Friday, November 8, 2013


Writers inflate things. That’s one of the great secrets behind how our minds work. We take the little details of life and mine them for material by exaggerating the circumstances or adding things or blowing them up into events worthy of books rather than moments. Conversations explode into epic debates or confrontations, slivers of emotion evolve into high-tension conflicts. We crave excitement, and so we observe and find things worthy of being inflated into stories, people worthy of becoming characters. Any little thing in life might trigger the sparks in a writer’s mind.  

            I might be watching the septic tank guys do their job (not a profession I’d want to be part of!) and find myself wondering if a human skull would fit through the hose they use to pump the crap out! Not long ago, I was in a mall and saw a young woman who was too busy playing with her smart phone walk away from the bag she’d just carried out of the shoe store. It only took her a minute to realize her mistake and come back for it, but all the scenarios went through my head in that moment, all the possibilities that could occur if it turned out to be the legendary “unattended bag” the Homeland Security commercials love to warn us about. 

            That’s what writers do. We take minor situations and turn them into big deals and sometimes they find their way into our stories in their new, mutated forms. 

            Those big situations are what stories have to be made of. We put our characters through the worst things we can imagine, and we have the time of our lives doing so. I love putting the entire city of Chicago at the mercy of hordes of ravenous zombies, or sending a spy around the world on a complicated mission of vengeance, tormenting him with each new plot twist, or having an innocent young man fall in love with a vampire and have to crawl through hell (metaphorically, at least) to prove he can survive in her world. 

            Why do certain people have this need to create these difficult, sometimes horrible situations and throw their creations into the convoluted obstacle courses of fictional worlds? I don’t know. I just know it’s what writers are driven to do. 

            The point I’m leading up to is this. We spend so much time thinking about strange situations, emergencies, crises, unexpected circumstances, that I have to wonder if there’s something in every writer that wishes such things would really, literally, happen to him or her. Of course, I can’t see inside the mind of every writer (and I’m glad I can’t. Just thinking of some of the writers I know personally makes me very happy I’m not that telepathic!) But I certainly know what goes on in my own mind and, yes, there is a definite thrill when emergencies arise! 

            When I talk about the thrill of emergencies, I really don’t mean that I want to be involved in terrible, catastrophic events where people die or are gravely injured or long-term repercussions change the course of history. If I wanted that, I’d have become a police officer, a soldier, a politician, or something more involved in the “real world” than a writer. But I have to admit I experience a surge of energy, a wonderful rush of adrenaline, when exciting things happen, or when small bits of danger unexpectedly manifest in my life. When such things happen, it can feel like I’ve temporarily fallen into one of the stories I might have written. 

            I seem to have a habit of stumbling upon quick, exciting situations, like the time three really stupid teenagers tried to mug me at Dunkin’ Donuts at five in the morning. The lesson they learned was a simple, effective one: don’t try to get money from the guy in the car if you’re on foot! Or the time we broke into a missing coworker’s home to find him on the edge of death from falling into the diabetic abyss. I once happened to be driving behind a car that plunged down an embankment and narrowly missed a horrendous crash. Chasing the poor driver down the hole and making sure she was all right and staying to give the police my report was thrilling for a writer. It might sound strange, but I get a rush out of events like those. Or others, like having a gun pointed at me when trying to catch a shoplifter at the store where I worked. I’m glad it ended without the trigger being pulled, and I’m glad the guy was eventually arrested. Thinking back, I know it could have been a very bad situation, but there’s a part of me that’s glad I got to experience it. 

            Emergencies cause mixed feelings for me. I’m always glad that whatever’s happened hasn’t turned out worse, but I’m also happy to have had the experience and the memory and the inspiration that comes with it. 

            So, having said all that, we come to the incident of the burning tree.   

