Several summers ago, I attended Fright Night Film Festival in Louisville. The inside of the hotel was almost as sweltering hot as the exterior, but that didn’t stop a few hundred of us from jamming into a ballroom to listen to horror master John Carpenter answer questions about his career.
One exchange really stuck with me. A very goth-looking young woman asked Mr. Carpenter what advice he would give to someone who wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a horror director in Hollywood.
“Well, I went to Hollywood to make Westerns,” said Carpenter. “So I wouldn’t know what to tell you.”
I can relate to that statement more today than ever. I never set out to write books about pro wrestling, but I’ve written more than twenty. And if you told 8 year old me I would one day write HORROR? I never would have believed you. I loved science fiction. Specifically, I loved STAR WARS. So how did I, an aspiring screenwriter and author of science fiction flights of fancy, turn to horror?
It’s my Dad’s fault.
Dead Park Plaza and its growing list of sequels would not have happened without my dad. My dad loved horror. Not all horror, mind you, but a good chunk. He liked a good scare, but he also liked horror-comedy. He’s the one who introduced me to William Castle, Ed Wood, Army of Darkness, and many of my favorites.
My dad had a direct influence on one of the stories in Dead Park Plaza. One morning in mid-February of 2021, I heard my phone buzz. I was still in bed, but my Dad was already up and texting me. He had dreamed something he thought would make a great horror story, a story that took place in an office setting, and he wanted to share it with me. It was a clever idea, and I think (I hope) I replied back and said so. I wasn’t working on any fiction at that time, so I kind of put it out of my mind.
It was one of the last texts my Dad ever sent me. It might have been the very last. A few days later my mother rushed him to the hospital. Nine days later, after transferring to rehab and then back to the hospital, he was diagnosed with cancer on his birthday February 28.
A week after that diagnosis, he was gone.
Four months later, Dad’s story idea drifted back into my mind. I didn’t see potential for a full novel, but it felt like a great short story. That’s when I started connecting the dots, from Dad’s story to a few others I’d been mulling over – stories that took place in an office.
Today, I have a job for a virtual company that allows me to work from home, the coffee shop, the library, or wherever I feel like. I work with incredible people and two amazing bosses who actually believe in me. For the first time in my life, I look forward to starting work each day.
But in 2021?
In 2021 I was still getting up every morning and driving to an office that, at the time, was refusing to acknowledge that I’d been given a promotion, dragging their feet backfilling my old role.
I spent most of my adult life, more than 20 years, driving to an office, working in cubicle, being forced to make new “friends” on a recurring basis as people left or were let go (including me, a few times), working with good and not-so-good people, working for great and TERRIBLE bosses left a mark.
All that “work experience” fostered story ideas. Little fragments taking up real estate in my imagination, just waiting for their moment. “What if,” I thought, “These stories all took place in the same office building? You know, like Sideways Stories from Wayside School?”
One story became a group of three, then five, then seven.
The first book literally came together in a month. A scattered group of half-cooked stories all came together in the most remarkable way. I recently published book four in the series, and books five, six, and seven are in the works.
And all because my my Dad’s crazy idea about a man starting a new job and discovering a message warning him he’s in grave danger.
Without that text, there would be no Dead Park Plaza and no Dead Park Books. The whole identity of my fiction publishing would not exist without that germ of an idea he sent me.
I was still in denial about my Dad’s passing when the first book was published, and as I write this (revised) blog post, I’m still pretty much in the denial stage about my Dad’s passing, by the way. Wondering if I’ll ever move on from that, but grateful that he gave me the gift of a story, a book, and much more.