Dean H. Wild is a writer who devotes his craft to “exploring the shadows”. A lifetime of stories have given him a unique ability to tap into the human condition through his horror fiction, teasing out some of the most unsettling and disturbing experiences a person can go through.
His latest book, The Crymost, delves into the destruction of small rural town after a malignant spirit worms its dark way into the community.
We spoke with Dean to find out more about his chilling novel.
Kirstie: How did you get into writing?
Dean: I guess you could say I grew into it. I was intrigued by books and reading at a very young age. I adored storytelling and being told stories when I was small. Reading became a constant pastime. And for some reason I was always drawn toward stories with a strong dark element.
I wrote my first horror story at the age of seven, and after that, spent many an hour scribbling down tales of terror, some of which I read aloud to my grade school classes. It wasn’t until I was in my teens and sent a piece of work off to one of my favourite magazines (Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland) in the hopes of seeing something I wrote in print that my eyes were opened. Not only did I get a letter from the magazine telling me they wanted to print my piece, but I also received a check!
I realised this could be more than a whim or a hobby. I stayed with it through many trials and disappointments, learning and fine-tuning my approach along the way.
Kirstie: You’ve been writing near enough your entire life. How have you evolved as a writer over the years?
Dean: I believe my focus has changed, especially in how I approach and construct a story. In a younger day, my story ideas blossomed from a core idea – a monster in the basement, let’s say – and told the tale of said monster, its effect on the protagonist or peripheral characters and the tale worked toward an inevitable end. Over the years, I have learned to explore the logic behind my characters’ reactions (including the monster) and I have found this adds a very real-world element to even the most fantastical of situations. I believe this has led to a deeper, richer style of storytelling.
Kirstie: Who are your biggest creative influences?
Dean: I am a great admirer of powerful prose, work that doesn’t merely say something with words, but with the cadence of those words, the context of them, the poetry of them. I find Robert McCammon a master at this type of word magic. Ray Bradbury was another wizard at that particular part of the craft. I’ve always appreciated Stephen King’s accessible brand of the macabre and easy writing style. But there are a great many other authors who have piqued my inner ears and eyes with fine turns of phrase or fascinating plots; it would take days to name them all.
Kirstie: What drew you to horror as a genre?
Dean: I was, and still am, drawn to it on many levels. Horror is my home. It was a haven for me through dark childhood days and it became a familiar constant companion as my tastes and my viewpoints matured. There is a certain brooding complexity behind a tale of terror – when it’s done right, and for the right reasons. To successfully present a horror tale in its full regalia takes a certain cerebral approach.
As a writer, those parts of the craft fascinate and challenge me. And there is a secretive little reward in knowing I have not only made my readers think, but have brought them a little shudder to go with their reading experience. Twisted, I know.
Kirstie: What do you think makes a good horror story?
Dean: For one, the narrative needs to contain an overall sense of foreboding, be it heavy and insightful or tongue-in-cheek. Word choice is key to create such an atmosphere. As in most writing, the true craft of the matter is not telling the reader of the dread and gloom, but making them feel it with the proper words, phrases and by, sometimes, what is NOT said.
Another element to a good horror tale is logic. Even the most fantastical and bizarre story elements require a purpose and a befitting behaviour. Horror, like any other genre, should not insult the reader with overly-ridiculous or poorly thought-out events or characters. Like any good story, a horror story requires a justification before it is done. Not necessarily a tidy all-answering ending but a closing that satisfies the reader.
Kirstie: What are your biggest fears?
Dean: Loss. On all its levels. By that I mean loss of health, loss of faculties, loss of loved ones. Most, if not all, of those things are inevitable, which makes them doubly terrifying.
Kirstie: Tell us about The Crymost.
Dean: On the surface, The Crymost is a story about a slowly awakening being that rises to dine on the sorrows, the beliefs and the very souls of the inhabitants of a small Wisconsin town. On a deeper level, it is an exploration of how we cling to our beliefs and our memories as precious things, whether they be sweet or hurtful, and how those beliefs and memories can be our greatest vulnerabilities.
