Monday, November 19, 2012

Author Guest Post: Jeff Szpirglas

Evil Eye Origins

Evil Eye is the novel I’ve wanted to write since I was 12, and never thought would ever see the light of day. It’s about a boy whose eyeball becomes possessed, takes on the ability to pop out of its socket, and float off and do nasty things. Making it worse, our hero can see it all happen – both from the eye in his head, and the disembodied one up to no good. I admit the plot gets pretty weird after that.

The genesis of Evil Eye dates back to my university days, when I rabidly consumed as many movies as possible. We’re talking upwards of at least one movie a day, sometimes three. I was a sponge, soaking in everything from Jean Cocteau to Akira Kurosawa and beyond. But it was the films of David Cronenberg and Brian De Palma that I connected to in an almost visceral way. De Palma in particular developed a style that was often ridiculed because of the way he aped Hitchcock. Despite wearing his influences on his sleeve, De Palma’s horror films from this period (Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, Dressed To Kill) have a gleeful mania, cutting sense of humor, and artful compositions.

Evil Eye is the movie in my head that little Jeff yearned to see, answering that age-old question: what if your eye could pop out of your head, levitate through the air, and stare back at you? I envisioned a De Palmaesque split screen sequence in which a hero fought his own disembodied eyeball with a tennis racket. Movie audiences would see both images at once, just like Jake, the story’s hero.

Back in school, some people were trying to write the next great American novel; but this sort of lurid schlock truly fed my soul. I’ve always gravitated towards movies and stories that married gutsy comedy with legitimate scares – movies like Re-Animator, Creepshow, and An American Werewolf In London. Both horror and comedy rely on timing and payoff to give their audiences something unexpected. Each genre has its bag of tricks and distinct rhythms. I admire storytellers who try to pull the rug from under their audiences, substituting shocks for laughs, and vice-versa. Horror movie plots are often cyclical, reminding us that evil recurs over and over again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh at our fears and failures (mortal and all) along the way.

There’s a sub-genre of horror in which disembodied body parts come to life: The Hand, The Crawling Eye, They Saved Hitler’s Brain, Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors – I’m not saying these are cinematic classics, but I wanted to take the genre to its ultimate limits, much in the same way that composer Jim Steinman wanted to take motorcycle crash songs to their apex in Bat out of Hell. Some of my favorite parts of Evil Eye involve our hero Jake on his bike, chasing his own runaway eye, trying to process both images in his brain and stay balanced on his bike.

The ultimate goal for Evil Eye? Scare kids hard, and scare them silly. I looked to R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps, and wanted to take that kind of E.C. Comics-style horror to the edge. I wanted to make the monsters real and scary, but still keep the laughs and fill the plot with weird twists and turns.

Chances are, if you’re into the sort of genre fiction in which vampiric adolescents stare lovingly into each other’s otherworldly eyes, you’ll hate my novel. But if you have a zeal for bodysnatching monsters who take over bits and pieces of their human hosts, graveyards hidden within graveyards, and blood-curdling schemes of global domination, then I think you’ll dig this book. Not that I’m biased.

Jeff Szpirglas has had a varied career. He's shoveled manure, worked in a steelyard (he hails from Hamilton, after all), and even frolicked in the offices at CTV Television and Chirp, chickaDEE, and OWL magazines, where he was the kids' page editor. His manure-shoveling days long behind him, Jeff currently teaches children by day and writes books/fights supervillains by night. Visit his Facebook to learn more about his writing.

Thanks so much to Jeff for stopping by In The Next Room! Evil Eye sounds like a charming and scary novel perfect for middle grade readers.

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