Friday, October 28, 2016
CRAWLERS: The Story Behind the Book
All writers have influences. One does not decide to become a writer in a vacuum. Every one of us were so moved by other writers, so emotionally marked by their books and stories and movies and comic books and poetry, that we were compelled to write our own books and stories and movies and comic books and poetry. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was heavily influenced by Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories about C. Auguste Dupin inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. What inspired me to write Crawlers?
Monster movies. Okay, so it’s not Cervantes. But I assure you I was just as moved as Flaubert.
Crawlers was originally published by Cemetery Dance Publications for their Collectors Club as a hardcover novella limited to only 303 copies and it was my first homage to the monster movies I practically lived on growing up. The second was 'Nids, my salute to the big bug movies of the 1950s, which is currently available from Open Road Media. And I’m sure at some point I will write another. I still frequently revisit those old movies and am still inspired by them.
Many of those monster movies were set in small towns, often in the desert, the kind of town where most people know each other. The monsters were sometimes aliens from outer space, as in It Came from Outer Space, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Sometimes, they were the result of science gone wrong, as in The Fly or Tarantula, or the product of atomic testing, as in so many monster movies of the era from the destruction wreaked by Godzilla in Japan to the giant ants of Them! crawling out of the southern California desert. And sometimes, they were freaks of nature, like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or the result of alien tampering as in Attack of the 50-foot Woman. Whatever their origin, one thing is certain—the 1950s had an abundant supply of them.
The flowers in Crawlers invite comparisons to 1962's apocalyptic sci-fi classic The Day of the Triffids, it bears no similiarity to that movie. However, it’s worth noting that the movie inspired a line in the song "Science Fiction Double Feature" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and that The Day of the Triffids was based on John Wyndham’s 1951 novel of the same of name, and it was the opening scene of that novel—in which the protagonist wakes in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged—that inspired Alex Garland to write the 2002 movie 28 Days Later Monsters are begetting monsters all over the place.
In Crawlers, I wanted to use a monster of my own devising—as opposed to, say, the giant spiders of 'Nids, which had been done numerous times before—and set it in the kind of small town so familiar to those old movies. I decided to set it in the town of Mount Crag—the location of my novellas The Folks and The Folks 2: No Place Like Home, although it is otherwise unrelated to those books—because it is a somewhat isolated mountain town that lends itself well to such a story.
I have rewritten the ending of Crawlers. I explain my rather embarrassing reasons in the book’s introduction. The original ending is somewhat uncharacteristic of my work because it’s...well...happy. Yes, that’s right, I wrote a happy ending. Not just happy but treacly, an ending in which the sun quite literally breaks through the dark clouds. That in itself is not such a bad thing, but the ending...well, it was a bad thing, in my opinion, a logistical mess that urgently needed changing. If you’ve read the Cemetery Dance edition, this isn’t it, and things turn out differently.
I’m likely to pop a monster movie in the moviola any old time, but it’s at this time of year when I most frequently revisit the kind of movies that inspired Crawlers. It’s just not Halloween without some monsters or even some of their remakes, like The Blob from 1958 and from 1988, or 1951's The Thing or John Carpenter's horrifying 1982 remake, or The Spider from Bert I. Gordon, aka Mr. B.I.G., who specialized in giant monsters like The Amazing Colossal Man or the huge grasshoppers in The Beginning of the End.
When 1950s audiences were tossing their popcorn during monster movies, the subconscious fears were of more down-to-earth things like nuclear war and the communist threat. The movies were in black and white, as were their morals. Reviewing my monster movie homages has helped me to understand the kind of fiction I’m writing today. It addresses more current fears, both directly and indirectly, and reflects a more complex moral landscape. Paranoia has once again seized the country, the entire globe. Now, rather than communism, it is the mythical Illuminati that is the focus of a lot of fear. Now, instead of worrying about communist infiltration, many fear the activities at Bohemian Grove and the mysterious goals of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group. Much attention is being paid to shady and nefarious government activities of the past, like Project Paperclip and MK Ultra, and many wonder what the government might be up to right now, what kind of experiments it could be performing on us today, and whether we'll be around to learn about them two or three decades in the future. And then, of course, there are the usual terrors, chief among them the possibility of another devastating nuclear world war.
From decade to decade and generation to generation, many things change, but one remains the same: We are kept in a continuous state of ongoing fear and anxiety. Therefore, we look for relief, for escape.
I humbly offer Crawlers to serve your escapist needs. It can be purchased for Kindle at Amazon. Other outlets will be forthcoming.
Take some time to smell the flowers.