Erik Therme author of the new release Mortom, shares his thoughts on small towns and why creepy ones are the best.
Most of us have experienced one at some point in our life: small town, U.S.A.
Maybe it was visiting relatives as a child (often kicking and screaming and followed by the inevitable: “Your grandparents aren't going to be around forever, you know!”), or maybe it was an innocent wrong turn onto a dirt road, driving through endless miles of timber before stumbling into a secret corner of the world. If you were lucky, the town was beaming with friendly folks who were willing to give neighbors and strangers alike a helping hand. The smell of apple pie was in the air, and you could hear the crack of a baseball bat in the distance, followed by the sounds of cheering parents. You were the star of your own G-rated movie, and it was heavenly.
And then, of course, there's the other type of small town.
You know what I'm talking about. Here, there are no manicured homes with lush, green lawns and landscaping . . . only dilapidated structures surrounded by yellowed grass choked with weeds. Where pergolas and garden gnomes have been replaced with rusting bicycles and fetid patio furniture. The downtown area is never more than a handful of businesses—half of which have been abandoned—and in the distance there’s always a lone dog barking, breaking apart the otherwise eerie quiet. This is the type of town where I spent my childhood summers.
And it was creepy as hell.
Don’t get me wrong: I love small towns. The creepier, the better. My wife and I often take weekend road trips, and we love discovering quirky towns—especially ones off the beaten path. Most places we find are populated by friendly and welcoming faces—which makes the wife happy—but I always leave feeling slightly disappointed at the normalcy. But every once in a while we discover a town where the streets are deserted, our cell phone can’t grab a signal, and we feel like we’re being watched by unseen eyes.
These are the towns that whisk me back to my childhood and awaken my imagination.
That dark alley nestled between the ice cream shop and library up ahead? Yeah, I’m fairly certain a zombie will lurch out at me if I walk past. Those flashing lights in the dark, night sky? I’m not sayin the residents of the town have been abducted by aliens (and replaced with exact duplicates), but can we really know for sure? And don’t even get me started on killer clowns hiding in sewers. Thanks so much for that phobia, Mr. King.
There’s a reason so many great horror stories and mysteries take place in small towns. Some of these places are barely a flyspeck on a map, and they’re often in the middle of nowhere. Most don’t have a local police force—only a county Sheriff—who probably lives three towns over in that place that smells of pie. But most importantly: everyone knows everyone, everyone watches everyone, and everyone knows everyone’s business. Small towns know how to deal in secrets. Sure, it might only be Maxine Wirt’s recipe for county-award winning pickles, or the fact that Craig Moore didn’t graduate high-school . . . but I'm always careful not to eavesdrop on any café conversations, or take any of the townsfolk out for a beer. If there are bodies buried in the basement of the courthouse, I don't want to know about it.
So the next time you find yourself in a creepy small town, take extra care to be friendly and attentive, because you never know who might be listening or watching. And whenever possible, always check behind the ears of the locals, just to be sure they’re not wearing masks of human skin.
I know I always do.
Best-selling author Alan Russell shares an exclusive audio excerpt from his new release Exposure.
Blake Crouch shares an overview of his international best-selling series Wayward Pines, in a 15 second video.
Check out WAYWARD PINES, Blake Crouch’s international best-selling series of thrillers before the premiere of the 10-episode television event starring Academy Award nominee Matt Dillon (“Crash”) as a Secret Service agent on a mission to find two missing federal agents, whose investigation only turns up more questions. WAYWARD PINES, from executive producers M. Night Shyamalan, Donald De Line, Chad Hodge and Ashwin Rajan, also stars Carla Gugino, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, Toby Jones, Reed Diamond, Tim Griffin, Shannyn Sossamon, Charlie Tahan and Juliette Lewis, and will debut simultaneously in more than 125 countries, making it the world's largest day-and-date launch for a scripted series ever.
WAYWARD PINES premieres May 14th, 9/8c on FOX.
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline discusses her new book Every Fifteen Minutes.
People always ask novelists, where you get your ideas? I think that's a great question, and I know exactly where I got the idea for my novel Every Fifteen Minutes. I happened to be thinking about the darker chapters of my past - at about the same time I heard the statistic that one in twenty-five people is a sociopath.
I thought to myself, I think I knew a sociopath.
In fact, I think I dated a sociopath.
But I didn't realize it at the time, and I started to wonder why.
So I got busy and started researching. When I research any novel, I always start with books. I learned that a sociopath doesn't have to be a psychopathic killer, like the murderous wife in Gillian Flynn’s terrific Gone Girl or the forensics expert Dexter Morgan, of the TV series based on Jeff Lindsay’s compelling novels.
On the contrary, I learned from Dr. Martha Stout's The Sociopath Next Door that most sociopaths don’t commit murder, but simply act in their own ruthless self-interest, all the time. Then I devoured a copy of an E. M. Thomas’s Confessions of a Sociopath, a memoir written by a woman who has been diagnosed as a sociopath, and I learned that sociopaths are super-smart, lucid, and even insightful. From Kevin Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths, I learned that a sociopath is just as likely to be a CEO as a killer.
After I did my homework, I interviewed two psychiatrists, and I asked them this critical question: “How would you, an expert in mental illness, not be able to recognize a sociopath in your midst?”
They both answered the same way: “Because sociopaths can really fool you.”
So I knew I had the perfect antagonist.
But what about my protagonist? Who would be my hero?
I read Dr. Robert Hare, who wrote the seminal book on the subject, Without Conscience, where I learned that the sociopath’s brain is the polar opposite of the brain of an anxious person. The amygdala is the brain center of human emotion, and the sociopathic brain has an underactive amygdala, whereas a person with anxiety has an overactive one. In a thermal MRI image, the amygdala of a person with an anxiety disorder will be a flurry of colorful, super-heated activity. But the amygdala of a sociopath will be a cold, black hole.
As soon as I read that, I knew who would make the perfect protagonist.
So I developed the character of Dr. Eric Parrish, a psychiatrist who heads the psychiatric unit at a major suburban hospital, but has a personal history of anxiety disorder. Eric has worked hard at overcoming his illness and he's become a wonderful husband and father, but no one knows about his past.
In a different novel, this would be a battle between a good guy and a bad guy to see who wins - but that's not the case in Every Fifteen Minutes. Eric doesn't realize he's being targeted by a sociopath, so he can't win. He doesn't even realize he's in a very lethal game. So the question becomes, will Eric figure it out before it's too late? And at the same time, readers will try to figure out who is the sociopath in Eric’s world.
Would you know?
Or would you be fooled?
In a review of the novel, Publishers Weekly said, “Many characters who seem to be gunning for Eric are likely candidates for sociopathic diagnosis. Once the red herrings are dispatched, the identity of the culprit who plots his downfall is a genuine surprise.”
So Every Fifteen Minutes is a novel, but it's also a guessing game.
Can I fool you?
Andrew E. Kaufman, shares an overview of his book, Twisted, in a 15 second video.
Max Allan Collins, New York Times bestselling author of Supreme Justice, discusses his journey from reading classic detective fiction to becoming a bestselling author.