I believe some people are born evil.
If you have psychopathic tendencies they may lie dormant for a while, but they will reveal themselves eventually. There is a lot of talk about horror movies and comics creating monsters. I don’t buy this. Normal people don’t watch TV and think about recreating what they’ve just seen. I do, however, believe these media can be the trigger that pushes an already dysfunctional psyche into action.
With Dead Letter Day, I wanted to explore the trigger effect that caused a brewing psychopath to go on his killing spree. I also wanted to pay homage to the slasher films I had grown up with during the eighties and early nineties: the Halloweens, the Friday the 13ths and the Screams. I had already chosen my setting, an all American college, and decided my serial killer, Rodney Boone, would be a professor, a figure of trust. Now I needed a pattern. What was Boone’s thing?
All serial killers have a thing, right? In real life, the Zodiac sent cryptic letters and Bundy faked a disability; in the movies Michael Myers had a penchant for babysitters, while Jigsaw made his victims play a game.
After much deliberation and a few polls at work (my colleagues are used to me asking them strange questions), I decided to make Boone’s thing the Alphabet. He had an end game: twenty-six victims, each representing a letter.
Some writers use a storyboard; I prefer not to. My plots begin with an idea and grow in my head until I have a beginning, an end and a couple of revelations. When I start writing, I don’t know exactly where the story will take me and part of the fun for me is finding out.
Before I can put anything down on paper, I have to develop my characters.
Boone came first, the story building around him, but I still needed a suitable protagonist. Enter Rebecca Angell (her name a nod to my favourite DuMaurier tale). Young and feisty, from a small town, with a lot to prove, I wanted her to be someone my readers could relate to: an optimist with a few flaws, but no major baggage, the kind of girl you could hang out with over a few beers. The rest of the players followed: FBI agents, Hickok and Sutton, sexist cop Boaz, brooding professor, Lawrie, and his perfect young wife, Kylan, and obsessed student, Justine. I spent a lot of time hanging out with these characters in my head and, by the time I started writing Dead Letter Day. they were as real to me as the people I work with.
No story for me is complete without twists, turns and red herrings. I like my books and movies to have me wracking my brain throughout, trying my best to figure out how, why and who, while they try their best to confuse me and throw me off the trail. Disappointing twists can ruin an otherwise good story; good ones can be so satisfying they stay with you for hours, sometimes days, after, and if I have you guessing till the end of Dead Letter Day then I believe I will have done my job.