Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guest Post: The Dark Side; Werewolves 4EVR; and the Draw of Halloween, by W.D. Gagliani

Since it is nearly Halloween, I decided to give all my readers a little treat: a guest post from one of my writer friends!  Enjoy!

The Dark Side; Werewolves 4EVR; and the Draw of Halloween

By W.D. Gagliani

I've always been drawn to dark thoughts.

Don't ask me why, I don't know the answer. It's just always been a tendency I have to wonder "what if?" but then also to look to the darker side of the spectrum. Strolling inside a bank, I might think, "How would a gang (maybe my gang) rob this place?" while picking out and counting the cameras in the corners. I see a car pull up to a convenience store after midnight and immediately think the worst. I hear about some terrible tragedy and my raised-on-thrillers brain goes into overdrive to concoct some sort of criminal or highly-placed conspiracy to explain what happened, because… well, because it's more interesting to look upon the darker side of life.

In what we call "real" life, events are random. In fiction, random is seldom convincing. Coincidence is frowned upon. Multiple coincidences are the kiss of death to a novel's credibility. "Oh, right!" we whine, exasperated by the writer's gall in trying to put one over on us. (This happens just as much in movies and TV shows as books, by the way.)

"There are no small coincidences and big coincidences!" snarled the pretentious writer Rava on a notable Seinfeld episode. "There are only coincidences!” Sure, I’m quoting that line here only because I love the episode. No matter, my point that too many coincidences – whether big or small or medium or slight – will spoil a novel or story, even though "real" life sometimes stacks the deck and deals out a whole series of them anyway, is still valid. Now, on the other hand, coincidence may be frowned upon, but random can be made to work – especially in horror. There aren't too many things more terrifying than a random occurrence that kills you or hurts you or your loved ones. You know, the escaped convict finds your front door unlocked… the bridge collapses while you are driving over it… your neighbor’s name is Dahmer and he's been sizing you up…

My dark thoughts often revolve around random occurrences. Maybe it's the plotting mechanism in my brain, trying to line up what it needs for that next story. One interesting approach is to connect a series of random occurrences until they become some sort of dangerously lunatic conspiracy… practitioners write intriguing thrillers, or rant and rave on their television pundit shows. Either way, it's fiction. At its best, it's dark fiction.

What’s the attraction of the dark side? Why do some of us prefer to walk or bask in shadows? My assumption is that it’s a hard-wired preference. Sort of similar to why David Lynch can’t make a light movie. Some of us are just wired to prefer exploring darkness…

Which leads me to that werewolf preference I’ve always had. As a kid, raised on many influences, I could have gone in any direction. My early interest in SF was eventually supplanted by horror, and as I eagerly watched the classic Universal monster movies on television in the early 70s, I realized one thing. The other monsters scared me for what they could do to me – I was generically frightened of Dracula, the mummy, the creature (as any kid would be). But later I realized the werewolf was different – he scared me for what I might do if I were the monster. He scared me for the loss of control he suffered when he wolfed out. He was the only one I empathized with, because I could imagine being him rather than merely being threatened by him. It was a double whammy – I realized that I could be just as scared of being the monster as facing it. I think the lesson took, because many (if not most) of my story protagonists have dark sides, secrets, and are often arguably as evil as their opponents… though their reasons may seem more logical to them. When the time came to write my first novel, it was a foregone conclusion that I would write about a tortured werewolf who's trying to do the right thing, but finds himself consistently stymied. Dominic "Nick" Lupo's lycanthropy could almost be a superpower, except his lack of control makes him extra dangerous. In Wolf's Trap, I enjoyed playing with duality in almost every character, starting with Lupo (the wolf) himself. The werewolf metaphor just works for me, in so many ways, that I've stuck with it. I guess the lesson is, if you're lucky enough to find a valuable vein, mine it for all it's worth.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Why wouldn't it be, given its dark aspects? But I rarely participate (except for handing out candy). I grew up in Europe until I turned eight, so I was behind by the time I figured out the trick or treating thing. I've always been shy, so dressing up in costume – rather than conferring anonymity – had me concerned about becoming the center of attention. Plus I've always been an observer, so from early on I preferred standing on the sidelines and observing others as they shed their inhibitions. A harmless bit of voyeurism, but well-suited to a writer in training. So Halloween continues to make me tingle, but not in traditional ways. I enjoy the chilly, gray weather. The smell of smoke in the dark, cloudy night. The tingle of mysterious goings-on behind closed doors. The sense that secret events and beings inhabit your peripheral vision, sliding between worlds. I prefer to observe, and leave the participation to hardier souls. I play Keith Emerson's soundtrack for Dario Argento's Inferno dozens of time – the plaintive, haunting piano part of the theme fits the chill and blowing leaves like nothing else. I prefer to keep an eye on the darkness, and my thoughts return to the dark in the month that contains Halloween. Then I find the universe agrees that it's good I prefer dark thoughts of werewolves on Halloween.

I've always been drawn to dark thoughts.

I don't know why, but it's perfect.


W.D. Gagliani is the author of Bram Stoker Award-nominated Wolf’s Trap, as well as Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Edge (just released by Samhain), as well as Savage Nights, Shadowplays, and Mysteries & Mayhem (with David Benton), and dozens of short stories, book reviews, articles, and interviews. His article on writing werewolf epics appears in the October 2011 issue of The Writer magazine. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Authors Guild.
Twitter: @WDGagliani

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