I’ve been writing for about fifteen years at this point. With my first novel, Still Dark, on the market, I’ve been looking back a bit at how I got here. I certainly didn’t think it would take this long to get a novel out, but I’m sure every 20-year-old thinks they’ll be famous by the time they’re 21.
As I look back, I can’t help but appreciate what might be the most pivotal moment in my journey to being an actual writer, the time I, on a complete whim, decided to take a creative writing class.
It was around 2002 or so, and I was just attempting to ease back into college after a few years wandering in the wild. I knew by then that I wanted to do something creative. In those days, if anyone asked, I would have told them I would be writing movies at some point in my life. Regular old fiction wasn’t even on my radar as something I might be interested in, which is silly in hindsight. I had been writing spooky stories from the age of seven or so.
Regardless, when the time came to fill up on electives, I figured I’d give it a shot. It was a very low-key class, held in the early evening, and in total, there were probably only four or five of us bold enough to actually take a writing class. I think one or two had actual aspirations, but the others were mostly like me, still finding what they might be able to do with their creativity.
The teacher was a novelist herself, a fact that amazed me. Again, I hadn’t done my homework on what a writer was, so to think that one could be teaching in my little hometown, it just didn’t seem possible. Writers were celebrities, right?
The curriculum across the semester was simple. Every class, we would talk writing, read snippets of other authors, and eventually, we each had to hand in two short stories and two poems. Now, I’m still not much of a poet, so I convinced my teacher to allow for haikus, the minimum amount of effort possible. But the short stories… now there might be something there.
Both of my stories were horror, one about a kind young woman who tries to befriend a murderous janitor, the other about a lonely country boy who drags his dead wife’s body across miles of wilderness to bury her at a family cemetery (spoiler: she ain’t dead). With all my years of experience, I realize that neither would be anywhere near publishable, but there was something there. I didn’t know it, at least not when I turned the printed pages in, a sick feeling in my gut that a human being would be reading it soon.
My teacher, as all good teachers, decided to focus on the positive. I’m sure there were more than enough things to rip apart, but she led with a question:
“You’ve been doing this for awhile haven’t you?”
“No… actually, this is the first story I’ve written.”
She smiled and nodded. She told me I had a talent for it, and she gave me some practical pointers that I still use today. She attempted to teach me a bit about character development, but that lesson didn’t take hold for many years afterward. Ultimately, she set me down the path I’m still stumbling down today. If it hadn’t been for that class, Still Dark certainly wouldn’t exist. I’m not sure where she is today, but I’d like to think she’s still writing her own novels.
When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…
Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.
Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!
D.W. Gillespie has been writing dark fiction in one form or another since he was old enough to hold a pencil. He’s been featured in multiple horror anthologies, both in print and online. Still Dark is his debut novel, and his second book, a short collection titled Handmade Monsters, arrives in 2017. He lives in Tennessee with his wife and two children.
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- Taking Submissions: The Other Stories Vol 43. Cosmic Horror - June 21, 2019
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