Because I found most schoolwork tedious, I felt as if I had been institutionalized for fifteen years--throughout grade school, high school, and college. In the grim institution called high school, as a kid in a small town, my therapy consisted of reading novels and listening to rock-and-roll on tower-of-power radio stations in distant cities. In college, my therapy was all-night pinochle tournaments. I cut more classes than Sweeney Todd cut throats.
My wife sleeps peacefully, thank you. She knows I'm basically a pussycat. We have been together since high school, and in all those years, the only living thing she has seen me cut is myself; any time I pick up the simplest tool or kitchen implement to do some minor household task, my blood will inevitably flow. I've been known to cut myself accidentally with something as seemingly safe as a rolling pin.
Sugar snap peas.
Another frequently asked question is "How do you create such bizarre yet convincing and terrifying villains." The glib answer is to say I watch the evening news. In fact, however, the antagonists in my novels create themselves, just as do the protagonists. I conceive a character around a seed of truth, some essential fact that lies at the core of him, then I give him free will, and I discover more about him as the story unfolds. Sometimes, when characters surprise me with their revelations, it seems as if they are indeed real, that I am writing in a kind of dream state that allows me to bridge this world with some parallel reality and tap the consciousness of people living
Alton Turner Blackwood, the villain of Darkness Under the Sun and of the forthcoming novel What the Night Knows, literally appeared to me in one of those exceedingly vivid dreams that are peculiar to many of us who, suffering allergies, take two or three Benedryl every night for too many weeks. Benedryl dreams are, in my experience, never flat-out nightmares. They generally do not have much in the way of storylines, but the people in them are so dimensional and so exquisitely detailed that they seem as real as anyone you would meet in real life. They are sometimes strange, as well, and menacing, though these are for the most part dreams without action, so their menace is implied.
The morning after the Benedryl dream in which Alton Turner Blackwood appeared (though he had no name in the dream), I wrote down a physical description of him, which I used word for word in the finished novel:
He stood six feet five, scarecrow-thin but strong. His hands were immense, the spatulate fingers as suctorial as the toe discs of a web-foot toad, large bony wrists like robot joints, orangutan-long arms. His shoulder blades were thick and malformed, so that bat wings appeared to be furled under his shirt.
As for how his face looks and as for the explanation of how and why such a specimen might be born: I'll let you discover those things in the novella and the novel.
Of the scores of evil characters I have created, none has so affected me as Alton Turner Blackwood. In spite of all his physical and mental strangenesses, I would not be surprised to see him one evening, walking along a lonely highway or perhaps standing under a lamppost across the street, still and watchful. Of all the eerie characters met in Benedryl dreams--many of them like people you might expect to see in Tim Burton movies--he is the only one who has made a second appearance in my sleep. And he's appeared three times. I don't know what to make of that. If his repeated appearance means anything, I guess I'll find out eventually.
Baby carrots are also cool.