Note: This interview was originally conducted in July of 2014. Slasher will be released on October 27 on e-book and in paperback and is available for pre-order in the United States at Amazon and in the United Kingdom at Amazon UK.
WD Jackson is the author of Red Light, Loose Ends and the horror short What’s Mine is Yours. His latest novel is the soon to be released Slasher, which we discuss, among other things, in the conversation below:
Who is WD Jackson?
In essence I would describe myself as a very creative horror addict. My whole education growing up was always centered on art, literature and design, and this has translated into my work life, too. I’ve been a graphic designer for around seven years now. My love of horror however was very much instilled by my dad. I grew up watching the Alien films, Predator and an awful lot of action movies, which while not horror probably inspired my love of blood and guts.
I have a personal mantra, which is that as long as I’m always doing something creative I’m happy, and for me, writing is a fantastic outlet for my creativity, so writing in the horror genre for me is completely natural.
How would you describe your writing style?
The genre I write in is very much horror/thriller, and so the way I write is actually quite filmic. I visualize everything very clearly when I’m writing, as though I’m watching a film – I see camera angles, expressions, movement, and then write what I see. I also speak out loud a lot as I write. I find this allows me to optimize the pace of my scenes, and it means that when my characters talk, they hopefully sound realistic, and not stilted or awkward.
You mentioned the Alien films and Predator; what are some other things, i.e. books and films that have influenced and inspired you?
Books, films and video games have been my lifeblood since I was a kid. My mother was a teacher, and instilled in me the joy of books, but in fact my whole family is readers and so I just followed suit. I had all of the Goosebumps books, Point Horror, RL Stine, and once I got a bit older my dad introduced me to Stephen King and Dean Koontz, while my mum brought the world of crime fiction to me. She’s read just about every crime novel going. Film wise, there was also a lot of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris – my dad was a karate instructor – so I love great fight sequences. Then there is Resident Evil, which came out when I was eleven or twelve, and I can honestly say had a huge impact on me and how I am today. My dad bought it for me, but I wouldn’t play it by myself. I found it too scary to be in control, so instead I’d watch him play it. We’d spend endless evenings hunting around that mansion, fighting off zombies, and must have played through it a good five or six times, then once I was ready to play myself, I was hooked. Horror games have been a regular part of my life since – Silent Hill, Dead Space – and each time a new Resident Evil film comes out (not horror I know) my dad and I go to watch it at the cinema. His tastes and influence can be seen in me very clearly.
I’ve played the Resident Evil games as well as Dead Space. What I always found frightening was the claustrophobic feeling that you get when you play them. There are a ton of horror films that never come close to achieving that feeling.
The way horror games work is slightly different to films because you are literally put in the situation in games. It’s your job to keep the figure on screen alive, so this really amps up how scary they can be. The tricks they play are the same as films – the first Dead Space game was terrifying because despite having weapons you as a player were quite vulnerable, it was dark with flickering lights and shadows, it was very suggestive with its sound design (which is incredible), it had jump scares, and often big enemies that could come from nowhere and were seemingly unstoppable – so the tactics are the same, but the problem films have is getting the audience to relate to the protagonist. The character needs to be likeable, relatable and acted well or the audience won’t feel as much impact when scary things happen. Games at the moment such as Outlast work because they take away the ability for you to defend yourself, something which has translated well in film. In slasher films only the final girl ever really has a chance at fighting back.
Is it safe to assume that your books have a combined element of crime, action and horror?
Yes, definitely. When I first started writing I was actually aiming for pure horror, but I found that the stories evolved as they progressed, and so my first two novels are more of the thriller and suspense variety, with a dash of horror, and in fact a little bit of sci-fi in the second one. Slasher, however, as the title indicates quite nicely, is far more in the realm of horror. I brought the beats of crime fiction and slasher movies together, drawing the best bits from both, to create a story about a serial killer mimicking Hollywood slasher movies and the sergeant and detective duo desperate to stop the killings. The story plays with the tropes of slasher movies in many ways, but inserts them into a crime fiction scenario, giving the cops far more of a role than they would normally play in slasher movies.
