What Screams May Come: Bill Mullen’s THE THING IN THE WIND

banner What Screams May Come by Rick Hipson

The Thing In The Wind by Bill Mullen
Crystal Lake Publishing (April 5, 2024)

cover of The Thing in the WindThe Synopsis

A woman who has found her place in the world has it overturned by news of her mother’s disappearance in a remote region of northern Saskatchewan. She, her father, and a small group set out to find answers about how and why her mother and colleague disappeared and are suspected to be dead, all the while being haunted by dreams, premonitions, and a strange presence of something stalking them…something not human.

(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)

CEMETERY DANCE: Bill, as a Canadian living in Ontario, I was naturally intrigued that you set The Thing in the Wind in Saskatchewan. Being from England and now residing in Kentucky, you’re a far cry away from the place you put your story in, so I gotta ask: Why Saskatchewan?

BILL MULLEN: I’ve always been fascinated by the north. Its scale, desolation, and sparse population make it all feel like uncharted territory. The unknown! I agree with Lovecraft when he said “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” in Supernatural Horror in Literature. Add to that the brutal weather (gale-force winds, blinding snow, being cut off from help), thick forests, and isolation, and you have yourself quite the ominous setting. It can also evoke fears about what could be lurking out there in that kind of wilderness. 

The novel explores environmental concerns as well. Northern Saskatchewan (and the entire Lake Athabasca region) is no stranger to these kinds of issues with the tar sands along the Athabasca River feeding into the lake and the former mining towns around the lake (like Uranium City). It’s a common thread that pulls several of the characters in the novel together in this region.

How has setting your tale in Canada shaped your story that other areas, such as England or Kentucky, could not have influenced when it came to telling the story you needed to tell?

Without adding any spoilers, the lore that’s explored in the novel has roots in Canada and First Nations. Also, as mentioned previously, there’s a sense of the unexplored in the northern regions of the country that I don’t think Kentucky or England can capture as well. The treacherous conditions, the dangerous wildlife, and unforgiving wilderness are a constant threat, making the setting a character itself. 

I imagine parts of England share a kindred spirit by way of grey, unkind weather with rural Saskatchewan. Were you able to draw on that for creating a believable setting in your story, or do remote portions of this province hold a special vacation spot for you personally?

Yes, England certainly has weather fit for a dreary soul. However, the main draws to trying to get the setting correct were actually from a few visits to Canada (Quebec and Ontario) and a ton of research.

In your debut novel, Red Nocturne, you explore loneliness and loss through a protagonist who finds herself ultimately abandoned following the death of her father and a mother who has all but cast her aside. With The Thing in the Wind, you explore a woman’s upturned life upon the disappearance of her mother. Although your protagonist this time has some help in trying to find the now missing piece in her life — her mother — it seems we are once more faced with a story about family upheaval with the loss of one of its members. What do you feel draws you — and the rest of us — to such stories depicting families forced into tragic despair?

I think that we’re drawn to stories of despair because we know that the person/character is real. These are raw and unadulterated emotions that are being worked out. It takes us off any pedestal, removes any title, and reveals how similarly helpless we all are (or how little control any of us have). Of course, it can also reveal how some are heartless and don’t have much emotion at all. 

Seeing as this is your sophomore novel (following Red Nocturne), is it safe to say that you’ve been writing in other capacities for a while and have now found your traction for novel writing?

Yes, I’ve written short stories, sudden fiction, poems, and screenplays, but I’ve always felt most comfortable with novels. When I get an idea for a story, it always seems to be larger in scope than short fiction allows. While I certainly enjoy a good short story, the immersive quality of a good novel exceeds any reading experience, and I feel as though that transcended to my own writing. What I like most about reading or writing a novel is how attached we can get to the characters, how many experiences we can share, and how we can learn a lot about ourselves (and the human condition).

How might writing novels change the way you approach your writing as far as balancing it with your teaching and general day to day life, as opposed to before you tackled the manuscript of your debut novel?

I’ve found that my writing habits haven’t changed much after focusing more on novels over other forms of writing. I tend to write more when I’m not teaching (more like a binge writer) and do more research and reading when classes are in session.