            It was a clear autumn morning, the Saturday before Halloween. I had the day off from work. I was alone in my house up here in the mountains of Ringwood, New Jersey. It had been a lazy day so far. I was about to take a shower before sitting down and watching some old horror movies as pre-Halloween relaxation. I was just about to turn the water on when the room suddenly went dark, not power outage dark, as the light on the ceiling was still shining, but dark like when the clouds of a fast-moving thunderstorm roll in and obscure the sun. I glanced out the window expecting to see a gray sky and blowing leaves. Instead, I saw only thick smoke, a wall of it, up to the second story of the house, covering everything! But I couldn’t smell it, which immediately told me, to my relief that the house wasn’t burning. Still, a fire outside is bad enough. I rushed out of the bathroom (no, I wasn’t naked!) and took a look out the kitchen window, from which I could see around the smoke to the front yard below. 

            There were two small—about five feet tall—spruce trees right in front of the house. At least there were two until that moment, because one was now going up in flames!

            I grabbed the small plastic garbage can that serves as a recycling container, dumped the empty bottles and cans out onto the kitchen floor, ran into the bathroom, turned the tub faucet on, filled the container with water, and ran out the front door and down the steps to dump the water on the burning tree. It took three trips, three containers of water, and the fire was finally out. The tree was shot! Only a tall, black stick remained, with just a tuft of green fur at the very top. The tree next to it had burned slightly around the bottom, but was otherwise fine. The flames were out, but the mulch on the ground under the trees was still smoldering, with puffs of smoke rising up in various places. 

            I could hear sirens now. A woman more than a block away had seen the high column of smoke and thought the woods between streets were on fire. That’s how much smoke came from that one poor little tree! The first man from the local volunteer fire department showed up, just one guy in an SUV, the first responder. As he climbed out of his truck he immediately explained what he thought had happened. Apparently, when it gets too dry, mulch has been known to spontaneously combust! 

            The actual fire truck showed up next and out poured about eight more firefighters, a long line of them, like a clown car crowd in an old cartoon. They were in full fire gear, with their names printed on the backs of their jackets. One of them, I noticed with delight, had the wonderful horror-film-worthy moniker of Schreckenstein!  

            The firefighters went about their business, raking out the mulch, hosing the area down, ridding the soil of any last smoldering embers. I stood there and watched, riding the writer’s adrenaline wave, loving the fact that I’d just been involved in, and personally conquered, one of those little emergencies that creative minds love so much. But the best was yet to come!

            The police arrived, one sergeant in particular, who ran through the routine questions he was required to ask, even though the matter had pretty much been settled by the fireman’s reasoning. He jotted down my name, birth date, and phone number, confirmed that the house did indeed belong to me, and let the questions rip!

            “Mr. Smith,” the sergeant said, “Do you have any enemies?”

            That was a glorious moment! Hearing those words made my day. I felt like I’d stepped into an old crime movie, black and white, with this Bogart-voiced cop doing his best interrogation! 

            “”My enemies tend to be more effective than this,” I quipped, unable to resist the temptation, gesturing at the long blackened stick that had been a spruce.

            Sarge was not amused. He gave me a dirty look. 

            “Any gambling debts, people you owe money to, anyone who might want to burn down your house to hurt you?” he went on with his line of questioning.

            I didn’t risk sarcasm anymore, just shook my head to everything. The truth was dull. It really was just the mulch combusting. 

            The smoldering was over. The yard was soaked. It was only noon but it had been an interesting day already. The police and fire departments left. I stood in the yard with the one good spruce and one long burnt stick and I laughed. The rest of the day, I knew, would be one long series of smiles and giggles every time I thought about what had just taken place. I felt bad for the tree, but it had been one of those fascinating little emergencies that can set a writer’s mind on fire! 

            Within an hour, I had the whole story reported on Facebook. I couldn’t resist. I just had to share it with the world!

            One of the first people to comment on my tale, and express grief for the deceased spruce, was Wendy Potocki. I had recently done a guest blog for Wendy, “The Comfort of Monsters,” in which I talked about some of my theories on why people are drawn to horror fiction. 

