Before we get started, I'd like to take a moment to thank Tom Deady for providing this glimpse into growing up in a small town. Please come back tomorrow for my review of his two novella collection, Edgewater. Now, take it away, Tom...
BORN IN A SMALL TOWN
I grew up in the small town of Malden, Massachusetts. In reality, Malden is the 17th largest city of the 351 cities and towns in the state. But to a kid growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in the seventies, it was a small town. We walked to the Sunnyhurst a few blocks away to buy cigarettes for our parents, we walked back and forth to school, and in the summer, we rode our bikes everywhere.
I was a voracious reader and lived on my brothers’ Hardy Boys books and anything I could get my hands on at the local library (yes, I walked there, too). Then, when I was thirteen, I picked up a book from one of those spinning wire racks in a local Woolworths. It featured an all-black cover save for a red drop of blood dripping from a fang. Vampires in a small Maine town? Sounded good to me! If I had to pinpoint the moment where I turned into a true horror fan, that was it. The scrawny teenager staring raptly at the back cover of his first Stephen King book.
Forty-something years later, ‘Salem’s Lot remains one of my favorite novels. Others on that list include IT, Boy’s Life, and Summer of Night. Aside from the great writing and storytelling in these classics, there is another element that stands out: the small-town setting.
I used small town settings in Haven and Eternal Darkness, trying to create the atmosphere that I love to read about. The idea that something beautiful or normal on the surface can be rotten, even evil, underneath. The claustrophobic terror of having no escape.
Small town life is an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, everybody knows everybody, and there are often more social gatherings, like farmers’ markets or parades, for people to get together. There is a sense of community, more than that, a sense of comfort. On the other hand, does anybody really know anybody? You trust your neighbors and those in positions of authority; teachers, police officers, even parents. But should you?
There are many examples in horror where the people you think you can trust are really the villain. Stephen King has used this in many stories: Big Jim Rennie in Under the Dome and Frank Dodd in The Dead Zone come to mind. Another person of authority often used as a villain: a parent, like Margart White in Carrie. It’s a special kind of terror when a person, especially a child, has nowhere to turn.
Small town life can also mean isolation. Long stretches of tree-lined country roads are picturesque to take a nice Sunday drive on. They may also be the only way in or out. Deserted houses on the outskirts of town. Lonely ponds or lakes or river beds. No public transportation to hop on, no heavily populated places to blend in to. Just you and your town and all your neighbors, good and bad. Throw in a blizzard, or a washed-out bridge or a power failure, and then what do you do? Isolation is a powerful component of horror.
In my latest work, Backwater, I return to small town horror. The town of Edgewater has its secrets, both past and present. I hope you enjoy your visit.