Writing the horror novel, Fear in Appleton, was a grueling yet enjoyable process that took me over three years to complete. During that time, the book went through several drafts, including one where Michael Garrett, Stephen King’s first editor as credited in King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, provided input.
The idea that sparked Fear in Appleton was:
What if the reader could follow the journey a person takes from madness to death to becoming a ghost? Then, if the reader were given a front seat to the hauntings occurring thereafter, it would make for an exciting, creepy roller coaster ride.Adding to the fun, I thought:
What if someone who was afraid of everything in life, with a million phobias, could flip that around as a ghost doing all the scaring?Thus, Professor Terrence Crawford, a self-absorbed creative writing teacher with a fragile ego, was born. Naturally, since he was a writer, he’d want to narrate his ghost stories.
I realized that with a ghost narrator, I needed a warm, live body as a vehicle for typing up his exploits. It made sense to make Professor Crawford’s old boss, the English department head named Professor Starkley, that vehicle. So Crawford, after pushing people over the edge, would float back to Appleton College to induce Starkley to record his escapades.
As a big fan of edgy HBO shows like “True Blood” and “The Sopranos,” I began to imagine these hauntings as separate episodes that shared some connective tissue. However, I needed a way to link them. That linking agent, Angela Lacey, who was Professor Crawford’s obsession in life, became his opponent. But first, she had to become aware of his supernatural presence.
I made Crawford’s victims varied to give the sense of a ghost haunting an entire town. He could be anywhere floating around, trying to sniff out the fears of the populace. Yet, even as an incredibly powerful supernatural force, a residue of his humanity remained, and as a result, he couldn’t keep away from Angela. At this point in the novel, the stories go from the victims being varied and having nothing in common with each other to involving Angela in some way.
Finally, to send the roller coaster ride to its conclusion, I needed to get the ghost out of the English department and onto the campus for one last showdown. The character of Wesley sprang organically from the novel’s writing process. It just seemed like, after hopping around inside the minds of various victims, the ghost finally found the perfect host for his devilish purposes.
Then, as for the heroine Angela, she required something from the past, something clouding her present and causing her to fear life. It made sense to give her this burden so there could be a final battle between the ghost and her.
I had a great time writing this novel, and it’s gratifying to see it published on Amazon/Kindle. I hope you’ll download a copy and post a review after reading it. With forums such as this one, reading and writing don’t have to be mutually exclusive or isolating. Let’s keep the communication channels open so the ghosts and other things that go bump in the night won’t keep us under the covers.
J. Stephen Howard
You can learn more about Fear in Appleton here or on Facebook. The book is available on Amazon.