put your hand on wife’s chest in an apelike protective manner and whisper, “I just saw something out the window” before falling back on the bed, instantly asleep.

“Because I think she might leave me,” you tell your friends, “or at least request a separate bed if it keeps up for too many years.”

But sleep almost always comes fast without much struggle.  So much to think about during the day.

And when night comes, your mind will start to play.

( AUTHOR’S NOTE #2– If you still want to know more about me– and more directed at the craft of writing– you might enjoy “Why do I like to write horror stories?”  Oh, and don’t forget Author’s Note #1.)

What do I want from you?

I may be opening a can of worms here, but what are some of the irrational thoughts, fears or paranoid delusions that you have during your day?

And don’t forget to check back next Friday for an excerpt from American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture.

Please subscribe to this blog to receive posts via email (on the right hand column).  NO SPAM, I promise.

32 thoughts on “A Day in the Mind of a Horror Writer… or … Why My Brain is Different From Yours

  1. Love this one! I can picture you in the garden “huntin wabbits!” When are you going to write about “the man outside the window with a flaslight?”

    1. He’ll make his appearance one of these days, I’m sure. Actually I’m going to be doing an interview at another blog, and one of the questions asks about something about whether or not I always wanted to be a writer. I think my answer will be, “Not necessarily, but I don’t think I ever had a choice.” Hope all is going well for you. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. After reading this, I’m having a very “Here’s Johnny” moment.

    1. Awesome. That’s what I was going for. I actually had a picture from The Shining in my post “Why do I like to write horror stories?” It’s funny to me how many of Stephen King’s characters are writers.

  3. It’s interesting that a lot of writers who say don’t write a tale where the protagonist is a writer do that very thing. King is not the only one.

    Question for you this time: why is this?


    1. Blaze, I’m a little confused (doesn’t help that it’s already been an exhausting weekend). What exactly are you asking me?

  4. OK, once again you have asked the reader for a specific response…what are some of the irrational thoughts, fears, or paranoid delusions the reader has during course of a day ?

    I fear some day we will have a nearly dysfunctional government of individuals too involved in political power posturing and self-interest to act on behalf of the people they are supposed to represent. OH WAIT, we already have that.

    How about this one. I had a nightmare that actors, musicians, and professional athletes (entertainers all) were making obscene amounts of money while those who chose a life of service to others such as nurses, teachers, social workers were just getting by. WOOPS we have that one too.

    Is it paranoid delusion to the think that its possible for a whole culture to hate America and Americans just because we exist? HMMMM really ?
    That too huh.

    These realities are much scarier than spiders, snakes and things that go bump in the night.

    Boy am I glad the Presidents speech won’t conflict with the Packers and the Saints game next week.

    1. Whew. You been saving this one up?

      I’m not sure those are irrational fears or paranoid delusions. As you said, those are realities. And they make my brain hurt to think too much on them. I know that some people would say this is hiding my head in the sand, but I have to do occasional media blackouts for the sake of my sanity.

      Maybe that’s why I choose to focus on the things which I can dispel once I’ve put them to paper.

  5. In response to your question about my question, Paul: why do you think writers write stories where writers are protagonists?


    1. Good question. The simple answer is the old standby, “Write what you know.” However, there’s probably more. Writers (be they horror or otherwise) have a unique perspective on the world. We are always creating story, a process that, while many may try, is still somewhat shrouded in mystery for most non-writers. So to see a story in a story, or to reveal the process behind creating a story (take Misery for example), is intriguing. And writers are interesting characters in general. Often tormented souls with a penchant for drugs and drink, they are often fighting their own demons. And fame is elusive, even if one is successful. Except for maybe a handful of the hundreds of successful writers, you probably wouldn’t recognize one walking down the street. So they seem a little more interesting as characters than your average CPA.

      What are your opinions on this one?

  6. Hmmm. My fears are rather mundane. I fear someone will break into my house to kill my family. That is why I never (much to my ex-husbands chagrin) sleep in the nude. If I have clothes on when said madman enters my home, I feel I might win the fight. Too much information perhaps. I am also paranoid about my house catching fire. Another good reason to sleep in jammies

    1. Awesome, Kodi, especially the “I feel I might win the fight.” It would indeed be pretty hard to fight in the nude.

    2. Ah, this made me laugh, Kodi. I don’t sleep in the nude because I have young kids. Someone’s always puking, or needing a drink, or having a nightmare. Imagine the trauma it might cause later in life if Mom always tended them naked… 🙂

  7. I believe you hit the nail on the head when you said that writers are interesting people, Paul. Hemingway fascinated me. I still find it hard to believe he killed himself. So many exploits to bring to the writer’s desk. Dare I mention Poe, Twain, Spillane(what a rogue), London, Steinbeck, Melville? Aagh! Where do I stop? Fascinating people. And, of course, so many people want to write a book but can’t, so they revere those who can.

    Then we have this Blaze guy who gets a picture or a single sentence in his mind and needs nothing else to create a story. He relishes the writing because he has no idea how his tale will end. Everything is a mystery to him, the same as it is to his readers. What happens, happens. I have no idea if he will ever write a story about a writer. His story people haven’t divulged it to him as of yet.


    1. “What happens, happens.” That’s why I like being a writer. Who knows where these daily thoughts and snippets (and yes, fears and paranoid delusions) will end up? I know for The Imaginings, it started as a short story. It wasn’t until probably six years after writing the short story that I was writing another short story and realized it could be the continuation… and that I had my first novel length idea.

      “His story people haven’t divulged it to him as of yet.” I like this. “The Story People.” As always, I respect copyright in my contributor comments. You should probably do something with The Story People if you haven’t already. It smacks of something insidious.

