(The estimated reading time for this is 5 minutes)
“The Three Fathers of Greg Bryce” © 2014 by Nicole Cushing. All rights reserved.
One of my Twitter followers has accused me of tweeting “stoned thoughts.” You know what I mean, right? The kind of “what if…” scenarios that are so out-of-left-field that one typically needs a few degrees of separation from reality to think them up. Speaking frankly: thoughts inspired by a deep inhale of weed.
Here’s the kicker: I don’t do drugs.
I just happen to have a brain that seems to go places other people’s brains don’t go. For example: one night in late winter of 2013, I began to wonder if I could, of my own free will, make myself hallucinate. Could I literally drive myself at least temporarily insane, and then make a return trip to sanity? Specifically: if I concentrated enough, could I make my brain see a man in the room who wasn’t really there? And if I succeeded, wouldn’t that (in a way) be like creating a man? Wouldn’t such an act of creation be somewhat…well.. goddess-like of me?
You will, perhaps, be relieved to find out that my experiment was a failure. I did not trigger an episode of psychosis. But I did begin to ruminate on how we distinguish the real from the unreal. For a brief period of time, that became my obsession.
And my obsessions are typically the launching pads for my books.
So I decided to write a book about psychosis. But not just about psychosis. (Psychosis, while an interesting subject, tends to overload the vast majority of readers. Hallucinatory novels tend to limit themselves to a niche audience, because few have the patience to indulge unbridled surrealism.) So I wanted to anchor my “stoned thoughts” about psychosis, creation, and godhood to some more traditional elements of genre fiction. To accomplish this, I depended on the lessons I’d learned from creators I’d admired. Three creators, actually. All male.
The main character of the resulting novella, I Am the New God, is a young man with severe mental illness named Greg Bryce. If I’m Greg’s mother (figuratively speaking), the three male creators who inspired me are (collectively) his father. Here’s a little about each, and how they influenced me.
Father #1: George A. Romero
I’ve long been concerned about the role religion has played in making otherwise-decent people do horrendous things. In I Am the New God, the mysterious religious fanatic known only as “the hierophant” eggs on mentally unstable Greg Bryce, encouraging the young man to believe that he truly is a new deity who must revolt against Christ and assume the throne of heaven. The relationship between Greg and the hierophant was partially influenced by a similar relationship between a mentally unstable young man and an older fanatic in the classic ’70s Romero film Martin. I suppose Martin may have have also influenced a certain open-endedness to the ending of I Am the New God . Honestly, I don’t think the ending is that ambiguous. But some readers find the ending to be the sort of thing that lingers with them. They wonder: “Is Greg Bryce actually a god, or is he merely mad?”
I have my answer. But yours may be every bit as valid. Once the book leaves my laptop, it’s no longer just mine; the reader has an investment, too—I suggest mental pictures with my words, but your brains are the ones that actually draw such pictures. I’d love to hear what you think, actually, once you’ve finished the book. Feel free to email me about it (or, if you’re a member of the DarkFuse book club, let’s discuss it in the forum).
Father #2: Jack Ketchum
I Am the New God offers much more in the way of graphic violence than my previous novella, Children of No One, did. But I like to think that none of the violence in the book is gratuitous and that it’s presented with an unflinching acknowledgement of its emotional consequences. Too often, violence (especially extreme violence) is presented in a way that trivalizes it. To me, that’s not just letting down the reader, it’s also—in a sense—letting down the characters who have terrible things happening to them. If characters aren’t given a full array of emotions with which to react to the violence, then they’re essentially stripped of their humanity. They’re reduced to punching bags.
I learned how to write violence (and its kissing cousin, sadism), by reading the work of Jack Ketchum. In the heyday of Leisure paperbacks, I picked up his novel Red, and I’ve since enjoyed his short story collection Peaceable Kingdom and the book that may end up being considered his masterpiece, The Girl Next Door. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see the praise he had to offer for I Am the New God. There are few things more satisfying, for a writer, than to earn praise from someone who’s work you’ve long-admired.
Father #3: Alfred Hitchcock
The Hitchcock influence is limited, but it’s there. I haven’t done a lot of work with suspense before, but I found that it was a fun dynamic to play with while writing I Am the New God. There’s one scene, in particular (one of the dorm room scenes) in which I was very much asking myself “W.W.H.D.?” (What Would Hitch Do?).
I’m a huge admirer of the man’s work, whether in films (my favorites are Rope, Vertigo, and—of course—Psycho) or in his TV anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (if you haven’t already, check out an episode called “Breakdown”—it’s one of the most terrifying and inspiring things you’ll ever watch).
Suspense is a fun dynamic to play with and my hunch is that I’ll return to it in the future.
After all, I love making readers squirm.
And you do love squirming, don’t you?
If you’re reading this, chances are you do.
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