You Are What You Fear
Something is stalking the citizens of Loudoun County, Va.
Is it the return of the notorious serial killer known as Lord Halloween? Or is it something worse—a figure that can cloak itself as your worst nightmare?
Kate and Quinn, two community journalists, rush to uncover the truth before a promised bloodbath on Halloween night.
The debut novel from award-winning journalist Rob Blackwell, A Soul to Steal balances suspense, horror, action and humor, building to a gripping and unforgettable conclusion. For readers who enjoy Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher, A Soul to Steal is the perfect autumn novel.
What is it about Halloween that you love?
It’s mostly the ghost stories. I love ghost stories. I like the fictional ones, but I especially like the real ones. And Halloween is a great time to ask people, “Do you believe in ghosts?” You never know what someone will answer and you end up hearing some great stories that way. You also read in the newspaper all the local stories about haunted houses, psychics, that kind of thing. I just love hearing about that. I like all the rest of Halloween too: the decorations, the candy, trick or treating, costumes, etc. It’s also the only time of year I can convince my wife to watch a scary movie with me. All in all, there is no part of Halloween that I don’t love.
You told me you take the day off work on Halloween. So what do you do that day?
My kids are both young and I’m paranoid that if I go to work I won’t get home in enough time or I will be caught up in some story that I can’t break away from (I’m a reporter and editor.) So mostly I take the day off to ensure that I’m home early enough for trick or treating with my kids. That said, I’ve taken my kids to the local corn maze and that kind of thing on Halloween. Mostly, though, I just relax and wait for the night to start. There’s a vibe in the air for me on Halloween: I just like to enjoy it without being distracted.
How has Halloween affected your writing?
I was always attracted to creepy stories, which is part of the reason I like Halloween so much. But I also wanted to tell a story about the origins of Halloween. “A Soul to Steal” scratches the surface of this, but the [unpublished] sequels explore it even more. Strangely, I also find it easier to write around Halloween. I can’t explain why that is, but it’s definitely true. I can go whole months in the winter when I don’t write a word of fiction, but I feel compelled when fall comes around to put the pen to paper.
How did the concept for A Soul To Steal come about?
About 10 years ago, I decided I needed to write a novel. I had thought about it for years but never actually started. I saw a notice somewhere for NanoWrimo – National Novel Writing Month – and decided this was it. I was going to write my first novel. So I sat down and wrote out several ideas I had, most of which had been living in my brain on and off for years. The concept behind “A Soul to Steal,” came to me immediately, however. I had this image of a man facing off against his worst fear, which in this case had taken the form of the Headless Horseman. I had always loved the Headless Horseman and I really wanted the chance to do a unique take on him, not just rehash Sleepy Hollow. The funny thing is the concept came with a serious twist – something I don’t want to give away – and I had to go backwards to figure it all out. In effect, I wrote in reverse. I started with the ending and tried to puzzle out how we got there. It took a few tries to get it right, but eventually it all clicked into place. The concept behind Lord Halloween, the serial killer taunting Leesburg, Va., was drawn partly from my experience during the Washington sniper scare. In October of 2001, there was a sniper that was basically randomly picking off people. (Two people were later convicted.) I’m not sure how I can describe how freaked out everyone was. One of the victims was gunned down at my local Home Depot. We heard the police helicopters for a while before we knew what had happened. There was this feeling that you were never really safe. We used to run in zig-zag to the car. In my novel, Lord Halloween basically does the same thing to Loudoun County. He picks off people randomly, and it pretty much drives the entire area over the edge. I didn’t really mean to make the sniper part of the story, but the atmosphere he created really seeped into the story.
Do you like being scared? Do you like the full on horror gore or the more subtle creepy kind of scare?
I’m definitely anti-gore. Really anti-gore, in fact. I don’t mind a little blood and guts, but I just feel like it’s a cheap way to scare people. I also don’t find it that interesting. After a while, it feels generic and you get desensitized to it. The scariest movies for me are the ones without gore—the original Halloween springs to mind or Hitchcock’s The Birds, which I find deeply creepy and unsettling. Gore-based films, like “Saw,” don’t interest me at all. I would much rather creep someone out than throw a bunch of blood at them. I like being scared but I don’t scare easily. I have to work to get myself scared. I recently played the videogame Alan Wake – a psychological horror game – entirely in the dark, and that did freak me out a bit.
Who is your favorite scary author or favorite scary book? Has it effected or inspired your writing?
Everyone says Stephen King, but I pretty much worship Stephen King. I read everything he releases and devour it within days. That said, I don’t write much like King. In tone and story structure, I draw a lot on Joss Whedon, who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and is now directing The Avengers. There’s this balance between horror, character, action, romance and humor that I love. It’s a really hard target to hit, but it’s my goal. Personally, I also was inspired by the late Thomas Disch, the sci-fi author. He taught a class at The College of William and Mary when I was a student there on how to write for a living. He taught me a ton, but one of his most important lessons was this: you have to really let a story build. My instincts are totally against this, by the way. I want to throw everything at you all at once. He sat me down, told me I was talented, but I needed to let a story really build tension until the reader was desperate for some kind of release. I followed his advice on “A Soul to Steal.” I fought off the urge to do too much, too soon, and instead really tried to draw the reader in. My whole mantra was to build the story step by step until the reader couldn’t put the book down. Based on the response so far to the novel, it seems to have worked. I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to do this if it hadn’t been for Tom. I wish I could show him my novel: I hope he would have liked it.
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