EDITOR’S NOTE: Cemetery Dance published Thomas Smith’s Something Stirs on October 13, 2022. In this special guest essay, Smith shares his journey back to the world of horror fiction. (See his previous essay, “Don’t Panic, I’m Not Gonna Preach.”)
Kevin Lucia asked me to say a word or three about my odd road back to writing horror since it has been somewhat “interesting,” so, let’s jump right in.
John Denver once asked the musical question, “Ain’t it good to be back home again?” And I have to answer with a resounding Yes it is.
I got my start writing horror, way back in the Dark Ages when computers ran on kerosene and if you typed too fast, the pilot light went out. Back in the day when you mailed every manuscript in a manila envelope and included a similar envelope with enough postage to bring the manuscript back to you (lovingly called an SASE: Stamped Self Addressed Envelope). Or at the very least, a regular business sized SASE that would hold the first page of your manuscript on which you had typed Disposable Manuscript, all the while, hoping it would actually contain a contract and a check.
Ah, those were the days.
My work was finding its way into anthologies, magazines, and various other places. I wrote columns about horror for a number of magazines. I was even commissioned to write a play with a major horror element as a Halloween fundraiser for a theater near New Orleans. And all was well for many years.
But as will happen, life threw me a few curves, a couple of which included taking care of sick relatives and a few other things we won’t go into here. Suffice it to say, if I was going to keep writing, it was going to have to be something that generated a little more income than short stories and columns.
So, after doing the research, I waded into the wacky world of business writing and ghostwriting. And I have to admit, some of it was really kind of fun. Like the boutique PR company head who told me at the outset, “I don’t want the clients to know I don’t write all of this stuff. Can you handle that?” Considering she had asked me the day before what I would charge to write descriptions of high-end homes for a real estate agent in Park City, Utah and when I said $225 each she said, “Fine. I’ll give them to you ten or twelve at a time. I need no more than three really over the top paragraphs on each, and I need each batch turned around in seventy-two hours.”
Turns out “she” was writing about a couple of new subdivisions where the average home price was $10 million and the agent wanted a writeup on every house for their company website.
I billed her for somewhere in the neighborhood of $9,000 that week and she always paid me via PayPal within twenty-four hours of receiving the invoices. I kept her as a client until the day I asked her to contact a client and ask four questions so I could write an article about her state-of-the-art yoga studio (I was never allowed to contact a client). When she said, “Just make up some quotes, I’m busy,” we were officially done.
And she was surprised.
Shortly after that I was hired to write the story of a man named Sampson Parker who cut off his arm with a pocket knife so he wouldn’t burn to death in a piece of farm equipment. The book was called Unthinkable Choice, and his first words to me were, “The first thing you need to know about me is, I’m a weenie.”
Even though his wife agreed, I’m not so sure. But his story was fascinating, and I‘m glad I was the ghost he picked to write the project. Especially since my other option that month was a fellow who wanted me to write a trilogy based on his idea about creatures that were left in a warehouse in a large truck. They planned to take over the world. The truck in the warehouse was the only thing that wasn’t an EXACT rip-off of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s trilogy and TV series, The Strain. And when I explained to him that what he was suggesting was plagiarism, he said, “Well I didn’t have them come into the airport on an airplane. That’s different.”
During this time, I also did a little work with a Christian film company who used me as a script consultant to fix dialogue in their scripts. The head of the company said one of the reasons they received from people who didn’t watch religious films was the fact that the dialogue was sappy (uh-huh) and the characters were sometimes too one dimensional and too good to be true (uh-huh again). That was a fun gig, and watching them film was interesting.
About that same time, I had the idea for a story about a house that was somewhere between possessed and haunted. And some Christian fiction publishers were beginning to drool over what they were calling supernatural suspense.
And it felt right.
So, I wrote the original version of Something Stirs. And shortly after I hit the last keystroke, a publisher gobbled it up as the first book in their new fiction imprint.
“Yes. Pass the money and contract please.”
I knew during the first conference call that the horror stories I had heard about Christian publishers not knowing what to do with these books after they bought them were true.
Step one: Make a book trailer and get it to go viral.
When I asked how they were going to do that, I heard crickets chirping.
Step two: Send me and an expert on the occult on an extended TV and radio tour.
For the record, I have bought more private jets for Brian Keene than I have made stops on that tour. And while we only know each other via social media, I’m pretty sure the number we will both come up with if asked independently, is Zero.
Later in the process, the head of the Christian film company expressed interest in making Something Stirs into a movie. He had gotten as far into the process as working on logistics for creating the CGI effects when I told him I’d like to hold off. When I told him I didn’t want to give the publishing company a percentage of the money when they hadn’t done anything to find the film company or really promote the book (OK, not entirely true…they set me up with an online interview with a woman who reviewed Amish fiction. I’ll pause while that sinks in), he agreed since they already had two films pending for which they were already contracted.
Skip forward a handful of years, and here we are. Something Stirs is about to be re-released (with a few added scenes, a little rewriting, and not a cordless phone or fax machine in sight) with a great book trailer.
Oh yeah, I have to give credit where credit is due. They hired Adam Drake to make the trailer and he shot it like a movie trailer. Not backgrounds, music, and some text like other book trailers of the time. An actual movie trailer for a book.
So, I am not surprised that he is now the 1st assistant Director on The Chosen; the first ever multi-season show about the life of Jesus Christ, and the number one crowd funded media project ever (at the time).
So here we are. And I am where I should be. Living on an island writing full-time with one book coming out soon, another underway, a novella already claimed by, once again, Cemetery Dance, and I’m finishing a contracted screenplay (heavily supernatural). Plus, a specialty publisher wants me to write a book of North Carolina ghost stories.
It’s been a weird road, but it’s good to be back home.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Ben Chalmers is a successful novelist. His wife, Rachel, is a fledgling artist with a promising career, and their daughter, Stacy, is the joy of their lives. Ben’s novels have made enough money for him to provide a dream home for his family. But there is a force at work-a dark, chilling, ruthless force that has become part of the very fabric of their new home.
A malevolent entity becomes trapped in the wood and stone of the house and it will do whatever it takes to find a way to complete its bloody transference to our world.
Local sheriff, Elizabeth Cantrell, and former pastor-turned-cabinetmaker, Jim Perry, are drawn into the family’s life as the entity manipulates the house with devastating results. And it won’t stop until it gets what it wants. Even if it costs them their faith, their sanity, and their lives.