2018 was an outstanding year for horror fiction. To whittle the books I’d read down to a Top 10 was incredibly difficult, but I knew I’d read THE best book of 2018 once I’d snapped Creature by Hunter Shea shut for the final time. There are not many books that stick with me long after I’ve finished them. Creature is still resonating with me 5 months later.
Creature is quite simply brilliant! It put me through the wringer, the final third of the book ramps things up to unbearable levels of emotional (and horrific) tension. It’s not very often I finish a horror novel with tears in my eyes, this book connected with me in a way no other has. It’s a beautiful horror story that will stay with you long after you snap the book shut.
You can read my full review for Creature here
I reached out to Hunter to see if he would be prepared to write Kendall Reviews a guest post. I was looking for something to celebrate Creature not only being my favourite book of the year, but for featuring on many ‘Best Of’ lists by bloggers and reviewers I respect. What Hunter sent through far exceeded my expectations and I can’t thank him enough.
PUTTING DOWN THE BEAST
BY HUNTER SHEA
Writing is therapy. You’ll hear those three words spoken often, but I’m living proof that it truly is and it keeps you off the clock tower.
As most people know, Creature is a very personal book for me. The struggles my wife and I have faced and are currently muddling through are the inspiration for Kate and Andrew and their not-so-happy story. We went to a cabin in Maine to heal when she was at a breaking point in her illness, so naturally, that’s where they went. Luckily, we didn’t encounter any bloodthirsty beasts in the woods, but by God, were we grappling with some pretty ferocious monsters of our own.
Fear. Anxiety. Depression. Anger.
They were all there, gnawing away at us like hungry jackals.
In fact, those four fuckers are always skulking about, waiting for a weak moment to storm the castle of our wills. It’s hard work to keep them at bay. Sometimes, it seems like it would be easier to just let the drawbridge down and surrender yourself.
Screw that. I’ll write instead.
Creature isn’t my first foray into writing to maintain sanity. In fact, my need for an outlet for all of those pent-up emotions (because Irish guys don’t share that kinda stuff), was a big part of the reason I started writing in the first place.
Back in the mid-90s, my wife of one whole year fell desperately ill. So bad, in fact, that she required several life saving surgeries, was administered last rites (prematurely, in hindsight…fuck you, Grim Reaper!) and spent well over a year on life support. She was physically down and out and I was a step away from mentally checking out. Unmitigated rage was my constant companion. Seriously, I was always a moment away from Hulking out. I remember I used to lull myself to sleep by imagining myself punching people and breaking entire buildings with my fists, Hulk-style.
I had expressed this desire to try my hand at writing because my good friend (author Norman Hendricks – check out his book Hungry Things) who sat next to me in the salt mine – aka the phone company – was penning his first horror novel. My mother-in-law saw what a basket case I was becoming and went out and bought me a Brother word processor. (That’s right, my mother-in-law was the one who helped save me!) This was before actual computers were affordable and in every household. Hell, I barely knew what the Internet was at that point.
I set the word processor up in our spare bedroom. All we had in there was a tiled table, two chairs, and a Sandra Bullock poster on the wall. Every single day,
I’d go to work, visit my wife at the hospital, come home to a frozen dinner and write. I was scared and lonely as hell those nights. Working on a slew of short stories allowed me to live in another world of my own making for a couple of hours.
Deciding I wanted to try my hand at a novel, I chose to do a – get ready for it – romantic comedy. My thinking was, if I had to willfully exist in this make believe realm for a year or more, it better be as light and airy as possible, because the shit show that was real life was too much to bear. I’m lucky in that I have a group of close, irreverent, bat crap insane friends who are a constant source of comedic inspiration. I peppered the book with their stories and catch phrases and plain lunacy. While I wrote, I listened to a David Sanborn CD my best friend had given me. No joke. This was another version of me I can’t exactly wrap my head around today, but I was who I had to be in order to keep moving ahead.
That book was my Jesus in that it saved my soul. My wife got better when the book was done, but things would never be easy, at least according to her doctors. For once, the quacks were right.
