Welcome to Wednesday’s Blue Light Special where I tell you about something you just gotta know about.
Today I’ve got Todd Brown (AKA TW Brown) joining me for a down and dirty talk about writing sickos. Todd is author of the DEAD, the ZOMBLOG, and the brand new THAT GHOUL AVA series. Each of these series is great for different reasons, and Todd is one of my favorite authors.
Fans of Todd’s DEAD series, be sure to look for DEAD: Confrontation, which is on sale right now. Check out the awesome cover by Shawn Conn.
Both the DEAD and the ZOMBLOG series have one thing in common: they explore the core of the human spirit. The books are a juxtaposition of individuals carrying out selfless acts of heroism, amazing acts of stupidity, disappointing acts selfishness, poignant acts of love, and disgusting acts of cruelty. No aspect of human nature is left unturned.
It is no secret that I deeply admire Todd’s characterization. In his first DEAD book, The Ugly Beginning, Todd presented a vignette about a human monster named Garrett and a little girl named Kirsten. The ugliness of this episode shocked me, but I couldn’t stop reading. Kirsten had the most unbreakable spirit I’ve ever seen. And Garrett deserved his comeuppance. They were real to me.
After I got to know Todd, I was surprised that such a nice man created such a horror of a human being. (Though I’ve heard that Richard Laymon was a super nice guy, too.) I wanted to understand how and why Todd came to write Garrett.
Todd offered to allow me to interview him about Garrett, how the idea of the character got born, and how Todd dealt with writing him. What follows is that conversation.
You’ve said the fictional Garret was based on a person you met in real life. Please tell me about this person and how you met him or her. In other words, introduce him or her to me. Now, here’s the question. What made you realize “Garrett” operated with a complete lack of moral code and had no conscience?
It is no secret that I did time. On the inside, you meet a wide variety of people. Believe it or not, there are some guys who just had a string of bad decisions finally bite them in the butt. However, there is some genuine evil as well. You do not get a true sense of this just seeing it on the news. But when you are sitting in the day room and hear some of the things that come out of their mouths, you realize that there are people who should never see the free light of day again…ever.
One person in particular with the creepy nickname of “Playground” was just such a person. And even worse, he tried to base his actions on scripture. But the nail in the creation of Garrett came from Ward Weaver. Catie, since you do a lot of “true crime” stuff, that is one for you to take a peek at.
And even more interesting, while I was in, I met a guy who passed himself off as a “regular” convict. In prison-speak, he was “one of the fellas” which meant he was in on a “solid” crime (not a sex beef). But it turned out that he was using paperwork from a prior conviction and that he was currently serving for having molested Ashley Pond. (One of the poor little girls who fell victim to Ward Weaver.) A story came out naming him. Within hours of the morning paper being distributed to those who subscribed on the inside, he had been jumped and sent to the infirmary. He was shipped to a different facility that night.
I can see why his kind of predatory behavior stuck with you. Did you use conversations with him (or with Playground) to develop Garrett’s inner workings? Do people like that prey on other convicts inside? Or are they, as I’ve heard, the prey in prison?
Since I never spoke directly with either of these individuals, it was more what I would hear as they engaged others in conversation as well as (in the case of Playground) with themselves. As for their life inside, some of these guys just make it easy for the extortionist rings to target them. Most of these types are used to victimizing the weak and crumble as soon as they are confronted. Some of the more notorious (like Weaver) become instant targets because their name is in the headlines and they cannot be anonymous.
“Playground.” Dare I ask what the nickname means? Maybe I don’t want to know.
As for the nickname, they are usually in reference to their crime. We had a guy called “31 Flavors” who worked in an ice cream truck, “Bad Santa” and “Bike Path”. Convicts are not all that creative on that front, the art of subtlety is not a strength.
Like Dr. Frankenstein, you pieced these real life monsters together and made your own monster. Then, you got inside his head. Was there a ritual you went through to get into Garrett’s head? Once there, did you feel poisoned by him? What did you do to rid yourself of him?
As for my own preparation for writing Garrett, I knew that if it was a “Garrett day” then I would not be writing anything else that day. The mental process was like letting something out of a box that you had to handle with asbestos gloves. I had some very specific music that I played during writing those scenes. Most notably was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, that would play on a loop. When I was finished, believe it or not, I would pull out my “Hits of the 80s” boxset and hit the track, or pull out my own guitar and work on something really difficult. I get locked in to tasks and tend to block everything out…well, tasks and football.
Did you ever get “hangovers” from being in Garrett’s head? (Feelings of depression, irritability, etc.)
Hangover is a good term for the post-writing experience when it came to Garrett. I actually got very irritable. So much so, that if I called my wife Denise, she could tell. She would ask, “You wrote Garrett today, didn’t you?” Also, I usually would shut down and not talk to anybody for several hours.
You go into some pretty horrifying detail on Garrett’s actions. Did you research the actions of horrible people to work out Garrett’s crimes? (I do this for my villains)
As for the research, some of it comes from having been sexually abused by a man who lived with our family between the time I was 10 until almost 13. Some of it comes from talking to others who have experienced it, and some of it comes from reading. So, overall, a pretty good mix.
What about victims? Did you read case studies of people victimized by the Garretts of the world? The first woman you show us with Garrett–the one at the baseball field–horrified me. She was nothing but a dead shell. Pulling that off took some talent.
As for that first woman, she was my illustration of the two extremes. She had given up and lost herself in the horror of her situation. I wanted to use one extreme to paint another in Kirsten who would not be broken and allow a monster to destroy her.
You certainly did a fine job of showing the resilience of the human spirit, Todd. I want to congratulate you on DEAD: Confrontation, your 6th book in the DEAD series. I know I’m looking forward to the moment I download it and start reading.
Where to find Garrett
For those of you who haven’t tried out Todd’s fiction, you’re missing out. The Gruesome Tale of Garrett and Kirsten appears in DEAD: The Ugly Beginning, which is book one of the DEAD series and where you need to start anyway. Todd also sells The Gruesome Tale of Garrett and Kirsten as a single for 99¢. Personally, I recommend reading The Ugly Beginning in its entirety because then you get the whole picture–both the horror and the heroism.
For those of you who think I’m full of the brown stinky about how excellent Todd’s books are, he runs excerpts of his books occasionally on his blog. One time, he ran the entire Garrett and Kirsten vignette. If you’re good at digging for stuff online, you might be able to find it.
For my readers who already know and love Todd’s work, DEAD: Confrontation is ready for you to download. Rhonda Hopkins wrote about it on her blog the other day. I plan to download my copy as soon as I have some money in the bank.