“A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home” – a letter warning me about the hauntings going on in my house?! Blimey! Such a simple concept yet such an intriguing one. Jason Arnopp released this scary letter the weekend before last and I just couldn’t resist checking it out. It now haunts my Kindle forever…
Prolific writer Jason Arnopp, whose creative personas include journalist, screenwriter (Stormhouse), script editor (The Man Inside), novel and novella author (Friday The 13th, Beast In The Basement) and non-fiction eBook author (How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else) is here to tell us all about it!
Hi Jason! Congrats on the recent release of your latest work of creative fiction, “A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home”. A letter-esque description of the ghostly goings on of the entity that is in MY home? How could I not take heed? Onto my Kindle it flew, and into my mind it wreaked its havoc. Had I ordered the deluxe version that contains personalised details about me, my home and the place I live in? *Shivers*.
The idea that a story is connected personally to the reader, getting *into* their mind on a whole new level, is quite frankly a horrifyingly genius idea. What inspired you to approach a horror story so creatively?
The urge to scare people as comprehensively as possible! I’m a big Twitter user and developed the habit of signing off each night with an attempt at a scary ‘goodnight’ tweet, with the aim of leaving followers amused and unnerved. These tweets tended to involve creepy stuff happening in their bedroom, so the idea probably spun off from that as a natural extension. I started writing A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home with the aim of making the reader imagine their own home as the place where most of the story is set. Prose fiction demands so much of our imagination and I loved the idea of each reader filling in generic blanks with, for instance, their own bathroom or their own bedroom.
That sounds like a really unique approach to story inspiration and of course research, too. Could you share some of these tweets with us and tell us how the specific idea for “A Warning” came about?
Here are a few examples of the ludicrous things I would tweet (and will no doubt continue to tweet) at the end of each day…
“Goodnight, Twitter. Try not to scream at 4am, when the mist rising from your bedroom floorboards coalesces into a solemn witch.”
“Goodnight all! Sleep well, all the way up until a crazed backwoodsman gnaws your eyes clean out, while doing other bad stuff to you.”
“Goodnight, Twitter. Please know that, come 3am, the floating child scratching at your window will spell your doom.”
You get the general idea! Ludicrous. A Sincere Warning… ended up going in a direction which did require some medical research, which I didn’t really expect!
When I started writing, I only had a general idea of how the story would end. This might fly in the face of accepted rules, but I think you can do that with a shorter piece, provided you have *some* vague idea of where it’s going and it all instinctively feels right. Funnily enough, one of the story’s more unpleasant sequences, towards the end, arose from me realising there was a plot hole. After tearing my hair out a little, I turned the plot hole into a new problem for the main character and that sequence was born. See? Plot holes can be your friend and your protagonist’s enemy.
The specific idea for A Sincere Warning… came about when I paid attention to how people reacted to those ‘scary goodnight’ tweets. One night, one particular tweet seemed to gain more retweets and replies than any of the other ‘goodnight’ tweets. This made me think the idea behind the tweet might have legs, so I made it the basis of this short story.
Despite being a letter, the story sucks you into a riveting plot much like any other work of fiction would. How did you approach such a unique way of writing; did the story form first with the letter aspect honed afterwards, or was it very much a linear process of writing?
“In reality the story always has to come first.”
Hmm, you know, it’s weirdly hard to remember. This story just kind of flew out of me. I can barely remember the process. Sometimes you can like an idea so much that you just get lost in it. That’s all too rare, of course, but it’s a great feeling when it happens. I definitely recall expecting the story to be about 5,000 words in length, whereas it ended up being 10,000. In terms of whether the story or the letter aspect came first, I guess it feels like they merged simultaneously, but in reality the story always has to come first, with the mode of delivery following close behind. There’s no point in the letter aspect being fun, if the story doesn’t stand up on its own two feet.
The story isn’t just a light ghost story; it’s quite a feast in visual and descriptive terror. With this in mind, and given the fact it talks about the reader with the assumption that they have bought or rented their home, do you feel the approach perhaps alienates some readers who may be too young, or who may not be responsible for their own home?