Kirstie: What inspired the story?
Dean: A walk, alone, on a still summer night at the edge of the town where I live. I glanced at the sunset horizon where new homes were being built and I wondered what old secrets might be mixed into the freshly turned earth there, what past joys and sorrows were forever locked in the clay – and what if those memories were allowed to speak. Or to scream. And thus, The Crymost was born.
Kirstie: How did you create such a vividly realistic community of Knoll?
Dean: First of all, let me say thank you for finding Knoll vividly realistic! The truth is I have lived in villages like Knoll for most of my life. And without my knowledge, many details of the town I presently live in showed up in my descriptions of the Crymost town. One of my wife’s first comments upon reading the novel was “It’s Brownsville, isn’t it?”
It struck me as strange because the physical descriptions of Knoll – the layout of the streets, the geographic landscape, etc. – isn’t much like the place we live in at all.
But the essence of the town I call home has definitely telegraphed into the book. Being observant on a deep level helps with this – noticing the way a street will brood under an overcast sky or watching how a backyard will receive the season’s first fireflies with sleepy glee helps paint a realistic picture.
Kirstie: How much did you draw on reality to create the characters, their relationships and the tension they feel as the story gets darker?
Dean: The lion’s share of the reality draw came into play while creating the characters. They were assembled, Frankenstein-style, from bits and pieces of people I know – friends, acquaintances, etc.
For example, the character of Harley Kroener is strongly based on my father – his outlook, his speech pattern – but my dad would never refer to his wife as “honey pie”, so the characters in my stories are always hybrids with a little bit of my own imagination thrown in. As far as the characters’ relationships, I allowed them to develop organically as I wrote. I may have planned out that my main character, Mick Logan, and Harley Kroener were not only co-workers but also good friends, but the solidity of that relationship and the brand of camaraderie they shared took shape as the story developed.
I’m sure my observances of the real world were a critical part of envisioning that development, but it was not a conscious effort. Likewise, Mick’s wife, Judy, needed to be a strong, capable woman given Mick’s past troubles and the dire situation roiling up around The Crymost. Fortunately, I’m married to such a woman, so I could plant bits of my dear Julie into the character.
As far as drawing on reality in regard to the mounting tension in the story, I guess we have all felt the emotional screws tighten in certain situations. I try to remain empathetically connected to my characters as I write, so when the tension begins to build, I tap into my own nerve-wracking situations and feed the emotion into the narrative and hope it comes across as genuine and believable.
Kirstie: The Crymost weaves the horror into the day-to-day. How do you strike the balance between reality and fantasy as you write?
Dean: For me, horror works best when it invades the familiar and the believable. Therefore, I strive to create a very common, very real world first, and sprinkle in the more fantastic components as the story progresses and as the reality allows. I rely on my storyteller’s instinct to strike this balance, I suppose.
I continually read and re-read a work in progress, adding and subtracting words, phrases, sometimes entire paragraphs if their “flavour” seems a little off, if the invasion seems a little too rushed or abrupt or if the fantasy element is so heavy-handed it seems downright silly.
Kirstie: What do you hope people will take away from your work?
Dean: An image or two my words have painted. A phrase from the narrative that sticks in their mind. An impression about the world at large that seems new and fresh after reading my words. Insight is the takeaway I truly hope they find in my writing. Insight.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Dean: Self-confidence is a beneficial quality to be sure, and belief in your work is the only way to grow as a writer and a craftsperson. But watch out for its ugly twin brother, Arrogance. The reader and the writer attach themselves differently to a story, each with their own requirements. A small criticism from the reader’s viewpoint is often worth its weight in gold. Then there’s the editor, who has the interest of the reader AND the writer at hand. Their suggestions and corrections are likewise valuable. Not that you need to implement every suggestion that comes your way, but listen without becoming rankled to those who have comments about your work, and then put your storyteller’s instinct to work. And write, write, write with all the self-confidence you can muster.
We’d like to thank Dean for taking the time to talk to us!