Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Finding conflict and horror in the suburbs

Someone once said that it’s difficult to find good story ideas in the suburbs.

After all, nothing much happens in the suburbs: For real conflict, you have to go to the battlefield, the boardroom, or the halls of government.

Conventional wisdom would hold this to be even truer for horror. The clich├ęd horror tale involves a lonely cabin in the woods, or a dilapidated Victorian mansion atop a hill.

But all those subdivisions filled with cookie-cutter McMansions? Nope…nothing scary there.

Not so fast. There is plenty of conflict in the suburbs—and plenty of horror, too, for that matter.

Take, for example, the real-life horror that formed the basis of my novel Our House.

Our House is a novel about a young couple that moves into their suburban “dream home”, only to find themselves harassed by acts of vandalism, and mysterious figures who appear on their lawn in the middle of the night.

Couldn't happen, you say?

Actually, something like this did happen: A few years ago I heard (through my local grapevine in Cincinnati) about a couple who moved into a house and had similar experiences.

The house had been originally owned by a middle-aged couple. Let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. X

Mr. X wanted to sell the home, but Mrs. X didn’t.

After the contract was signed, Mrs. X unilaterally tried to void the contract, but she wasn't able to accomplish this through legal channels.

So Mrs. X began harassing her home’s new owners, who hadn’t even moved in yet.

The realtor who was in the middle of all this advised the new owners to agree to cancel the contract, even though they had no obligation to do so by law.

Mrs. X, the realtor said, was unstable and possibly dangerous….

The new owners didn't listen.

After the new owners moved in, they found horrible “surprises” on their doorstep once or twice per week. One day a stranger approached their young child and made vague threats…The exact identity of this stranger could never be established…

This real-life story sent a chill up my spine. I spent some time mulling it over, and the novel Our House was the eventual result.

Our House isn’t in any way a novelization of that real incident. And yes, the events in Our House are more extreme than what occurred in real life.

But this was one case in which “real life” in the suburbs was reasonably scary…And I found that I just had to write about it.