When you sit down to create stories for licensed properties like “Nightmare on Elm Street,” how does it differ from your approach to your own creations? Do you find the restrictions frustrating or challenging?
Actually, I find it very liberating. These characters and their story designs are so good and so pure; it’s almost easy to come up with fresh angles on them. Keep in mind I’m not a revisionist. I don’t see anything wrong with the basic franchises of the characters. I’m not out to re-write them. I’m out to give readers the monsters they love in stories with fresh twists and takes on them.
Freddy is fun. Find the current teenage maladies or weaknesses of the time and have him play with them. There wasn’t gastric bypass surgery when Freddy was first introduced, same with attention deficient stress disorder or a bunch of new disorders. Freddy is a real mirror of our societal anxieties.
Jason is a supernatural version of the Terminator, what’s not to love. The game with Jason is to craft a story that occurs around him that he can run head on into.
I’ve had great fun writing these murderers.
You are now working with Avatar Press to create a new line of horror titles and hopefully a new set of horror icons. What elements do you think are necessary to create a character that will not only resonate with fans but will also have the desired longevity?
Overall, the story needs to be fresh, entertaining, scary. You have to root for the main characters and the monster has to tap into one of today’s fears. But honestly, all that said, it is not a formula. These stories need to come from the heart. A dark heart, to be sure, but they need heart and soul.
With “Mischief Night” you’ve gone to your home state of New Jersey and the “creation event” takes place around a girl of eleven. What does that area of New Jersey bring to the story and how much of your own childhood experiences influence the events in the story?
I grew up in a town called Long Branch, New Jersey. To this day, I still have dreams and nightmares set in Long Branch, so it’s easy and appropriate for me to set “Mischief Night” there. It is a real place.
As a kid, there were so many creepy places in Long Branch and the run down mansion that the “creation event” you mentioned was a real place down the street from where I lived. We were sure it was haunted and were convinced vagrants squatted there.
For this story, I am using Long Branch as I remembered it, down to the details of the High School. The fall in Long Branch was especially creepy. The autumn leaves were falling. It got dark out right after school let out and there was a whole “Lord of The Flies” mentality among the kids. Our parents never knew it, but we played out wars and conflicts throughout the streets. Cedar Avenue was not just a street. It was where the local bully Tiger Turkinton lived. You knew to avoid it if you didn’t want your ass kicked.
Still, Long Branch was quaint by today’s standards. Tiger may have been a bully, but he never carried a gun. We didn’t have metal detectors in the high school. To bring the story up to date, I’ve made adjustments.
Back in New Jersey when I was a kid, the night before Halloween was Mischief Night. This was the night of the year when “bad kids” would roam through the streets doing mischief. Not just light weight, toilet-paper-your-friend’s-house kind of stuff or flaming bag of dog crap on your neighbor’s front porch. Instead, it became an excuse for brick-through-your-windshield kind of mayhem.
Why was this night singled out for trouble? Perhaps it was an outgrowth of the original trick or treat idea: On Halloween, if not rewarded with a treat, costumed pranksters were entitled to play a trick on the resident of the house.
It works for this story, because the lead characters are out on a dare, they know they should not be out and in a sense, they are punished for it when they encounter Jack & Jill.
Also, in a nod to slasher flicks, I noticed that many of the classics are named after a holiday. Hence, “Mischief Night” was born!
To the best of my knowledge, Jack and Jill is the first ever tandem killers. What made you decide to create the Dreadful Duo instead of the standard solo slayer?
It just popped into my head. What would be different? In a twisted way, I was thinking of Bonnie and Clyde or Mickey and Mallory from “Natural Born Killers.” Then I said to myself “Supernatural born killers” and the idea took off from there.
I’ve always been interested in sick couples in love. It seems people will do anything in the name of love or for love. So to exclude it, you have empty killers. Look at Jason. He seems to be killing for revenge, but I believe he kills to appease his mother. Freddy kills because this is how he sees love. He kills kids because he loves them. I don’t condone this stuff. It is fiction, after all. It just occurs to me when you subtract love from the equation, you’re left with nothing and I find it hard to believe that people kill for no reason at all.
Also, I created Jack and Jill to present a fresh take on slashers.
In “Mischief Night” we find the Jack and Jill already planned on mass murder at their high school. I take it that these two are far more disturbed than just two kids that got picked on in class? Will you be exploring the relationship between the two or are the stories more focused on those fighting against their evil?
The stories wind up being about both: surviving against evil and what is the nature of this evil? How could two teens start out so poisoned? I love origin stories. They’re my favorite. But you have to be very careful with them. You don’t want to diminish the power of the monster.
Typically, you don’t get so much “screen time” for the slasher’s origin or back-story, but we will here. It is as much their story as Jenny’s. You look at slashers like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. They were evil long before they came back from the grave. I’ll provide some insight into Jack & Jill’s tortured past.
You’re working with Juan Jose Ryp on this project as you have on other books in the past. Did you design this story with him in mind and how much does his incredible attention to detail play into your story choices?
Ryp is a dream artist to write for. He wants you to throw in all the detail. Many artists do not want to draw so much detail, but here’s the deal: Ryp’s detail reveals a lot about the characters. Ryp has a great eye for what is going on in pop culture and he crams it into each panel.
Ryp loves to draw challenging angles, so I throw everything I got at him and he knocks it out of the park. In the best of circumstances, there is a unique “music” being played between the writer and artist on a comic and when it is good, or in the case of working with Ryp, it is great, it is the single most satisfying aspect of writing comics. That an artist can take a few choice words as a starting point and perfectly capture the writer’s intent, or go beyond, is super cool.
It’s very important that this story looks current, that the characters dress current, look and behave like people today and Ryp captures that. He’s also an emotional artist, so you can really feel what the characters are going through. Since my stories tend to be very, very emotionally charged, very life or death, it is blessing to have Ryp draw them.
For fans of your work on the New Line properties, what elements of “Mischief Night” do you think would most appeal to them and what elements do you feel are completely unique to this new title?
Like with “Bad Moon Rising,” I tend to go for hyper-violent killings, but with characters that read “real” and it’s no different here. I seem to be able to inhabit the minds of these famous slashers. I can get inside their desires, their needs. I do this with “Mischief Night.” I’ve created two new slashers – Jack & Jill – and I can honestly say, they are a fresh take on the genre. They’ll take readers to a new, dark place.
I dare the readers not to fall in love with Jill. She’s the ultimate Goth goddess, but she’s a ruthless, diabolical killer. I dare readers not to feel sympathy for Jack, but again he appears to be a heartless killer.
Readers will care about Jenny and her plight. How could you not?
It’s fun to play with the reader’s sympathy.
You’re one of the few writers who has stuck to the horror genre for your entire career. What is it about horror that has kept you so enraptured for so long?
You know, I enjoy all sorts of genres and could probably kick ass writing them. I love action and crime stories for instance, but early on my mother introduced me to horror. I must have been about five. It was a way that she and I could hang out and communicate. I saw some really strong stuff at that age (at least I thought it was strong. The Hideous Sun Demon has lost its punch on recent viewings) and as the years rolled on, I saw movies like “Night of The Living Dead” within the first few weeks after it came out. Those times shaped my response to the genre. I like dark things.
Horror films scared me, but excited me too and I think that’s true to this day. It is a very honest, moral genre. It’s deals very head on with death, and I won’t lie to you, I fear death. Writing this stuff helps me deal with the inevitable.