Like any other genre, writing books that deal in horror and the supernatural requires a fair amount of research. Sometimes the research is merely for inspiration, other times I need to know the specifics of how something is done or if it can be done at all. I think more than most, though, my research tends to take me to dark places.
Not all the research I do is on scary or shocking subjects. For Perchance to Dream, I had to learn a little bit about sailing and The Apostle Islands. I had to make a few phone calls to know if sailboats were available for rent in November. I visited The Wisconsin Dells in order to make sure my memory of the place was correct and also to see if anything inspired me. While there, I found a place that had some tremendous beer on tap at reasonable prices. All in all, that was some enjoyable research.
But then there are the other subjects I feel compelled to delve into. In The Amazing Morse, I had to know what a dead body would look like after sitting in a house for a few weeks. I had to find out what a human’s physiological reactions would be to being strangled. These are not pleasant subjects and to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded skipping such research. In older days, perhaps, I could have merely made mention of the act without any kind of detail. But the modern age seems to demand accuracy and detail. Since the information is so readily available, I feel compelled to make use of it.
The Amazing Morse storyline involved a psychic, so I wanted as much information as possible on the subject. With a background in magic and an interest in Houdini, I was already familiar with the spiritualist movement of the early 20th Century, so I decided to make my psychic someone who was well researched in the history of spiritualism On her bookshelf were books that I’d heard referenced in Houdini biographies. A few grace my own bookshelves, while some I hope never to see in person. It’s hard to look into such things sometimes, and I have definite limits as to what I will or will not research.
I don’t believe in spiritualism, psychics, or much of that sort of thing, so it isn’t all that frightening to me. What does start to disturb me is something like this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ixwC6tm_Cc I don’t expect anyone to sit through the whole show, I certainly haven’t. Although I have watched far more of it than is probably healthy for me. What disturbs me about it is that while it initially seems sort of batshit crazy, there is a certain amount of sense to it as well. Once you start buying into the premise, once you start to give it just a little bit of your trust, it kind of makes sense. Not only that, it brings in genuinely scary and real facts such as the existence of the MK Ultra program. There are some truths here that get past the typical citizen.
But that is not an isolated video. Take a look around YouTube sometime and see just how many similar conspiracy-related videos there are that involve reptilian aliens in disguise as politicians, the illuminati, etc. And each of these videos have hundreds of thousands of views. Again, most of them contain a good amount of fact-based reasoning, at least as much as your typical news program provides. YouTube can lead you down some interesting rabbit holes.
The worst part of researching for books that involve horror, though, are the real life horrors that exist, the evil that lurks in the heart of men. As Perchance To Dream involved a suicide cult, I felt the need to understand what people involved in such a cult must be going through. I have come across interviews of Heaven’s Gate members giving their last thoughts about how they are going to catch the comet out of this world and onto a higher plane of existence. I have watched film footage of casualties of WWI, men whose faces no longer resemble a human’s, men with thousand yard stares and shell shock so bad they could not stand up. The worst of it is that I don’t think I’ll end up using any of that research, as my book seems to have taken a different direction.
But assuredly, the most disturbing thing I have come across is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkookcrAnSE This is the audio recording of Jim Jones' final message to his people in Jonestown and the resulting killing. I don’t recommend listening. But it is out there. Just like evil, it is out there.
And why do I do it, you may ask? I think that if such ideas are dealt with in fiction, we are able to—if not understand—at least cope with some of the darkness that exists. Since I was a child, I always enjoyed watching scary movies, reading scary comics, telling scary stories late at night when friends would sleep over. It was never a question of rooting for the bad guys or celebrating sin. I think it deals with not wanting to be afraid, and being afraid does not mean what we feel when peering into the darkness, but being so afraid of the truth, good or bad, that we are afraid to look at all.