(Notes: This is the 2nd essay I wrote as part of the Infernal Machines blog tour, in its earliest form.)
5 Horror Novels that Directly Inspired Infernal Machines by Will Millar
I originally wanted to do kind of a top 5 list, but there’s so much incredible stuff out there that I would be doing the Horror world a disservice even trying to quantify what’s what. So instead, I want to simply focus on some great works that directly inspired my story.
#5: Off Season by Jack Ketchum
About halfway through Infernal Machines, there’s an indirect reference to the Sawney Beane clan, which some folks may recognize as the very real band of Scottish cannibals that Ketchum’s seminal masterpiece was based upon. I put the reference in there on purpose, as kind of an “Easter Egg” for hardcore horror fans. Also, while his brand of super-realistic (and unflinchingly graphic) horror is different to my own approach to the genre, Ketchum is one of those people who I’ve not only read, but out-and-out studied.
I believe the genius of Jack Ketchum is not so much in his ability to paint completely real, fucking absolutely terrifying pictures of humanity at its worst, but in the way he draws you in to the world he’s describing. You root for his more sympathetic characters, even as you know the best they can usually hope for is a quick death. And while his villains are more, well, fucking villain-y than anything this side of Edward Lee’s City Infernal, they are nonetheless compelling in all of their 3-dimensional, fully realized glory.
#4: Ghost Story by Peter Straub
“Start at the beginning” is something you hear a lot when it comes to the basic structure of telling a story, but in most cases with a story as large and complex as your average novel, that’s a whole lot easier said than done. Straub, who is out-and-out my favorite writer by far, took this axiom for Ghost Story, and he beat the hell out of it, stole its lunch money, and then kicked it in the balls a few more times for good measure.
Ghost Story actually starts about 30 pages before the novel’s chronological conclusion and then tells a story through a series of flashbacks, half-remembered fables, and jarring cuts in perspective, piecing together a series of events that stretches across the span of almost a century, with no fewer than 5 protagonists sharing the spotlight. There’s absolutely no reason you should have a clue what’s going on, and yet Straub manages to make the whole thing work.
#3: Salem’s Lot/Jerusalem’s Lot/One for the Road by Stephen King
While I realize that some folks who are regular readers of my blog are probably rolling their eyes at this point and wishing I would stop talking about Salem’s Lot, all I can say in response is this: Someday I will be dead, and it’s more likely than not that on that day I won’t have anything more to say about the subject.
It was the first real horror story that ever captured my interest, and while my earliest exposure to the tale was through Tobe Hooper’s excellent screen adaptation, a few years later I read the novel and it was all I could do to keep my head from exploding from the sheer awesomeness of it all. Not only that, but SL led me to Night Shift & Jerusalem’s Lot, which of course led me to H.P Lovecraft, and you can pretty much take it from there. 30 years later, I still read the book and its related shorts about once a year and find new things to marvel at.
#2: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
If Salem’s Lot took over the reins of my imagination from any other work of fiction, it was Ray Bradbury’s dark masterpiece. These two books could represent the Yin and Yang of my subconscious mind, with Barlow and Straker occupying the dark end, and Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show taking up the… uh, other dark end, I guess.
In all seriousness, I owe a lot of the language and imagery of the Arthur Cardiff character and his Emporium of Majick and Wonder to that traveling circus, and I’d be lying if Stoner and Paulie didn’t bear even the slightest resemblance to Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway.
#1: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
About 7 or 8 years ago I tried (and failed) to write the Great American Vampire Novel. Having grown up with my Salem’s Lot obsession, and logging enough hours watching the Hammer vampire classics to recite at whim long lines of dialogue from Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, or Captain Motherfucking Kronos himself, I figured I had the chops. And so, after 2 and a half years of writing and re-writing, and peer editing and re-rewriting, and everything else that goes into the harrowing process of sculpting a huge mound of bullshit into some semblance of a coherent narrative, I was ready to show the world my work!
To say that it sucked would be paying it a complement. I called it Hell’s Deliverance, which makes about as much sense as the story itself – which was kind of a mash-up of bad Lovecraftian pastiches and Breaking Bad fan fiction, minus Walter and Pinkman, with some vampires thrown in almost as an afterthought. If that sounds cool to you, it’s only because I boiled it down to about 40 words, as opposed to the original 350 pages.
But I learned a lot about what goes into writing a semi-decent novel by writing the dreaded 1st novel. For my second attempt, I figured I would ditch the vampires and do an homage to Frankenstein instead. Infernal Machines, for better or worse, is what came out of that attempt.