  8. Blaze and Paul,

    I am not a writer and know only one writer very well. I am a consumer of a product…those written words that the author cares to share with the rest of us when he/she feels it is the right time, or when he or she feels we are ready. Yes, writers are, to put it mildly, interesting people but in an alluring way. Many of you are what I call process writers. You know…”its the journey, not the destination…” You become captivated by an idea, concept or random thought and must, absolutely must write about it…if not now, maybe sometime in the future, or maybe never. But, once the writing starts, the “process” takes over and assumes a life of its own with absolutely no thought given to the commercial value of what’s being written. The writer becomes the word. This drives the production/product oriented people crazy. What it tells me is the best of your work may laying around on some old diskette or scrap of paper in a denim work shirt while the rest of us (we consumers), we can only wait.

    1. That sounds about right. I think any professional writer has to give some thought to commercial value, but for someone whose passion is writing, that consideration isn’t what gets the ball rolling.

  9. Don’t know how I missed this entry until now! It’s been a crazy weekend, though, so I guess it just slipped between the cracks. Anyway, man oh man can I relate. Especially to the dreams. I have some incredibly freaky ones. I guess they qualify as nightmares, people have told me as much, but I’ve gotten so used to the strange contents of my dreams that I don’t even see them as scary anymore unless they’re particularly intense. Hell, I welcome them at this point. I’ve had a lot of story ideas and insights arrive from the subconscious in that manner.

    Hmm…irrational thoughts and paranoid delusions during the day…I don’t know if it’s because I’m not so much a horror writer as a fantasy writer, but rather than fears I get a lot of what-ifs and visualizations of odd things happening. Things like “what if that wall became liquid and led to a hidden space between worlds” or “what if the man in the car next to me knows a horrible secret about reality that he tells no one for fear of being ‘vanished’.” Those pop into my head a lot, and I collect them for future story ideas.

    1. Great reply. You’ve basically shown a different side of the same coin. For a horror writer, I guess it’s the irrational, paranoid fears. For you, it’s looking beyond this world. I like your examples. Truth be told, I often think like you as well. There’s just a darker tone to my more fantastic mental wanderings. Thanks for the response.

      Oh, and I normally don’t mind the nightmares unless they are keeping me from sleep. Then I’m not crazy about them. And the worst of the nightmares usually show up when I’m either A- stressed, or B- not writing as much as I should.

      1. Yeah, I think these points of view are probably related. Sometimes mine involve something like mass destruction or some sort of catastrophe. I guess that’s why so much of my writing revolves around the end of the world.

        Hear you on the stressed and not writing, too. Amazing how missing a day or two can throw you off.

  10. The story people enter into the mind of a writer telling her/him what must be told. A writer, a sane, intelligent one, will listen and allow them to write the tale, merely being an instrument of their passions.

    Is this insanity? Maybe. Maybe not. You know what, Paul? This could become a novel! Woo, hoo!


  11. I write characters who are writers because they are flexible. We can write from anywhere so location opitions are infinite. We can play with our schedules, again allowing for many time options. And writers are slightly (or vastly) eccentric. This helps make for a more interesting protaganist. Add that to the fact that tons of people fantasize about being a writer. Thus, they are always inclined to be sympathetic to your character.

    As for paranoid delusions and silly phobias during the course of a normal day, there aren’t many. But I was at a birthday dinner a few months ago and one of the presents a friend received was a garden gnome. Not your standard travelocity guy- this one was made to appear aged in muted colors. I found it horribly creepy and announced that if I put that outside of my house I probably wouldn’t be able to go outside after dark. Blank stares from everyone at the table. I wasn’t kidding. That thing gave me the heebie jeebies.

    Interesting post!

    1. Great points, Stacey. Hadn’t thought about the location thing. That’s always one I struggle with when writing. At some point, my characters have to go to work… or something. That too can be interesting, especially with a horror story (having to interact with other people living in the “normal” world), but it more often just gets in the way.

      And a great story about the garden gnome. You never know, right?

    2. Funny enough, I have yet to write anything that involves a writer as the main character. Maybe because I have yet to become a full-time writer and have always had to work around another schedule. With that in mind, let’s just say I look forward to the day when I come up with my first novel about a writer.

  12. My story people are telling me to write about a garden gnome which morphs to the size of an elephant and sits on your doorstep doing unthinkable things, Stacey.

    Bad story people:D


  13. By the way, that was a great message, Stacey!


    1. Agreed. And I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of your story people.

  14. My story people are legion! No, I’m not infested with demons! I don’t think so, anyway!


  15. I LOVE this. Once I was walking down NY city with a friend and we saw a bum walk by. He asked me, what do you think his story is? I went on and on for a few minutes, telling this long and detailed story about who this man was and how he ended up on the street. There was a long pause and my friend replied, “well I was just gonna say maybe he was a crack addict.”
    I have no paranoid delusions. Everything I see is perfectly true, though relatively horrifying to others. 😉

    1. Lacey, awesome story. I love that you came up with this guys bio right off the top of your head. That’s what we do, eh? And I think it was Woody Allen who said, “Paranoia is just knowing all the facts.”

  16. Paul, I’m so torn on reading your book. I’m interested, but I’m afraid of the nightmares I would surely get. Even your zombie picture makes me shudder, lol.

    1. It’s okay, Michelle. Although I’ve been told that there are really only a couple of parts towards the beginning that are “horrific” and that it’s more of a supernatural thriller, I don’t want you reading something that will make you uncomfortable. However, if you feel like recommending it to friends who are bigger fans of the genre, I would be elated (and maybe mention that it’s on sale this month for only .99). Seriously. I love that you support my blog. Not everybody has to read my book.

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