What Screams May Come: The Day of the Door by Laurel Hightower

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The Day Of The Door by Laurel Hightower
A Ghoulish Books Publication (April 2024)

cover of The Day of the DoorThe Synopsis

Once there were four Lasco siblings banded together against a world that failed to protect them. But on a hellish night that marked the end of their childhood, eldest brother Shawn died violently after being dragged behind closed doors. Though the official finding was accidental death, Nathan Lasco knows better, and has never forgiven their mother, Stella.

Now, two decades later, Stella promises to finally reveal the truth of what happened on The Day of the Door. Accompanied by a paranormal investigative team, the Lasco family comes together one final time, but no one is prepared for the revelations waiting for them on the third floor.

(Interview conducted by Rick Hipson)

CEMETERY DANCE: Laurel, if I am judging your book by the title, I might think this to be a positive story about the opportunities of a new door opening in one’s life. But if I am judging it by the cover, I’m thinking whatever opportunities are waiting on the other side of that door are going to devour my dirty rotten soul and spit it back in my face. What can you tell me about the genesis for the title of this one and how the cover came about to convey what is truly on the other side of that wicked cover?

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: That cover is nuts, right? I love it. The title was the one I began with — it was this catastrophic moment, one of those that cuts a life in half, of what came before, and what came after, so it seemed right to have it sound momentous. To me the insidious part was one of the Lasco kids being taken behind the door, separated from the herd of his siblings, his fate unseen but forever imagined. A lot of early readers didn’t care for the title, but when Max read it they felt like it fit, and now I can’t imagine it being anything else. As for the cover art, Trevor posted it as a standalone piece and I fell in love with it. It seemed to fit the paranormal elements of the story so Max (Max Booth — publisher) and I signed a contract, essentially with the art as a catalyst. 

Horror trauma is a trope that has become more widely published in the stories I have been seeing over the past couple of years. I for one have been enjoying the experience of reveling in the unraveling of the various voices tackling this aspect of storytelling and am grateful for the catharsis this brand of entertainment provides. Certainly, trauma has affected so many of us, in particular those who gravitate towards horror entertainment, but what do you consider to be behind what seems to be a momentous shift in trauma-based stories we are seeing of late?

Part of it may be the catharsis, as you mentioned, and the discovery of stories that hit home for people. We consistently feel alone in our trauma and experiences, and when we find an outlet, a piece of art that sees us and says yes, you experienced something a lot of people do. You’re not alone, and here’s fiction to help you through — there can be a lot of power in that. 

Sadly, a lot of trauma is rendered by terrible events which often go back to childhood or, more often than  not, are connected to experiences or people who have moved on from our lives one way or the other, which often leaves the traumatized individual to deal with things outside of any closures they may derive from the person or thing which caused the trauma in the first place. In your story, however, the root cause of trauma is not only alive and well but is actually the matriarch of the family. How different would your story and what the kids must endure be if they didn’t have the catalyst to their troubles be so readily accessible to them?

I think regardless of Stella’s presence or absence, the kids would need to do some serious work to confront their trauma and release themselves from her hold on them. Many times, survivors of abuse are still held in thrall by their abuser long after their death — their departure from this plane doesn’t heal the hurt, so I can’t say if the Lascos would be better off. 

Considering the horror truly kicks off on a definitive portion of the sibling’s childhood — which is to say the end of it — I assume there is a coming-of-age aspect to this story that has me very intrigued. First, is this a fair assumption? And second, why do you think most of us readers are so naturally drawn to well told coming-of-age stories? 

Hmm, I’m not sure if I’d call this coming of age — it’s a lot more about the jump to later adulthood, and the long shadows cast by traumatic events. People have so many different ways of coping, but it changes them, even in ways they don’t perceive until they come face-to-face with old fears. As far as coming-of-age stories, I think it’s because all of us have a certain amount of nostalgia for at least a few parts of childhood. We can identify with the choices made by the main characters, and maybe even see it as a choose-your-own-adventure with a different outcome. 

What do you feel separates an effective, memorable coming-of-age story verses one who simply just doesn’t work well?

Same thing that sets apart all effective horror: Empathy. Some writers remember their childhoods clearly, even if they’re not drawing from personal experience — they remember what they observed of how certain things affected other people. Or at the very least, they can put themselves in those situations and extrapolate. Those authentic feelings, the ones readers recognize, that create sense-memory that puts them in the story — that’s where the magic happens. 

As the truth begins to reveal itself to the siblings as far as what really happened to their lost brother, it’s impossible not to expect extreme alterations to this poor family’s dynamics and, of course, the way in which the surviving kids view themselves and the world they are in. Can you share your approach and process for how you tackled such a monumental, delicate task to ensure their timeline came across as natural and believable as possible? I’m guessing a detailed outline may have been one of the steps.

Definitely a lot of outlining and character sheets. It was important to make this story about the kids, not about their mother, as she took center stage their entire childhood. I like to spend time in my characters’ heads to make their responses seem authentic, and I’ve done a lot of reading and research on trauma. 

How would you compare writing your first draft to the final version as far as the time it took you, and any major alterations you could only make once you were able to step back and examine the story as a while manuscript?

photo of author Laurel Hightower
Laurel Hightower

The first draft took a few months, as far as I recall, and it helped that I spent my birthday weekend in 2022 holed up in a hotel room writing. Then I got notes from early readers and picked at it a little, knowing it needed revisions. When Max signed the book, I went back for edits and ended up adding a lot of material, about another 20,000 words. The big alterations had more to do with events happening on the page instead of just referenced and fleshing out some of the relationships. 

And of course, what’s a good trauma-based story without a séance? What kind of fascinating rabbit hole did you find yourself tumbling down when preparing to write out this scene and bring your paranormal investigators to life?

I am inordinately lucky to have a very good friend who is a fount of knowledge on ghost hunting. She was able to provide me with some good jumping off points, as far as what kind of equipment would be in use and whether it presented heightened danger. 

Did you find it challenging at all to not let the supernatural elements detract from the very real terror you put your characters through?

Not really, as it was so closely woven with the other elements of the tale, but that could also be because I’m a paranormal junkie and will shoehorn a ghost into any story I can. 

What has been your fascination with the paranormal, and has your relationship with it, such as it may be, changed much over the years for you?

I’ve always loved the spooky stuff. Ghosts are my favorite, so eerie and versatile. I’m definitely a believer, and love all the different places horror can take them. I don’t think my relationship to it has changed much over my lifetime — there have certainly been ebbs and flows in my consumption of media, but I’m always game to settle in for a good haunting. 

Although you’ve already had a stellar year getting some great stories out into the wilds, what are you most excited for, creatively, personally, or otherwise, for the remainder of this year and beyond?

I’m taking my son on his first trip to California in May, as soon as school is out! He loves the beach, and we’re meeting up with dear friends who live across the country, so it’s going to be an amazing trip. 

What kind of impact do you most wish upon those readers brave enough to step inside of The Day of the Door?  

I hope it entertains, but mostly I hope people feel seen. Childhood trauma is incredibly prevalent, even if a person’s parents were genuinely good and doing their best. That’s commonly not the case though, and so many people feel hopelessly broken. I hope people are able to look at this story and see a way through, and maybe even get some of the validation they never received as children. 

Thanks so much for doing this, Laurel!

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