For our special Friday the 13th post, we are thrilled (pun intended) to have veteran thriller author Jennifer Hillier join us to discuss her love for all things dark and scary. Jennifer’s fourth novel, Wonderland, will be available on October 5th. And don’t miss her gripping earlier books, The Butcher, Creep and Freak!
The most dreaded question I get in interviews is, “Why do you write such dark stuff?” It’s a question I hate, because after seven years and almost four books later, I still haven’t come up with a decent answer. Because the truth is, I don’t exactly know.
What I do know is that I went from reading Sweet Valley High books at the age of ten to discovering Stephen King at the age of eleven. And as much fun as it was to romp around California with Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in their red Fiat convertible with all their teenage drama and angst, it was way more fun to read about the family cat who gets buried in an ancient Indian cemetery and then comes back to life smelling like he’s rotting from the inside out. PET SEMATARY, which was both the first Stephen King book and the first adult book I ever read, scared the living crap out of me. The original paperback had a cover so terrifying (the face of an evil cat set against the silhouette of a graveyard) that I had to keep the book face down on my night table when I wasn’t reading it.
But oh, was it ever fun to be scared.
It was fun imagining horrible things happening to ordinary people (which is Mr. King’s specialty). There was nothing quite like the adrenaline of reading about that undead cat who came back to wreak havoc on the family who’d loved him, and then cringing as the main character, half-mad with grief, later made the terrible choice to bury his dead son in the same cemetery. “Who thinks up this stuff?” I thought as I cowered in my room reading, hoping my mother wouldn’t notice I was up way past my bedtime. “Because this stuff is awesome!”
Just as some people might read romance novels for the rush of imagining two people falling head over heels in love, I read thrillers for the rush of watching good battle evil (especially when it isn’t a given that good will triumph over evil). I enjoy getting inside the mind of a villain as he plots his next terrible act, and then getting inside the mind of the hero as she fights to survive. Stories like that get my blood racing. Stories like that keep me up at night, scared and exhilarated and impatient to know what will happen next.
When I started writing novels myself, I knew stories like that had become a part of me when I set out to write a contemporary love story and ended up killing someone in the first chapter. Oops. And then someone else died a few chapters later in an even more horrible way. Oops again. When I realized that I was more excited about how to fictionally murder the next character than I was about making my characters fall in love, it became obvious that my romance novel was turning into a serial killer thriller.
I hadn’t just found my genre – my genre had found me. It actually happened a long time ago, when I was first up at night with the undead cat.
I may not have a great answer for why I write such dark stuff, but I do know that writing thrillers feels exactly right. And so the only love story I’ll probably ever tell is the one where I fell in love with thrillers.