Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My novels #11: Suffer the Children

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: Suffer the Children [Black Flame, 2005]

From your worst nightmares strides Freddy Krueger, the fedora-wearing, razor-glove-wielding legend of the big screen! In the first in a brand new series of further adventures, the cult icon that is Freddy once again prowls the dreams of the teenagers on Elm Street.

When six volunteers test an anti-insomnia drug, they get much more than they barged for when they are thrust into the dream realm - a playground for the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.


I grew up watching the Hollywood slasher films in the 80s, and Freddy Kreuger was always my favourite. The films showed wit and visual flair I felt were lacking from Friday the 13th movies. Several notable writers and directors got their break on Elm Street movies, and I saw every Freddy movie at the pictures when it was released. When Black Flame said it was looking for authors to write Elm Street novels, I had my proposal submitted in record time.

It took eight months for franchise owners new Line to approve the synopsis, but they didn't ask for anything to be changed [others were not so fortunate]. I was busy writing other books for Black Flame, but set aside time in my schedule for the Elm Street novel, quietly looking forward to spending some quality time with the finger-knife maniac with the red and green striped jumper.

When the time came to write this tome, I had one apprehension. None of my previous novels had been longer than 80,000 words, and this was commissioned as 95,000 words. Doesn't sound like a lot more but trust me, it is. Still, I was confident my carefully constructed synopsis would carry me through. Normally I'll take up to 5000 words to write a synopsis for a novel.

Imagine my horror when I printed out the plotline and discovered it ran only 1200 words, barely covering four sides. Thin? It was verging on anorexic. Somehow I had to turn these too few paragraphs into 95,000 words of gripping, terrifying prose. Yikes. I stuck a sign on the wall above my computer [it's there still]. There are three phrases on it - Describe Everything, How Does It Smell?, and Use All Five Senses.

In the absence of a detailed plot roadmap, I needed to delve into how everything looked, tasted, sounded, felt and smelled. [A lot of novels ignore smells altogether, even the prose is almost the only storytelling medium that can evoke a smell in the mind of the audience, outside scratch and sniff panels.] I would explore the feelings and fears of my teenage cast. I would describe the hell out of everything.

Amazingly, it seemed to work. Suffer the Children was something of a highwire act without a net, but I survived and the book's a rattling yarn. Elm Street fans can be a possessive lot, all with their own ideas of what makes a good Elm Street story and what doesn't [I feel the same way about Doctor Who]. Judging by reviews on, some loved this novel and some hated it.

Nobody seemed to notice the influence of Stephen Kind's Firestarter on the drug testing sequence, nor the debt my plot owed to Peter Jackson's unmake Elm Street screenplay - not even New Line. I loved tormenting my cast of American teenagers, and grew quite fond of my main protagonist Alex, tough she certainly suffered at my hands. I felt I owed her some sort of redemption.

So I set to work planning a new Elm Street novel, one that worked in its own right but would also bring her back and give the character some closure. I submitted a pitch with the working title House of 100 Maniacs, exploring why Freddy always kept coming back to the same home on Elm Street. It was a Krueger rife on classic horror films like The Haunting, almost all set inside one building.

I was going for taut, claustrophobic storytelling, with a cast of characters would die one by one, augmented with all sorts of twists and turns. My editors at Black Flame liked the proposal, and sent it across to New Line. The film studio licensing people also gave it the thumbs up, but poor sales on the Elm Street books meant I never got formally contracted to write the book. Such is life.

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