It’s definitely tricky, trying to provide catch-all descriptions of everyone’s living arrangements. Impossible, in fact. I hope the story’s vague enough to work for 97% of readers. In the case of minors, I’d have to say that this is very much an adult ghost story and not suitable for them (a statement which is guaranteed to make them want to read it all the more anyway). The only thing which really won’t work with this story is if your home is a ‘new build’, since the narrator is claiming to have lived there before you. Even then, though, I found a way around that with one of the Bespoke Deluxe (physical paper) editions I recently created for someone. There’s always a way!
I think there’s always going to be tricky aspects to an approach like this; particularly making the reader believe you’re talking about their home as well as believing in the tale being told. How did you deal with this when planning your story? Did you come up against any difficulties?
The story’s conceit meant that I did have to be a generic as possible with my descriptions, which absolutely gave rise to complications I never anticipated. I mean, you can take certain things for granted. Everyone who lives somewhere has a bathroom and a bedroom. Everyone has windows and a sink. But here’s a good example of an unforeseen difficulty: in the later stages of editing I realised that if someone lived in a studio flat, for instance, they wouldn’t have a living ROOM or a bedROOM as such. So I changed the wording to mention just the “bed” and also the “living area” rather than the “bedroom” and “living room”. The flexible nature of the story also meant that I couldn’t specify things like the internet or apps, because such things might not even have been invented when the story was supposed to be taking place: the reader might have lived in their current home for 20 years for all I knew. This element also dictated the nature of the supernatural threat, to a large extent. On top of all that, I had to take into account that the reader could be reading the story anywhere in the world! Once you took that on board, the challenge was to be vague enough without being insanely so.
The nature of the letter-esque story means that it is ideal as a physical purchase which will arrive through readers’ own doors. This deluxe physical version also contains personalised details to help readers buy into the story. How will you go about this? How will you select details, and how will you evade postmarks (as warned in the letter, the writer is untraceable as the letter is sent by a friend from a foreign country…)
When someone orders the letter, I get their name and their full home address, which I appreciate is quite an act of trust on their part! They also tell me the nature of their property, i.e. whether it’s a flat/apartment or a house, as well as how long they’ve lived there. From that, plus the use of tremendous internet technology, I have all the information I need to personalise a letter. In terms of the postmark on the letter, I don’t need to worry about that, because as you say, the story covers itself there. The sender says that the letter will be sent by a friend in a foreign country, and that friend seemingly happens to be in the UK.
Ideal as a spooky gift for someone at Halloween, on April fools day or any time indeed for horror fans, are you concerned about any retaliation from unsuspecting recipients who may genuinely be freaked out until they realise the true fictional nature of the letter?
I was indeed concerned about this for a while: what if someone used the letter maliciously? But I’ve hopefully found a way to prevent this. When a buyer gifts the letter to someone else, the letter now ends with the message “This letter was purchased for you at ScaryLetter.com by [Buyer Name]”. Sure, it might break the spell, but I’d sooner have that happen than someone be genuinely distressed by this crazy letter turning up on their post mat!
What have you learnt from the project? Has the project inspired you to try this approach again? Perhaps you have a completely new creative idea being brewed?
I’ve learnt that people are definitely very open to new, fun things, even if those things scare them in their own home! I may well try this approach again: we’ll see, once the dust has settled on A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home. Let’s see how well this story and its Kindle-only predecessor Beast In The Basement do! Until then, I’m working on the horror-thriller film Safari, which is due to shoot in 2013, and have a British TV series in development with a production company. I’m also looking into a return to traditionally-published stories. So there’s plenty more frightening fun in store!
Thanks so much, Jason, for taking the time to share with us some “behind the scenes” information. “A Warning” is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but is an absolute treat for anyone who enjoys the supernatural; I for one thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to read more like this from you (checking out “Beast In The Basement” forthwith)!
Thanks for the interview, Michelle – much appreciated.
Find out more about SCARY LETTER at http://www.scaryletter.com. You can find Jason via: