Looking for a short, creepy novel with more plot twists and surprises than the crooked branches of an old oak tree? Stuart R. West's Neighborhood Watch is the book for you and here to talk about it today is Mr. West himself.
Why set Neighborhood Watch in Kansas of all places?
I'm sorry, sorry, sorry. I live in God-forsaken Kansas. It sucks. The good thing is the state is ripe with creepiness, which makes good fodder for tales of the abnormal. "Write what you know."
Everyone in the novel doubts Derek's interpretation of the events. I suspect many readers will doubt him along the way as well. Did you set out to create an unreliable narrator?
I did. I kinda' think it's fun to have an unreliable narrator. He even kept me off-guard at times (even though, truth be told, he's basically me. But I'm a little more reliable). But the book swelled from his skewed view of things. Easy to do when the protagonist thinks the world's out to get you. It's something I'd like to revisit in the future, maybe kick it up a few notches.
Did a real legend inspire the oak tree at the center of the novel or is that pure invention on your part?
Jeff, I started with the huge honking tree in our front yard. And, yes, it's been designated a historical landmark in our city. But I started researching Native-American lore and, as luck would have it, I found a legend that fit my intentions perfectly. Wish I had enough imagination to claim it, but...yeah, it's a true legend.
I believe I read on your blog that you found inspiration from your own neighborhood.
Well, if you want to call "inspiration" the she-devil across the street in the red hoodie. Seriously, that's what started the book. Just the antipathy she had for us. For no reason whatsoever, the neighbor ignored us, shunned us, took it to extremes and turned her back on us whenever we left the house. It got to the point where my daughter and I made a game out of how many times we would holler "hello" before she felt forced to acknowledge us.
Here's a really cool and weird coda to the tale...last month, I noticed the cars were gone across the street. Didn't see the neighbors for a while. Finally, a guy was out front carrying furniture out. I asked him what happened to the inhabitants. He shrugged, said he didn't know. They apparently left in the middle of the night and left everything behind. Everything.
Aside from the protagonist, who was your favorite character to write?
I have a fondness for the historian/paranormal researcher. He's one of the few characters not based in reality. But I liked writing Toni, as she's based on my wife (even though she's still not too happy with all of our foibles being put out in a book. Still digging my way out of the doghouse).
Multiple ghosts appear in Neighborhood Watch, but, horrifying as they may be, they're nowhere near as threatening as the living. Is this a common theme in your work?
Hm. Interesting question, Jeff. Actually, I'm a horror fan. But, yeah, you're right. It's the real things that scare me the most. As much as I'd like to raise chills by supernatural hijinx, it's the human villains that linger. Gah. You just made me realize it is a common thread in my books. For all the supernatural doings in my YA trilogy, it's the reality-based bad guys that are the creepiest. I need to go call a therapist.
Tons of stuff. Due this summer is my fourth YA book (a spin-off of my fave character from the Tex, the Witch Boy series), Elspeth, the Living Dead Girl. I'm particularly proud of this one because I wrote the book from the viewpoint of two teenage girls (one living, one dead; both sharing the same body. It's complicated). It's not particularly in my wheelhouse, but it was definitely fun and challenging.
Shortly after that, due in time for Halloween, comes Godland. I'm not going to say too much about this book because the twisty-turny plot and surprises lead to mega-shocks. It's an adult horror/suspense tale. Something I haven't attempted before. Nothing supernatural. But very, very dark. Maybe what I'm building to, particularly after your astute observation, is that reality is scarier than supernatural tropes.
To learn more about Stuart R. West and his writing, check out his blog or stop by his Amazon Author Page.