Strangely enough, I didn’t start writing horror until I had kids. Or maybe not so strange. You parents out there understand. When I was at my happiest, I was emotionally able to write my darkest. Yin and yang, mother clucker. Yin and yang.
It took me years to mentally tackle what we went through early in our marriage, but when it was time, I just had to get it the hell out. So, I wrote a little novella called The Waiting, mixing our story with, in that case, a ghost tale. I wrote that when my panic attacks, a thing I thought I had conquered years earlier, had resurfaced. Everything in my life was going well. Naturally, my mind was waiting for the other shoe to drop and had never come to terms with the life and death situations my wife and I had endured. Writing The Waiting put all of that to rest, and once again, I was calm.
Over the years, my wife has been body slammed by a rogue’s gallery of sons of bitches – cancer, lupus, heart problems, undiagnosed illnesses, radiation therapy, disintegrating joints and bones and urgings to make her last wishes known. I find, now that we’re veterans at this, that rage isn’t such a bad thing. Instead of lashing out at people, or even inanimate objects like walls and cars, I can bleed that red and angry stuff onto the page. I can live dark now, and I can write dark.
Creature came about because my wife has been seriously ill oddly starting the month my first book came out almost eight years ago. I’ve had this amazing writing career that is a dream come true, and she hasn’t been able to share it fully with me. She can’t make it to signings and conferences, and it sucks every time I do one without her. The fear and rage that fills me up some days is very much a living, breathing creature. Writing the book was like willfully telling someone to punch me in the gut as hard as they could, day in and day out. It exhausted me. It broke me down. It wore the fear and rage down to a simmer.
And it was a hell of a lot cheaper than therapy.
My wife and I will always face tough times, just like so many families each and every goddamn day. In writing Creature, I’ve been floored by the letters that have come in from people suffering through similar or worse maladies. It’s brought attention to the central disease that has knocked her sideways, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. It may not heal her or anyone with it, but it lets people know that they are not alone. Everyone on this planet suffers from something. As I tell my mother all the time, the only people who don’t have worries and pain are dead people. You can’t wish them away and you can’t ignore them.
But I can write them. And I’m not a babbling mess – yet.
Hunter Shea is the author of over 20 books, with a specialization in cryptozoological horror that includes The Jersey Devil, The Dover Demon, Loch Ness Revenge and many others. His novel, The Montauk Monster, was named one of the best reads of the summer by Publishers Weekly. A trip to the International Cryptozoology Museum will find several of his cryptid books among the fascinating displays. Living in a true haunted house inspired his Jessica Backman: Death in the Afterlife series (Forest of Shadows, Sinister Entity and Island of the Forbidden). In 2011, he was selected to be a part of the launch of Samhain Publishing’s new horror line alongside legendary author Ramsey Campbell.
An avid podcaster, he can be seen and heard on Monster Men, one of the longest running video horror podcasts in the world, and Final Guys, focusing on weekly movie and book reviews. His nostalgic column about the magic of 80s horror, Video Visions, is featured monthly at Cemetery Dance Online. You can find his short stories in a number of anthologies, including Chopping Block Party, The Body Horror Book and Fearful Fathoms II.
A lifetime New Yorker, Hunter is supported by his loving wife and two beautiful daughters. When he’s not studying up on cryptozoology, he’s an avid explorer of the unknown, having spent a night alone on the Queen Mary, searching for the Warren’s famous White Lady of the Union Cemetery and other mysterious places.
You can follow his travails at www.huntershea.com.
Please follow Hunter on Twitter @huntershea1
The monsters live inside of Kate Woodson. Chronic pain and a host of autoimmune diseases have robbed her of a normal, happy life. Her husband Andrew’s surprise of their dream Maine lake cottage for the summer is the gift of a lifetime. It’s beautiful, remote, idyllic, a place to heal.
But they are not alone. Something is in the woods, screeching in the darkness, banging on the house, leaving animals for dead.
Just like her body, Kate’s cottage becomes her prison. She and Andrew must fight to survive the creature that lurks in the dead of night.