How I find creepy – Nicole Lundrigan

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By Nicole Lundrigan

My writing has been described as dark, suspenseful, spine-tingling, and disturbing. Recently I met a woman who had just finished reading my latest novel, The Substitute. She asked, “Where do you find all that creepy?” I think she was wondering about inspiration, and years ago, I would have tried to present an articulate response. Now I’m able to admit “finding creepy” is a slippery and fickle task, though I have learned a few tricks.♥

Often little sparks appear while I read. When I finished writing my fifth novel, I had no concept for my next book. Each day I read crime news, and at one point, a particular story jumped out. Two twelve-year-old girls, who were obsessed with an online character named Slenderman, had stabbed another girl nineteen times. This prompted me to begin researching young criminals, then childhoods of psychopaths, and so on. While none of the news story actually made its way into the book, it was the little seed I needed.

I’ve also learned if I stare inspiration in the eye, it usually doesn’t want to play. So sometimes, I ignore it. This is where cleaning comes in. Maybe it’s the process of moving about in a quiet and purposeful way (vacuuming the floor, painting trim, deadheading flowers) that distracts my mind. Ideas often flutter up. Characters start having conversations. I keep a scrap of paper and pencil on hand just in case.

Writing also helps. Just because I’m not inspired, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write. With The Substitute, there were days when I wrote “what ifs”. No pressure, I told myself. Once, I brought Warren Botts to a store, and when inside, he made an innocent mistake. Words were exchanged, and Warren was easily hurt. To hide that hurt, he began counting cans on a shelf. The scene never made it into the book, but I gained valuable insight into my character. Warren counted as a way to protect himself.

As I move through the day, I observe and I listen. One dreary afternoon, I saw an old plastic bag snagged in the branches of a leafless tree. The wind had whipped it to shreds. I thought it was a wonderful image, and I made a note. Warren soon saw that same grocery bag outside his window while he was waiting for the police to arrive.

Finally, I try very hard to be non-judgmental because my opinions should have no impact on my characters’ lives. The anonymous narrator in The Substitute does dark things, but there’s also tenderness. My characters share more if I keep my reactions to myself.

When I’m writing, I never set out to “find creepy”. Instead I explore the characters that decide to set up residence in my mind. I’m not sure why they arrive. Perhaps it’s just a matter of holding my breath, and leaving the door unlocked.


Nicole Lundrigan is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including Glass Boys and The Widow Tree. Her work has appeared on best of the year selections of the Globe and Mail and NOW Magazine and she has been longlisted for the ReLit Award.  Her new novel, The Substitute, is out now. Born in Ottawa and raised in Newfoundland, she now lives in Toronto.

nicolelundrigan.com

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