The Making of In Sheep’s Skin Part III

The Making of In Sheep’s Skin

Part Three (Plot (Part I))

We’re back! Last week, I shared some of the origins of “In Sheep’s Skin.”

For those of you who missed it:

I was debating on how to approach this next part. To give a breakdown of each *part* of the novel in one go would’ve been an information overload, and in all likelihood, wouldn’t have done the novel as a whole justice. This week, we’ll just be looking at Part I of the novel. This, in turn, will give people time to catch up, read along, if you will.

The novel begins with the following:

“In a forgotten field stands a forgotten tree, a sheet of skin slung over limbs; white moon in its red rivulets. When the wind blows here, coarse hairs are kicked up and carried off like seeds. It’s a cold night, when all words spoken are written ghostly. Still, there are pockets of warmth. They stink of sweat and blood, and the acrid gasses of a starved stomach. The heat and reek run from the tree to the tree line, where the woods, shaken bare in Fall’s clockwork stick-up, show a shadowy tableau: a ribbon of road, lunar-lit, and beyond, a diner just as forgotten as the field and tree, soon to be forgotten no more.”

For anyone who has read beyond this point, they’ll recognize all too quickly that not only is the tense different from the actual text, but the descriptions, overall, a more flowery than most passages. My aim with this introductory paragaph was not only set the tone, but also at the atmosphere; and also, to give the impression that the story you’re about to read is one that could just as easily be happening presently. It is, really, a unverisal story of toxicity and trauma, and the selfish will to survive.

We begin at Mare’s Diner, just as the original screenplay had. Immediately, we are introduced to our two characters, Peter and Mary, the both of them playing a part. They’re acting, but not really: for how over-the-top their performances are, they are, like all great actors, pulling from personal experience.

It was important to me that I make it clear from the beginning these two are not best friends. They are acquaintances. Two people who happened to sit next to each other at the same time, through either coincidence, or providence. At no point in the story do they ever lovers, let alone friends. Their relationship is far more deranged, parasitic. 

This chapter marks the beginning of Peter’s point of view, with Mary’s coming in next, and then they alternate like that. Peter’s point of view is more descriptive than Mary’s. He’s more watchful, more considerate, and also, more damning of himself and others. He’s aware of his prejudices. And most importantly: his anxiety. He’s an over-thinker. Maybe by biology, but most certainly by upbringing. He tells Mary his mom is gone, and she tells him her Dad is the same. His anxious to live, because he had to be in her absence.

Mary, on the other hand, is more introspective, more caustic. She’s observant in a “How can I find your weakness?” kind of way. There’s a sense of history to her inner monologues and recollections, but even with herself, she plays coy. She harbors a secret past that’s not nearly as distant as she’d like to believe.

Part I opens up with a lengthy chapter of dialogue, and then it’s off to the races. By the end of Chapter II, the entire Diner has been wiped out, brutally. Mary is kidnapped by the Killer. I took this approach with the beginning of the story, because I wanted to create a sense of urgency. I wanted the peace to be shattered almost instantaneously. Once this book get started, the characters really never get any reprieve. Be it through action, or inner turmoil, they are tested time and time again.

So, Mary gets kidnapped. Peter gets run off the road by a werewolf. And somehow, Peter ends up at the farmhouse where Mary is captured… the same farmhouse that is owned by the Melancon’s, a family she doesn’t know she knows. Nothing is connected, and yet all the lines are there. The farmhouse is a nexus. A liminal space.

In the farmhouse, there’s a body. Washed in ritual. A portent of things to come for Mary. She even remarks on the clothes the killer set aside for the corpse to wear. Clothes she’d wear herself. Weird. 

Outside the farmhouse, the world is moving against Peter and Mary. The wind constantly howls. The moon isn’t just a moon, but a crown. And it seems to be moving closer to Peter, as if to touch him. It’s drawn to him, finally seeing him, as if for the first time. As if it’s his time.

What about the killer? I gave him dialogue. A gun. A knife. Why not? Not very Giallo, but eh. The werewolf? It’s fur is white, pale. I wanted something that was almost camouflaged by the color and texture of the moon. As if the two were one in the same. And the teets? I mean, I do like to have things leaking fluids in my story, but it’s no mistake to have the werewolf lactating at the sight of Peter.

I also wanted this chapter to show the violence and ferocity both the protagonists and antagonists show towards one another and others. It’s no mistake that Peter and Mary, upon escaping the farmhouse, deliberately leave behind the last surviving Melancon’s as they come stumbling down the driveway. 

But really… Really… I wanted to show the readers that this was not your typical werewolf story, nor would this be your typical horror story. We start with a bombastic opening, then we slow things down. Then we build to a second act that ends in a twist most stories would save for the end. And a third act where morality is grayed, and a fourth act where all bets are off. It’s a story that obliterates the lines drawn around it by genre conventions. Because werewolves? Killers? Cults? Yawn, been there, done that. They’re cool, but you now what’s cooler? The story of the damaged souls who cross paths with these terrible things, and the terrible things they end up doing as a result of their hellish convergence. I love stories that go beyond the story: into that uncomfortable, seldom seen territory of tales, because for most it’s too uncomfortable, too weird, too non-commercial to write about.

End rant. Next week. Part Two of Plot.

The Making of In Sheep’s Skin Part II

The Making of In Sheep’s Skin

Part Two (Inspirations)

We’re back! Last week, I shared some of the origins of “In Sheep’s Skin.”

(For those of you who missed it:

This week, we’re looking at what inspired this monstrosity. I don’t think this will have any spoilers, but also I know some people these days treat any hint of spoilers like a life-threatening allergy (Spoiler: This book is comprised of words), so proceed at your own risk.

“In Sheep’s Skin” started as an unfinished screenplay. It sat for years and years, out of sight but never out of mind. The plan had been to finish The Bones of the Earth series before tackling it. I think the reasoning behind this was not only due to the fact I didn’t have a fully-fleshed out story, but I also had two disparate plotlines I was trying to splice into the thing.

Giallo killer.

I like werewolves as much as anyone else, and I certainly love Giallo films. But why I felt the need to combine the two? I have no idea. The thought came into my mind, and then it refused to leave. I believe this fixation is more the result of my interest in marriying opposing genres, tones, or situations more than anything else.

But again. Werewolf. Giallo killer. Sounded great in theory. However, both these were totally incompatible with my writing style and what I try to achieve as a writer.

Werewolves, traditionally, only transform on a full moon. That means you get one night of nastiness a month. That’s predictable. Kind of boring. 

Giallo killers are similar to slashers. It’s a game of cat-and-mouse often with a psychosexual element. When I think Giallo, I think Argento, Fulci, and Bava. I think lush set designs and banging music, and hilarously bad yet endearing dubbed voices. Giallo, to me, is visual. Giallo, to me, is also not terribly complex. It’s an experience. An experience that requires a body count and faceless killer, who, by necessity, can’t be revealed and explored until the third act.

It became quite clear to me I had to ditch the Giallo aspect. I kept the slasher element, but even that felt too simplistic, too shallow (and I love slashers). So, instead, werewolf and slasher were merged; and what should’ve been proactive, hyper-aggressive forces of death became looming threats. 

And our main characters, Peter and Mary, they stepped forward, to transform before our very eyes. They became my original intention, while the original intentions became catalysts. I’m speaking vaguely, as I still want to give people time to finish the novel, but yeah.

Anyway, this about inspiration. About where this thing came from.

A major theme in this novel is “Liminal Space.” Liminal Space is the disorientation that occurs during a transitory period. The novel, “I’m Thinking About Ending Things,” introduced me to the phrase I often wondered of but never could put into words. I believe it is mentioned in passing, but it stuck with me. Wasn’t my favorite book, but without it, I’m not sure “Sheep” would’ve turned out the way it did. When it comes down to it, all of my stories are about people wanting, becoming.

HBO’s True Detective (season one, and only season one) was and will continue to be an inspiration on my work. It taps into everything I love. Season one helped informed my creation of the woodland commune, Goetia, and it’s invisible, seemingly timeless influence on the towns around it.

Joe Dante’s 1981 horror film “The Howling” likely had an influence on the novel as well, but I suspect more so on a subconscious level, as I hadn’t even realized the similarities until I was about finished with the thing (werewolf community). Once I did, I quickly added a reference to the movie in one of the later chapters. 

And finally, my experiences as a social worker informed the novel more than anything else. Every day, I work with families who have experienced all kinds of hardships, mental health-related or not. There was one family I worked with whose daughter had traits of Borderline Personality Disorder; she had a potentially unhealth relationship with another girl (they would fixate on their depression and suicidal ideation, often fueling their illnesses and attempts). The mother of this patient described her daughter’s relationship with this girl as “trauma-bonding.” The phrase refers to the strengthening bond between abuser and victim; however, the mother was using the phrase literally, and, well, it stuck with me. Two people linked by the trauma they’ve experienced. Not necessarily by likes or dislikes, or attraction, or anything like that. Bound by the cauterizing heat of a terrible catastrophe. 

I suppose, at the end of the day, I got my werewolf and Giallo killer story. Just not how I imagined I would. 

Hmm. Not sure if I am pleased with this week’s reflection, but it’s all I got. Next week… Part Three… where we will jump into the story itself and why it unfolded the way that it did.

The Making of In Sheep’s Skin

The Making of In Sheep’s Skin

Part One (Origins)

In Sheep’s Skin has been out for exactly one week! Sales have been dismal, but that’s how we do, baby.

Now that I have an established newsletter, I can do something I’ve always wanted to do: Take you on a journey, from beginning to end, on how the book came to be.

To that, we must go back in time. The year? 2013. A pretty pivotal year for me, actually. I graduated from my Masters program for Social Work, and with it, had begun working in the community, providing individual therapy to adults with developmental disabilities. My wonderful relationship with my now wife, Hannah, was well under way. And on my laptop, a screenplay was being written.

Wait what? Yeah. In Sheep’s Skin began as a screenplay 7 years ago. And then, like so many ideas, it went into hibernation; until it finally awoke a year ago, fully-formed and hungry for flesh (and readers; but mostly flesh).

Hold up, though. We have to go further back. Because this wasn’t my first screenplay. No, In Sheep’s Skin was a calculated measure. See, when I was an undergrad, I took a fiction writing class as part of my writing minor.

My. Ass. Got. Tore. Up.

My writing was ripped apart, and rightfully so. Granted, I didn’t think that at first, but after a week of bitching and moaning, but I saw that my writing was ridiculous, overly-descriptive, and filled with words I had no business using. So, I went back to the drawing board.

I’d never finished a story until that point. And the stories I’d tried to write were comprised of two-sentence paragraphs so pompous even Ayn Rand would shit. With that in mind, and possessing some raw insight, I turned to screenplays. To strip my work down and actually complete an entire story.

I wrote three complete screenplays. You can still find the remnants of them on Goodreads. You used to be able to purchase them, but I’ve since taken them down. They are: The Fool, The Night of the Witch, and Apostate. Each of them were, for a time, connected to The Bones of the Earth series. And Apostate essentially was retold in my short story A Child In Every Home, which is part of The Agony of After.

Anyway, three complete screenplays. There was a fourth (cue Star Wars). In Sheep’s Skin. (Yes, I stopped using italics for titles. Fuck it.) I never finished that one. Got 15 pages in. But the set-up? Same as the novel: two college kids in a greasy diner, trying to break a social norm for an Intro to Psych class.

The screenplay made it to the basement of the first act. The characters were named James and Eliza. But who they were and where the story was going? unknown at the time. All I knew was I wanted to combine two unlikely sub-genres: Giallo (Italian horror films from the 60’s-80’s – see Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava) and Werewolf (see… werewolf movies). 

I succeeded on the werewolf front. The Giallo aspect? Didn’t quite get there. That required a story structure I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain for a full-length novel. A story that would be far shallower than I could stomach.

But, that’s next week.

Before I boogy, I wanted to share with you a comparison of the screenplay and the finished novel. For funsies.

(You may need to open the pics in windows to read them)

Manybooks Author of the Day! (And Also: Deals)

Good Afternoon!

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed at Manybooks as part of their Author of the Day series. I hope you get an opportunity to read it; and while you’re there, please be sure to check out the other amazing writers hosted on their site.

But deals? Yeah, deals. Today, you can get The Bones of the Earth for free on eBook on Amazon. Yeah, but what about the rest of the series? (Like this weird conversation we’re having?). Every book in the rest of the series is only .99 cents.

Because… my next novel, In Sheep’s Skin, is coming out tomorrow!

In Sheep’s Skin Up for Pre-Order

In Sheep’s Skin (New Release)

Release Date: 5/1/2020

College students, and merely acquaintances, Peter and Mary had nothing in common with one another.

Until two unrelated killers came for them.

A beast-like man.

And a man-like beast.

On the same night. At the same time. In the same place.

Bound by their trauma and their will to live at any cost, Peter and Mary have until the next full moon to uncover the identities of their would-be killers.

But to do that, they will have to dismantle every lie they told and believed about themselves to save themselves from their far more dangerous and disintegrating pasts.

In Sheep’s Skin Updates!

This may or not be the final synopsis for my upcoming novel, “In Sheep’s Skin,” which is set to release in the next 1-2 months. I’ve included a sneak peak of a portion of the cover art, which is still a work in progress. Feel free to speculate!

Title: In Sheep’s Skin

Tagline: Blood Begets Its Truth

Synopsis: College students and merely acquaintances, Peter and Mary had nothing in common with one another.

Until two unrelated killers came for them.A beast-like man. And a man-like beast.

On the same night. At the same time. In the same place.

Bound by their trauma and their will to live at any cost, Peter and Mary have until the next full moon to uncover the identities of their would-be killers.

But to do that, they will have to dismantle every lie they told and believed about themselves to save themselves from their far more dangerous and disintegrating pasts.

To tide you over, why not check out my other works? Like, say, “The Bones of the Earth” series.

Box Set Coming Soon!

The Bones of the Earth: The Complete Collection
Format: Kindle
Price: $9.99 (or free if you have Kindle Unlimited)

Looking to read the series, while saving money at the same time? Exclusive to Amazon, this eBook box set will give you everything you need to jump into this critically acclaimed fantasy/horror series.

Pre-order details coming soon.

The Eight Apostates Pre-Order

Aw, snap! It’s happening. The Eight Apostates, the final book in The Bones of the Earth series, is now up for pre-order on Amazon. Right now, it’s just the e-book, as Amazon doesn’t have a function to make paperbacks available for pre-order. But if you’re interested in an autographed copy ($14.95 plus shipping), let me know via an e-mail!