What do you consider as the essential elements of the slasher genre as well as the films that shaped it?
I think with slasher movies in particular, the key ingredients have always been the same – a group of teens or twenty-something’s who all share a connection, and a seemingly unstoppable killer who takes them out one by one, until you’re left with the last girl standing, who digs deep and manages to defeat the villain. Of course there are a lot of allegories within such films, as played upon by the Scream franchise, basically be good and you’ll stay safe – the final girl is always the one who didn’t drink or do drugs or have sex, she’s the sensible and responsible one, and that’s how she survives. Modern slasher movies have been forced to change things up and play with these tropes, but these key ingredients are always there in some way. And of course, there are the kills. Certainly in the last decade or two, the kills have almost become the starring character. Just take the Final Destination series – in essence a clever take on the slasher genre, but people have kept watching them for the inventive and gruesome kills.
What makes slasher films scary though, when properly done, is they also play with a sense of vulnerability, the lead characters are often caught unaware, the killer jumping out at any moment, and regularly the setting is somewhere all too familiar and easy to relate to. I think this is what gets under the skin, and certainly some do play with primal fears, such as claustrophobia. Many films have seen characters caught in tight spaces, terrified as they struggle to survive, and by placing the audience in that position, the fear becomes more real.
Lastly, slasher films play with characters being alone. With no one around to help, no one to save them – everyone has at some point been scared by that notion.
Hey, the Final Destination films are guilty pleasures of mine. I love them, especially the second film in the series.
Yes, the Final Destination series, I love them too. It was such a simple but effective way to strike out in a new direction in the genre, and while the series had a low point with the fourth film, they are prime examples of successful slasher films that play upon everyday fears to bring the scares.
You mentioned the last girl standing in a slasher film, or the ‘final girl’. Off the top of your head who do you see as the ultimate final girl and why?
The ultimate final girl for me is a toss-up between Laurie Strode from Halloween and Sidney Prescott from Scream. Jamie Lee Curtis was the perfect actress to play Laurie, and really she was the first iconic final girl in a series that for many horror fans is the ultimate benchmark of not only the slasher genre, but often of horror in general. She is a legendary character played by a legendary actress, fighting against a truly scary foe. On the other hand, what makes Sidney Prescott such a fantastic final girl is that she knows the rules of slasher films. Scream was so successful because it played with what fans knew are the staples of the genre openly, and gave us a final girl who knew how to use that to her advantage. She learned from watching screen versions of the final girl, and this makes her a force to be reckoned with. She’s survived four films so far, and I think now she’s a real legend herself. I also want to give honorable mention to Sharni Vinson’s Erin from You’re Next though, too, because that’s a final girl that really and truly fights back in a way audiences hadn’t properly seen before.
I was hoping you would mention Sharni Vinson; I loved her performance in the film. Will there be a final girl in Slasher?
Well I don’t want to give away too much, but with Slasher I have played with the notion of the final girl quite a bit. The killer is targeting actresses who have played final girls in films by a particular film studio for a start, and in fact one character, who is an actress, gets very irritated when she is called a scream queen, when in actual fact she played a final girl, and stayed away from scream queen status. As to whether or not Slasher has a final girl itself, that’s something readers will have to discover for themselves. Minimal spoilers here!
Fair enough. Before we discuss Slasher any further can you tell the fans a bit about your previous books? What can you tell them about Red Light?
My previous novel Red Light came about really from just a mental image – I saw in my head a little girl playing on grass, and watching someone die, but knowing that they would before it happened, and that’s what Red Light is about, and in fact how it starts. It revolves around the struggle of a family trying to deal with the fact that their daughter can predict death, whilst trying to keep her safe from an organization that wants to harness her power. I’d say it’s a grounded science fiction thriller.
As for What’s Yours is Mine-what can you tell us about that?
