Ten Things About “The Smashed Man of Dread End”

I’ve a new book out, and the only marketing tactic I know to sell words is to write more words. The Smashed Man of Dread End is about a neighborhood haunted by a flat, horrifying monster that oozes from the cracks in the basements of every kid on Totter Court, a monster with a terrifying cosmic significance, a monster that the adults in the neighborhood are helpless against. Want to know more? Here are ten (non-spoiler) things about the book. It’s like a self-interview without any banal set-up questions.

1. An Entire Haunted Neighborhood
The book began as a single image in my head, of a kid sitting at the top of a set of basement stairs, legs on the first step like they’re dangling in water, with that imaginary “water” line dividing the known from the unknown world. Above the water line is safety, below are sharks. After I had that, I figured this imaginary water line extended across the neighborhood to create a haunted neighborhood. Then I had to figure out how to get a monster in those basements without resorting to a cliché portal.

2. A Tupperware Story
The entire book takes place in a single neighborhood. It’s what I call a Tupperware Story (stories contained in single, small spaces for maximum freshness). I love Tupperware Stories. Twelve Nights at Rotter House took place entirely in a single house, for instance. And since I love the The ’Burbs, I’ve always wanted to write a neighborhood Tupperware Story.

3. Welcome to My House
The neighborhood in the book is based on the neighborhood that I live in, with its cul-de-sac, ravine, forest, and suspicious blank spot at the tip. Noe’s dungeon-like basement, though, is based on the basement in my previous house, a basement I’ve written about on the blog a few times. Like how scary it was. Especially when you watch a horror movie there. Or play with a Ouija board inside a pentagram you scratched into the dirt floor with a plastic axe.

4. Making a Monster
The monster started from a thought exercise that I’ve really have been doing all my life of what new kind of monster would be welcomed at Bobby Pickett’s Monster Mash. What could be an addition to the classic monsters? It had to be new, with no obvious derivatives. For instance, it couldn’t be any kind of beast-man or twist on the undead. It had to be worth its own Abbot and Costello Meet movie. I think I did it, but you’ll have to tell me.

5. Science Fiction Double Feature

Sounds weird to say that a neighborhood-constrained horror story is also science fiction, but I wanted something cosmic because I needed to rationalize the world somewhat and because many of the classic monsters had that same thin science fiction veneer: The Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, the Blob.

6. Dragging My Kids Into It
The sisters Noelle (Noe) and Lenore (Len) bear the middle names of my two oldest daughters. I told them that I did it in honor of them, but really I wanted to have a pair of sisters nicknamed Noe and Nor in the book. Unfortunately, my editors and friends who read early versions of the manuscript found the names a little confusing in practice, so I ditched the idea for Noe and Len.

7. What Comes Next Will Truly Horrify You
The Smashed Man of Dread End was part of a two-book deal with HarperCollins. The second book in the deal is not a sequel, but a standalone middle-grade horror novel called The Black Slide. It’ll come out next year, but look for a cover reveal next month (it’s my favorite cover of any book of mine).

8. Sequelitis
Even though my next kids horror novel is not a sequel, I do have a complete story in my head for a sequel to The Smashed Man of Dread End. It would be called The Thing from the Stuck Place, and I’d only be able to do it if The Smashed Man does really well.

9. Under Cover
There’s an easter egg on the book jacket. Let me know if you find it.

10. Another Flat Monster
I was about a quarter of the way through writing the book (under the title The Flat Man of Dread End) when I discovered that my monster had an antecedent. In 1988, British children’s author Rose Impey put out a short picture book called The Flat Man, in which a flat monster slides into a kids room under the window sill, and is then quickly balled up and thrown out the window by the kid. It has some terrifying imagery in it despite her softening it for a younger audience. I immediately changed the name of my monster to the Smashed Man. Turns out, the name change unlocked a lot of the story for me. And then I named a special character after Impey.

DVD extras for some of my other books: