The story behind He’s Out There…

Oh, my GAWD, Becky. It’s a blog post. I haven’t done one of these in seriously years, pretty much since before I had a kid, haha. Ah, back in the days of childlessness, I had oodles of time for blog posts. Not so much anymore.

So, before we get any further, I’ll just say this will contain SPOILERS for He’s Out There the latest psychological thriller by yours truly, published under my V. J. Chambers name.

I wanted to talk a little about how I got the idea for this book, just for funsies.

So, for forever, I’ve wanted to write a slasher book. I lurve slasher movies, and slashers are my favorite kind of horror, and the shlockier and sillier the better, to be honest. I like slashers because they tend to be about groups of partying young people. I love the juxtaposition of sex and drugs and rock and roll with sudden, unexpected fear. But there aren’t really slasher books, so I talked myself out of it for a long time. After all, I am always writing things for which there is no market, so it didn’t seem like a good idea.

But I had a November slot for a thriller this year, and I figured anything I released in November was going to flop anyway, so it didn’t matter, and I had noticed some psych thrillers that were practically slasher movies doing fairly well, so I figured I’d give it a try.

I knew I wanted it to be about a group of people and I wanted them all to be stalked by a knife-wielding killer. I didn’t know anything else. I started rewatching all my favorite slasher movies, and then I started looking specifically for slasher movies in which the killer’s identity was a mystery or a twist or something.

So that meant Scream, Cry Wolf, Cherry Falls, and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane to name a few. And if you’ve read the book, you know which one of those I latched onto pretty hard. (Psst. SPOILERS begin now.)

Anyway, fairly obviously, I stole the twist from Mandy Lane. I stole some other stuff too, like all the guys being obsessed with a female character and all of the people being in some kind of crazy interchangeable sex relationship where all the girls had at some point slept with all the boys. And the idea that the killer was killing all the people for this unattainable girl that everyone wanted.

But I wanted to try to fix the problem with Mandy Lane, which was that the twist was freaking obvious right from the beginning. It starts off with this scene from the past establishing the relationship between the killer and Mandy, and having them give each other eyes before doing violence, and it’s like, “Oh, she’s the killer. Duh.”

I wanted to that twist to actually land, and it seems that–from the few reviews I got anyway–I succeeded. I’m sure someone will guess it soon, though, and complain about how obvious I was, haha. I did this by pretending that the only mystery that the reader needed to worry about was who the male killer was, because there obviously wasn’t a female killer. I set up all three of the male characters as a possibility and then just started dropping hints. I even threw in a red herring for the narrator, having her say that she felt like she was like a man, so that you’d think maybe she was the male killer, but just gender-bendy. The male killer also got scenes narrated from his POV, except they weren’t in first person, but rather in tight third present tense, emphasizing the pronoun, “he,” over and over.

And then because slashers are sort of wrongish about why people kill a bunch of people, I felt I needed to address the motivations of the killers in my novel. If something’s a psychological thriller, you really need to deal with the psychology of the people involved.

So, I drew inspiration for Clay’s motivation from a documentary I watched once about two high school guys who broke into some girl’s house and stabbed her a whole bunch. (I’m pretty sure she lived. It really is hard to stab people to death.) One of the guys actually had the fantasy of doing a Columbine thing, but was talking into mimicking Scream instead by his compatriot. So, I thought maybe Clay could be a mass murderer convinced to become a slasher movie killer. I found this real-life story pretty disturbing too, because that’s what the guys in Scream were doing. Mimicking movies. The whole thing is utterly gross and pretty horrifying.

I knew that Clay couldn’t be a typical serial killer, because the psychology of a serial killer is all wrong for a slasher movie. They don’t like to go out and stalk people. They incapacitate them up and bring them to their lairs, for lack of a better word. Mass murderers with guns, though, they’ll go out into public and start killing people. So, I thought I could sell the idea of Clay being wired like a mass murderer better than being wired like anything else.

As for Lia, I envisioned her to be a narcissist with a disorder something like Munchausen by proxy. Only instead of being a mother who made her kid sick for attention, she was someone who killed people close to her for attention. I gave her classic narcissistic traits like being very concerned about what people thought about her. When inside her head in the second part of the book, it’s obvious that she is just a ball of anxiety. She thinks that if she does this big murder, she’ll finally achieve what she needs to quell the anxiety, but she’s ultimately just a mess.

In Mandy Lane we never did find out why Mandy wanted all those people dead. But then slasher movies tend to be a little vague on the details. “You see, Sidney, it’s scarier when there’s no motive.” And I think, in a way, that actually holds true for most murderers who kill a lot of people. They are psychologically damaged, and so their motivations for doing what they do don’t make sense to a healthy person. In many ways, it is just scarier, because while we can understand why they do things on the surface, we can’t truly fathom it deep down. It’s nothing we would ever do.

That feeling, the horror of it, the disgust, the awful intrigue of it, that’s why I go for these stories, I think. Can’t help but need to touch that separate strangeness.