I met Alan Orloff, mystery-gone-horror writer at his event at One More Page Books, my local independent bookstore. He’s quite the humorous guy; it was here that I learned Alan’s interest in horror fiction. It was just a few months ago that I learned he was publishing a horror ebook. I contacted Alan, interested in learning how writing a horror novel was different than writing a thriller/mystery. Viola, a blog post was created! Without further ado…
The Idea That Wouldn’t Die
So far, in my writing career, I’ve traditionally published three novels (counting the one coming out in January). All are mysteries. Which, I’m sure, makes my agent and editor happy as I build a following among mystery readers (a good thing). From all appearances, it seems I’m becoming known as a mystery author.
But a strange thing happened not too long ago. Somewhere between writing one manuscript and revising another and promoting a third, I was attacked by an idea for a novel that sank its teeth into me and wouldn’t let go. The idea was based on a premise that fit into the horror genre, not a mystery (definitely NOT a mystery).
So I did what any self-respecting mystery author would have done. I tried to ignore the idea.
I really did try to ignore it, but it was a persistent bugger. It would wake me up at night, and distract me while I watched cartoons. It would whisper to me in the shower and it would sit on my shoulder while I ran and it would make faces at me as I ate. It stalked me on a daily basis.
To preserve my sanity, I had no choice but to capitulate. I sat down at my computer and banged this story out. Very little was required on my part; the words came spilling out like ground beef from an industrial-grade meat grinder. Then revisions, then beta readers, then more revisions. When it finally gleamed, I e-pubbed it. (Using a pen name, Zak Allen, to distinguish it from my mysteries.)
How did writing a horror novel compare to writing a mystery? Let me start with the similarities. In both genres, you need strong characters with purpose—sympathetic protagonists who are seeking something vital in their lives. Personal transformation as the story progresses. A twisty plot. Tight, evocative prose. Sparkling dialogue. A well-drawn setting. Conflict, suspense, emotional involvement. All essential story elements for any genre.
But I found one big difference writing horror. Freedom. When writing a mystery, there are certain reader expectations, and as an author, you need to “play fair.” Drop in clues. Introduce suspects. Sprinkle a few red herrings along the way. There’s not exactly a formula you need to follow, but if you stray too far afield, many readers (and editors) will balk (and squawk).
In the horror realm, those limitations don’t seem to exist; it feels more like an “anything goes” environment. Stuff doesn’t have to make sense in the same way it does in a real-world mystery. Because reality is a lot more ambiguous (fluid? malleable?) in a horror novel, dreaming up a pretty cool what-if scenario seems easier (and almost mandatory). Imagination is really the only limiting factor.
The upshot: I was able to incorporate some delicious ideas that wouldn’t sit well in a mystery. This helped make writing THE TASTE a ton of fun.
One other thing I discovered—Zak Allen is a lot more uninhibited than Alan Orloff.
THE TASTE is available as an ebook, for Kindle or Nook.
Alan Orloff is the author of the Agatha Award-nominated DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. He also wrote KILLER ROUTINE and the upcoming DEADLY CAMPAIGN, both part of the Last Laff Mystery series (all from Midnight Ink). For more info, visit www.alanorloff.com
Thank you, Alan! Today’s a special day, readers! It just happens to be Alan’s birthday! To celebrate, Alan has offered to give away three ebook copies of THE TASTE. Winners chose whether they would like a Kindle ebook or epub format (compatible with a whole host of eReaders). To enter, please fill out the form below. The winners will be contacted via email on Friday, November 4th. Good luck to all who enter!