You’ve got to give Keith Deininger credit. He doesn’t rehash old similar themes in his work. Instead, he experiments and takes chances with narratives. I just finished one of his more recent novels called Within. At face value, this is a story about a haunted mansion, which we’ve all seen often enough. Someone new comes into town and purchases the crumbling mansion in a seedier part of town. Soon, those who are invited to visit one of the many parties thrown by the owner become possessed by the inner workings of the house’s evil presence. Indeed, the entire town falls under his spell. The malevolent antics of Mr. Klimt and his eerie mansion result in numerous character disappearances, terrifying hallucinations and dreams of our protagonists, and increased aggression and debauchery of townsfolk. I was reminded of two haunted mansion novels: the classic Ghost Story by Peter Straub (especially the impact on the town), and the most recent Slade House by David Mitchell. I felt Deininger’s Within ranked right up there with these two. However, that wasn’t the biggest unique surprise. The portrayal of Mr. Klimt, the owner of the mansion and the perpetrator of evil who throws lavish parties to entice the unwitting into his snare, is remarkably similar to Jay Gatsby. Many of the party scenes paralleled the festivities on West Egg. This was the first time I’ve ever seen the setting and characters of The Great Gatsby influence the plot of a horror novel. Keith Deininger has guts to try – and he pulled it off.
Odd Adventures with Your Other Father is a Kindle Scout winner written by Norman Prentiss. After reading just a few pages I began to see why the book was accepted for publication by Kindle Press. This is a genre-bending, no holds barred novel combining horror, comedy, love, and coming of age drama. The heart of the narrative is Shawn’s recounting his, well, odd adventures with his partner, Jack, to his teenage daughter. Jack died when Celia was four and Shawn thinks it time to share the year-long adventures the two young men had right after they graduated from college. Jack had a way of involving them in a series of thrilling and frequently terrifying exploits involving supernatural events, much to Shawn’s chagrin. The tales told by Shawn are uniquely different and quite terrifying (they’d make unnerving short stories in and of themselves). Prentiss’ literary skill makes these hauntings come alive and he manages to weave threads of humor that often had me smiling while gripping my Kindle. As the novel progresses, Prentiss is able to explore the complexity of human love and interconnected relationships among family. While Odd Adventures with Your Other Father can probably be categorized as horror, readers are treated to a journey of human emotion in a range often not explored in the genre. A fantastic read.
I don’t necessarily start out a novel with teenage main characters in mind. My first four books (three already published – Birth Offering, Dead Works, and The Disembodied) have a total of 7 adolescent central characters – 5 boys and 2 girls. Dead Works and The Disembodied did not start out that way, but the direction of the narrative shifted with the writing process. In both cases, early segments were scrapped or revised as I began to realize what the stories were about.
Undoubtedly, my career as a psychologist working with and studying adolescents informed my writing. I also found that kids provide all kinds of benefits when writing horror:
Anthony Hains is a horror & speculative fiction writer.