What’s Yours Is Mine is a short I wrote for submission to a horror anthology. Although shortlisted, it unfortunately did not make it into the final book, but I really loved it and thought others might too, so I released it myself. It’s about a schoolboy who finds an antique pocket watch one day while out with his mother, and not long after he gets it, the watch begins to count backwards and he realizes that something might be coming for him to get it back. I chose to write it with a younger sense and style of narration to reflect the age of the boy, but still made sure it had enough nastiness to give it a nice horror twist. I’ve actually considered writing more stories about the pocket watch, or perhaps even turning the story in to a novel, but who knows!
It sounds like an interesting concept with a lot of possibilities.
I certainly enjoyed writing it, and shorts are not something I normally go for, so it was a very different experience writing it too.
Hey, at least you wrote it. I have a ton of ideas in my head for stories that I just can’t seem to make go from brain to pen to paper. But, as the saying goes we are not here to talk about me. We’re here to discuss you and your books, including the latest one-Slasher. The floor is yours, sir. Sell your book. Tell us why we should buy Slasher, read Slasher and most of all why we should like Slasher.
Well, first off, I would like to thank the person who left a review for my first novel on Amazon saying it was nothing more than a slasher movie in print. I remember reading the review and thinking ‘Wow, this person has clearly never seen a slasher movie before’ but it also made me wonder, how would a slasher movie work as a book? That’s what I set out to discover. What was important to me though, was that I did not just write the typical ‘six teenagers on a weekend in the woods’ scenario, I wanted to play around with the very concept of the slasher genre, and that’s when, though I hesitate to use the word, Slasher became a bit more meta. As I mentioned, the story follows a sergeant and a detective in Los Angeles trying to stop a serial killer who is targeting actresses that starred as final girls in slasher movies. Right off the bat there’s that clear connection, but I pushed it much further by having a lot of the story revolve around a hugely hyped new movie, actually called Slasher, at the same studio where the murder victims have all made films, featuring a rising star Kiralee Martinson, suddenly the talk of Hollywood. I liked the idea that all the actresses that were final girls in the movies are being targeted until there’s the possibility that there will be an ‘ultimate’ final girl so to speak, as though I’m asking, did they deserve that status in the first place? Sidney Prescott from Scream learned from watching slasher movies, so did these characters learn anything from actually starring in them? Then of course, there are the kills – these play out like those seen in slasher movies, which is something not often found in crime fiction. Normally the victims are found and the cops have to work out how they died, but in Slasher, the reader witnesses the murders first hand, so the intrigue comes from wanting to find out who did it and why. As I said, the cops are far more important than in regular slasher movies. Sergeant Joshua Matthews actually shares lead protagonist status with Kiralee, and what is so exciting about Slasher is the reader gets to follow both. They get to go along with Joshua as he tries to hunt down this killer, but also to follow Kiralee as she begins to make this film, only to realize that her big break has very possibly made her a target. The stakes get higher and higher, and both Kiralee and Joshua know it, it becomes a race against time, and it’s a fantastic ride that I’m really excited for readers to take.
I think that combining the genres of crime fiction and slasher movies in the way I have that Slasher is a book that will appeal to fans of both genres, and as a result it’s a unique story. By the way, I made sure to have a damn good motive for the killer and to have a huge finale, so the payoff is really there.
Wow, I’m sold! Is there any word on a release date and where we can purchase it?
The story is all written and finalized, so it just needs my editor to make sure it’s perfect and the cover art designed and it’s ready to unleash! Then of course, I’ll need to start on my next novel!
It will be available as an e-book and paperback on Amazon and I think Kobo and Barnes & Noble too, though I will need to confirm this, and in select stores.
It sounds like you have a winner.
I hope so! I loved writing Slasher, so I really hope readers will love it too.
WD let me thank you for your time. I wish you the best of luck with Slasher and with your career as a writer. One final question to close out: who is your favorite slasher villain of all time?
My favorite slasher villains would have to be Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, but my favorite slasher film (or series) would have to be Scream. Thank you!