While your characters search for answers to what happened to our protagonists’ missing mother, they are forced to traverse the challenges of remote Canada while struggling with haunted dreams of a supernatural, malicious nature. In chatting with other authors, it seems a general rule is that any good novel needs at least three key factors to harness a fully realized story. Considering your credentials as not only an author but also as a literature teacher with an MFA, perhaps you can shed some light on this general rule and tell us about your best advice for incorporating it into successful story telling?

photo of author Bill Mullen
Bill Mullen

First, it’s important to know what you’re talking about. Research the subject matter you plan to delve into (as well as the characters) so that there’s minimal concerns with continuity and authenticity. Then, plan the story that you want to tell. It’s helpful to have some form of outline, character sketches, etc., but also understanding that you can veer from the outline as the writing begins. To get the story started, it’s important to have an inciting incident, something that causes a disruption to the character’s status quo. This can be huge (like a nuclear bomb exploding) or small (like there’s no more milk for coffee). This then begins the series of events that lead to conflict, climax, and finally denouement. It’s best to get this in the story early. Think about your character’s normal routine (the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know all of the details), then consider how this incident will disrupt the routine and move forward from there.

Another key factor is character. I would argue that a well-rounded character is the most important element in a novel. Not only do we typically want the character to be believable and authentic, but also to transform as the novel progresses. Incorporating this successfully is hard work. We have to consider how the character will interact, what they will think, and how they’ll respond to certain kinds of conflict. It takes a lot of research (unless, of course, the character is much like the author).

It’s also helpful to workshop and get feedback from others. Readers tend to engage far more with round characters than they do with plot, setting, theme, and other parts of storytelling. Readers also tend to like a satisfying ending. Endings are often difficult to pull off well. I actually knew the ending to The Thing in the Wind before I knew much else about the book, so it was a process of getting there. Thankfully, the events that came up in the writing process didn’t change the initial outcome of the story.

If I may make a contrasting comparison between your first novel and your new one, Red Nocturne takes us across the world to Afghanistan and involves the FBI and the Chechen mafia. Meanwhile, The Thing in the Wind provides perhaps a more generally relatable story which keeps us in North America involving something most of us at a certain age can relate to which, of course, is the death of a loved one and being left with more questions than answers. In your opinion, how important is it to the success of a story and/or to you personally to be as widely relatable to your audience as possible as compared to pulling them into a world which is mostly unknown to them, supernatural elements not withstanding? This might be another question about balancing.

I appreciate you bringing up the wide range of settings and relatability. I feel as though we gain a much better understanding of what it is to be human (the human condition) by experiencing life elsewhere and comparing it to our life at home. It’s very important to be relatable to your reading audience, especially if your reading audience is well-traveled and diverse. I’ve traveled to nearly seventy countries, and I’ve found far more similarities in people rather than differences. Early on, I started to understand what a world view meant, and it changed my entire approach to interacting and understanding those from other cultures. By focusing on the human condition, the things that any culture can nurture and appreciate, we can connect with any audience because we find out that, on a deep level, most of us want, enjoy, and desire similar things. All of that being said, I think it’s very important to be relatable to the audience. If they’re fully engaged, then the setting, the supernatural elements, and other parts of the story can only be enhanced. It can be an experience in which they feel as if they are part of the story rather than being at a distance.

To anybody who hasn’t been to Canada, or at least to Saskatchewan by way of choice or circumstance, did you have to do anything consciously to draw readers into this less than desirable place while keeping the focus on the characters and the terror they must navigate?

The region of Canada in which much of the story takes place is certainly desolate and foreboding. I tried to treat the setting more like a character, as it is always interacting with the other characters and playing a role in their actions. This helped keep the story focused on the characters and how they interacted with their surroundings. Another element I wanted to add is how these kinds of regions can lead one to a sublime experience, a sense of awe and understanding one’s insignificance when compared to Nature. 

For all us horror veterans (old fogeys) who think we’ve read it all, what do you think will most pleasantly haunt us or throw us off guard? Or, in other words, what are you most proud of pulling off with your latest book?

The climax of the book may throw some off guard. It’s not the typical protagonist vs. antagonist faceoff. I think that it works well and hope readers feel the same way. 

As we brace ourselves for what’s to come with The Thing in the Wind, what are you working on now and what are you most looking forward to releasing into the wilds for us to enjoy next from you?

I’ve finished up the first and second draft of my next novel, which is an apocalyptic horror tale that takes place in New Orleans. It’s probably the darkest piece I’ve written, so I’m hoping readers will enjoy this slight detour deeper into the murk.

Where’s the best place to keep track of your ongoing writing and any other updates or news you may want us to know about?

The best place to keep up to date with my writing is on Facebook.

Thank you so much for this interview!

Leave a Reply