Drew Forest has currently self published two novels, The Corpse Rooms and Reading the Palms of Dolls. Both novels have been well-received gaining notable positive feedback and praise but what beckoned the author to write these stories and who is the man behind these unusual fictional tales?
Rigor Mortis – An Author Profile of Drew Forest
The Journey into Horror.
As a child I was terrified of anything purportedly supernatural. I recall one distinctive memory that involved a large plastic sheet that had been whisked up by a heavy wind and became entangled in a tree merely a few feet from where I lived. It billowed ominously from the tops of the bare branches and it only took a couple of kids on my estate to tell me that it was the ghost of an evil old lady for my imagination to go into overdrive. I couldn’t walk past that tree for weeks.
I remember other occasions where I would creep downstairs in the middle of the night to catch snippets of horror films that played on TV in the early hours. I would only be able to manage a few minutes of a video-nasty before running back to bed and cowering under the sheets – too afraid to close my eyes in case one of the demonic entities found its way into my bedroom.
Somehow, the terror became addictive in its own way and I soon discovered the thrill of absorbing horror to be something of a pleasurable experience. It wasn’t long before I found that I had developed the trademarks of a horror connoisseur.
Turning the Page.
I was a quiet kid. Well to be quite frank, I haven’t changed much, I still am the same quiet kid… The only difference is that I’ve migrated to a man’s body. Where the other kids were playing football and taking their first sips of alcohol stolen from their parent’s liquor cabinets, I was locked up in my room reading books. My local library had become my own private church; my spiritual sanctuary. I would pass the abysmal-looking grey, two storey building on my way to school in the morning and would spend the remainder of the day counting the hours until I could return to my place of worship. While there, I would spend hours scouring the shelves analysing the array of colourful book spines and taking in the endless titles. I would run my finger across those very books before carefully selecting one almost as though I was handling a precious relic. I’d take my time to inspect the dust cover, mulling over the artwork before relishing the blurb. I would ponder the selection of words and attempt to decipher any clues as to how the plot would unfold. I’d always hunt for the author profile on the inside back inlay. Their portraits were always so sophisticated and professional-looking and I found it hard to imagine these writers as people like you and I, going about their lives in a normal fashion. If the book interested me, I’d perhaps consume a page or two right there beneath the towering shelving units before I’d ultimately decide whether of not it would come home with me.
When I first joined the library, I was dismayed to discover that I could only loan two books at a time. Fortunately, as I got older, this number was eventually increased to six and I endeavoured to keep the maximum number of books out on loan at any one time. The moment the librarian stamped the return date on the first page, I felt a wave of euphoria rush through my body. What adventure would this book take me on? What sort of world would I uncover? I was always fascinated with the amount of stamps a book had received – if it had received many, I knew it had been loaned a great number of times and this generally meant it was a well-loved book. Sometimes I would consider what the other readers had thought about the story and occasionally I would find the odd sentence roughly underlined in pencil or a generic word scribbled in a corner – “beautiful,” “I must remember this,” “funny-“ it was always interesting to see what other people thought about a particular passage and I would often wonder if it resonated the same way with me. Sometimes I disagreed with their comments but I mostly found that I was disgruntled that they would tarnish this sacred item with their very own scribblings.
My teenage years were spent exploring these books – entering these worlds which were quite unlike my own and it was pure unadulterated heaven. There was no doubt that it was complete escapism and as I look back, I can come to the conclusion that I owe a tremendous lot to those stories and the time I spent amongst those pages.
When my grandmother passed away, one of the items I managed to inherit was her old typewriter. It was a huge metallic monster that required fingers of steel to slam down a key in order to get a letter on the page. Rolling the paper into the machine was purely thrilling. What world could I create? What story could I tell? The possibilities were endless and it was utterly exhilarating. I’d spend hour after hour writing stories of my very own. Most of which I kept hidden beneath the mattress of my bed as I was terrified that anyone should read something so personal. There was a certain romanticism in sleeping upon those pieces of paper as though they were somehow guiding and facilitating my dreams each and every night. By this time, I was reading and watching a lot of horror-inspired fiction, so my stories gravitated towards that particular genre. I began my very own series in light of anthology collections such as ‘Tales from the Crypt,’ ‘Goosebumps,’ ‘Point Horror’ and ‘Fear Street.’ I was a huge fan of R. L. Stine and I was always amazed at the sheer number of books he managed to publish a year and I desperately wanted to become like him. One of the first stories I can remember writing as part of that series was ‘The Nightmare Man’. I typed the story out in one or two sittings and illustrated the front cover with pencil crayons and pen – a large shadow of a man cast upon a decrepit door. It was completed with a back page and blurb. I took pleasure in listing all of the forthcoming titles that I was going to contribute to the series. ‘The Nightmare Man’ was largely influenced by ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and though I can barely remember the plot, I recall that the ‘twist’ was a necessary conclusion to the story. What that twist was, I cannot remember but I do recall wanting to see the reader’s face as it was eventually unveiled.
Unfortunately, ink ribbons were hard to come by in the 90s as everyone was progressing to electronic devices, and I can remember mourning the day that my final ink ribbon dried up and I was no longer able to get any more type-written words on the page.
The Art of Note-taking
I had always kept notebooks as a matter of habit, even during the ‘typewriter’ years. There was a certain freedom in allowing a pen to glide over the page in any way it saw fit. The normal rules didn’t apply here, I could write sideways, make the words bigger or smaller, draw a little picture next a particular word – the possibilities were relatively endless. Though I rarely took to writing full length stories in a notebook (something I attempted several times, desperately trying not to make a single mistake but alas, typos were inevitable and my objection was never achieved successfully) – the notebook served to promote a number of starting points for ideas. I began to play around with words and as a result short bursts of ideas landed on the pages and I discovered that I was writing my very own form of poetry. My teenage years were difficult and I had very little in terms of a support network or an outlet so I took to writing. This inevitably gave birth to an era of angst-ridden poems and stories. Though looking back on what remains of that collection of work brings about feelings of sadness and embarrassment, I am glad that I decided to pick up the pen throughout that particular time in my life.
I have a big problem with sleep.
I tend to go through cycles of horrendous insomnia and restlessness which is something I’ve struggled with on and off for as long as I can remember. It’s almost seasonal in the way that it comes and goes. During those periods, my body simply refuses to allow me to rest for whatever reason and it’s during these times that I take to writing. In fact, ‘The Corpse Rooms’ was born from both experiencing insomnia and it was also influential as a pivotal plot-point with Theo’s (the main protagonist’s) storyline. I would remain vexed with the rest of the world during those quiet hours, angry at the illusion that everyone else was able to experience a peaceful slumber whilst I was cursed with twitching feet and an overactive mind. However, this was the time when the stories would visit me. Someone once mentioned that my stories have a ‘dreamlike’ quality to them and I guess that’s because they were produced in lack of experiencing ‘said’ dreams.
For years, I was locked into the habit of starting a story, writing a few great chapters and ultimately giving up, leaving it unfinished and saved on a file on my computer only for it to never be read again. And to be quite honest, that’s probably for the best considering the content of some of those works of fiction.
A few years ago, I stumbled across NaNoWriMo, which in short stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’. It’s a world-wide ‘competition’ that sees prospective writers seeking to reach a 50, 000 word count throughout the month of November. With nothing to lose, I decided to participate since the event was completely free and open to anyone looking for that extra motivation to write. There, I discovered a community of people who were also looking to accomplish the same. I invited friends to take part and throughout the month of November 2014, I wrote every single day. NaNoWriMo works so that you update your word count as frequently as you like, for most people this tends to be a daily activity. A useful statistics graph is provided so you can track your progress and see exactly how far ahead (or behind) you are with the end target of 50, 000 words. By Day 17, I found that I had surpassed the target and from there I continued to complete my very first ‘book’. It had only taken me nearly 30 years to get to that point (!) The first draft was eventually developed and became ‘Reading the Palms of Dolls’ – a story about a boy with an unusual affliction looking to seek solace in a terrifying world not quite unlike our own. It was an outlandish affair involving cults, drag queens, cannibals and yes… Dolls. It will forever be held close to my heart since it was the first time I allowed myself to complete a body of work from start to finish.
I realise looking back that it was a lack of confidence that prevented me from completing anything. This is undoubtedly a flaw I bear heavy from back then and still carry with me to this day. The only advice I can pass on to any prospective writers or to anyone who may be experiencing a fear in their creative journey is to say, try not to care what other people may think. The moment you begin to analyse the way you think another person may react to something you have created is the moment you dilute your work. It’s something I’m still working on and if I’m honest, will continue to work on. It’s difficult staying within your own perspective but conclusively, the act of expectation can be damaging to the end product.
If it’s important to you or it’s something you want to say – then go with it and complete it.
That being said, once the work is out there, it’s important to be open to feedback. Look at the responses as constructively as possible. There may be some points you take on board, others you may not. Feedback can allow us to grow but at the end of the day, if you are enjoying your work and its serving a purpose to you (and perhaps others) then that is all you need. I understand that this might not be the advice for everyone – I know that there are writers out there who want to make money from their stories and that’s completely fine and well. We all need to make a living and everyone has a different experience of finding their own path, but inevitably, if we cannot create something that brings us a sense of contentment, achievement or simply happiness then perhaps another direction may need to be sought.
I can’t say what the future brings for ‘Drew Forest as a writer,’ but I endeavour to keep on writing regardless and if anything resonates with another soul then I can only be thankful and eternally grateful for that connection. Nevertheless, there will always be stories to tell and journeys to undertake.
Look out for ‘Malevolent Flesh’ – the upcoming novel from Drew Forest, scheduled for release August 2017.