So, my favorite DJ, Mimi Chen, on my favorite classic rock station, 100.3, The Sound, gave me a Facebook thrill this morning when I found her post about loving Bad Things. Mimi isn’t a horror reader, but she liked it so much she reviewed it on Amazon.
Bad Things is a coming of age Halloween tale about Ricky Piper, his legless twin, Robin, and the greenjacks who cavort and taunt and try to steal the souls of those who can see them. As a boy, Ricky is terrified of everything – the dark, greenjacks, his brother, and especially, Halloween. As an adult, he returns to his childhood home with his own kids, having spent years convincing himself the greenjacks – and their leader, Big Jack, don’t exist… And you know how that always goes.
Inspired by my own childhood game – sitting outside at night watching leaves move in the breeze and pretending to see faces and figures dancing among them – greenjacks – Bad Things was a labor of love. Writing it brought back all those nights spent gleefully spooking myself then racing into the house to write ghost stories. But many other things played into Bad Things, too.
I’ve always loved the Green Man – the guy you see with leaves growing out of his mouth – grinning down from the ornamentation on old buildings – including churches, or staring at you from his hiding place amongst the foliage on English tapestries, and old paintings. The Green Man even has his own story in beloved Arthurian Legends. (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). A pre-Christian figure, he has been embodied by such diverse figures as Pan, Bacchus, Dionysus, Robin Hood, Herne the Hunter, Shakespeare’s Puck, and Tolkien’s Ents.
He is the lord of the forest. There are lords (and ladies) associated with the other elements – fire, water, and air – as well. (In fact, my collaborator, Alistair Cross, and I have just turned in a new novel that deals with one of these other elementals.)
I love the green man so much that I incorporated him into The Sorority as the Forest Ghost, along with tales of greenjacks told by my recurring professor, Dan S. McCobb. (Say it out loud.)
There’s much more to Bad Things than green men, though. Santo Verde, Rick Piper’s hometown in SoCal, is based on a very real little city called Redlands. It’s an hour east of Los Angeles, a place full of citrus orchards, greenery, and Victorian mansions. Years ago, it was a favorite weekend retreat of Hollywood’s elite. The cemetery in Bad Things is a clear reflection of Redland’s own fabulous boneyard. Redlands/Santo Verde is also only a few miles from the apple-growing mountain town of Oak Glen which provided inspiration for my witchy Halloween tale, Moonfall, (FOr that matter, Thunder Road‘s Old Madelyn is based on Calico Ghost Town, two hours north, in the desert.)But I digress. The next thing you should know about Bad Things is that Todd Browning’s classic Freaks also helped inspire it. Years before I wrote it, I was fascinated by the legless boy, Johnny Eck, who walked on his hands. This grew into an interest in freaks in general; their history, their lives.
Johnny Eck is particularly inspiring. He lived a long life, was well-loved and a master of many trades. What I didn’t know when I researched for Bad Things – it wasn’t in the books I used – was that Johnny Eck had a “normal” brother, Robert, with whom he traveled and lived his entire life. Just like Ricky and Robin. Synchronicity rules.
The final thing about Bad Things is that, well, that’s a secret… Suffice to say, I don’t like practical jokers.
Bad Things is one of my favorite tales not only because Halloween is a subject dear to my heart, because it helped me understand why I am endlessly fascinated with human nature, especially its dark side. As for my love of ghost stories – there’s nothing to understand. I was just born that way. Yowza.