Friday, May 8, 2015


Why do we like scary?

Learning to be storytellers from Mom.

            In our young-adult horror series, Dimensions in Death, our protagonists fight for their lives in a battle with monsters that seem to come from nowhere around an old, abandoned mansion in Trona, California, an actual, small, mining town located on the Searles Valley dry-lake bed in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert, near Death Valley, and in fact, death is a good description of the environment.  Very few kinds of plant or animal life can survive there, let alone grow naturally, and many of those that can grow there are deadly.           
Welcome to Searles Valley --
Andy takes in the view.
            Trona is a real town and the desert environment around Searles Valley is the perfect stage for this kind of horror story.  While the events of the tale are limited only by our imaginations, the location of each event is firmly anchored in the reality of what is Trona and its Mojave Desert location.
Trona Cemetery in foreground with
Searles Valley Chemical Plant
seen in the background.
            Both Berk and I grew up in Trona (and later in Ridgecrest, located 25 miles west), and we knew the area well, but we still return there on occasion to make sure our descriptions of the local geography are accurate.  All natural landmarks (and some unnatural landmarks) described in the books actually exist, and their descriptions add to the bleakness of the story.  A desolate landscape is a great backdrop for the giant, marauding, alien predators that are preying on the townsfolk and visitors of Trona.
             In addition, we have researched some far-out theories of astro-physics, so that Mojave Green can answer the questions raised in Pitch Green, and also, so that Fatal Green can answer other questions raised in both of the prior books.  But remember, this is not a science fiction series.
            The tale is fast-paced horror, suspense and mystery thriller, based on pseudo-science, rather than magic and mysticism.  In the end, everything our heroes encounter must have some kind of plausible explanation for what is going on and for where the monsters are coming from.  And, there must be some way for the protagonists to defend themselves, fight back, and maybe in the end, prevail.
            Both of us have always enjoyed hearing and telling good scary stories.  It was a basic part of our growing up experience.  We don’t remember a time when we weren’t telling spine-chilling tales.  We vividly recall lying awake for hours as small children after hearing a horrifying saga told right at bed time, leaving us thinking that every creaking noise, every whisper of wind, was the latest monster coming to eat us alive.
            Once, as children, we heard some mysterious thing scratching on the window screen of our bedroom, which was an extra room, shared by three brothers, built on the back of the house.  All of us dived under the beds, screaming for help.  Turns out, it was our mom—we should have known.  She was bringing clothes in from the line and stopped to pick up a stick to reach up and scrape across our window screen.  She was full of surprises, and we grew up thinking all moms were like that.
            Mom was always thinking of new ways to scare her own children, or anyone else for that matter.  Once, when still a newlywed, she snuck up the basement stairs of Grandma Washburn’s old house and flung open the kitchen door, shouting “BOO!” startling her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and two-year-old niece.  Grandma was not fond of such hijinks.  Pointing an accusing finger at our mother, Grandma exclaimed, “Clara!  For shame! For shame!”  By the time our father got there to see what was going on, everyone in the room was in tears.  He thought someone in the family had died.
            That did not cure Mom though.  She had a talent for scaring anyone and everyone.  One Halloween when I was in junior high, an older brother and sister, Allen and Linda, received permission to throw a big Halloween party for their high school friends.  The culmination of the party, its climax, was a scary story told by Mom.  She said she woke up about 2:00 am, and the story just came to her as she lie there in bed.
            At the party, Mom sat on the fireplace hearth in the front room.  About twenty teens sat on the floor around her feet.  The lights were off.  Only a few rays from an outside streetlight found their way into the room through the window curtains and drapes.
            Telling the story in a hushed, grim voice, Mom spoke as if she were sounding a deadly-serious warning.  Soon, some girls started to whimper.  The boys were “obviously” too brave to complain, but at one point, an older boy suddenly got up and left the room, not to come back until the story was over.
            As Mom talked, Allen crept around the outside of the house to an unlocked front-room window.  When Mom reached the zenith of horror in the story, Allen opened the window and climbed into the house.  He was wearing a full-head mask, colored with glow marks along the dark-red gore painted on the distorted face.
            The screaming and crying was glorious.  Even some guys screamed and tried to run away.
            That was, without a doubt, one of the best Halloweens EVER!
            You could say our love for scary stories is nothing more or less than a chromosomal phenomenon.  However we came by our fascination for horror stories, we love them still and hope to keep telling them for a long, long time to come.  If Mom were still here, she would be so proud.

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