            A few days after the fire, Wendy suggested I do another guest blog, this one about the tree incident and, in particular, with a comedic approach to what might have happened if the police interrogation had gone a bit further in an absurd direction. Along with her suggestion, Wendy sent a sample of how she thought such a conversation might go. Reading it, I decided that she could do a much better job of writing that scene than I could. But I liked the idea of writing more about the blazing tree and how little emergencies like that can light up a writer’s day. So we’ve combined forces again and now that I’ve explained the Thrill of Emergencies, here’s Wendy Potocki’s version of the conversation that could have happened! 

<<<<< >>>>> 


Yes, *drum roll* here I am … *cymbals clash* …  in all my glory to concoct … *a man in a gorilla suit plays a xylophone* … a tall tale! And I believe that deserves more than a xylophone!

Aaron was right on the money when he said writers like to exaggerate, embellish and lie their way to a “more interesting truth,” as I like to call it. Nothing wrong with what happens in everyday life, but if I imagine pointed ears and fairy wings on the barista serving me coffee, I feel so much better about my day. And, to me, the coffee even tastes better! 

I’m joining forces with Aaron to concoct a yarn that only happens in my world. So what happens next is my warped version of *dum dum daaaaahhhh!* THE INTERROGATION!  

GOMEZ:        Good morning, Mr. Smith. I’m Officer Gomez and this is Detective Steel.

AARON:         Steal as in take things without permission?

STEEL:            No, Steel as in the kind of bars you’re going to be behind if you give us anymore lip.

AARON:         Understood, but … *titters* …

STEEL:            You think going to jail is funny, Mr. Anderson?

AARON:         Uhm, it’s Mr. Smith.

STEEL:            That’s what I said.

AARON:         No, you said “Mr. Anderson”. Mr. Anderson is the lead character in The Matrix. Gosh, I loved that movie.

GOMEZ:        Yeah, the part where they show up in the lobby with the long trench coats and Trinity is looking all hot in leather and the guy at the desk … *partner clears his throat* What I meant to say is that Detective Steel asked you a question and we expect an answer. Now what were you laughing at?

AARON:         Your name actually. I was thinking how curious it was that it was the same as my favorite character in the Addams Family.

GOMEZ:        Hey, that’s really weird that you should say that because I’m related to the actor who played Gomez!

AARON:         Really?

GOMEZ:        Yes, we're third cousins twice removed.

STEEL:            *hisses between clenched teeth* Small world.

AARON:         Yes, isn’t it. *shrinks in chair* *taps finger to movie theme of Halloween*

STEEL:            Now, I understand you reported that one of your trees was set on fire.

AARON:         Yes, sir, I did.

GOMEZ:        And when did you first notice that the tree had been burned, sir.

AARON:         Ehm, when I looked at it.

STEEL:            *Gomez and Steel exchange looks* So Mr. Smith, do you have any enemies who would want to snuff out one of your trees?

AARON:         Well, I have recently been troubled by poltergeist activity.

GOMEZ:        And did that manifest in any fires?

AARON:         No, just the raining of stones on my roof. Wait! There was a fire in the kitchen. No, that was only me burning the toast again. Personally, I'd concentrate your efforts on the Druid community.

STEEL:            Druids?

AARON:         Well, they're well-known for having deep "roots" *laughs uproariously* *slaps knee* in tree worshipping. So if they thought I'd been mistreating the tree ...

GOMEZ:        And were you? I mean, mistreating a tree? *tearing up*  They can’t speak for themselves, sir. Don't you realize that we’re their only voice?

AARON:         ABSOLUTELY NOT! And I resent the insinuation that I was! Why, ever since it was a sapling, I've taken a personal interest in that blue spruce! I felt it was more a son .. or daughter ... hard to tell which ... than a tree and ...

STEEL:            Suspects? We were talking about possible suspects, sir?"

AARON:         Right, right, right. No, I can't think of any. Except for the gnome uprising a few months back. But that was squelched by the fearsome Durxis who did this Braveheart thing. It was so exciting to see him painted all blue and defeat the evil sorcerer who was behind the revolt and …

GOMEZ:        Now we’re getting somewhere! Could it be this evil sorcerer has a vendetta?

AARON:         Patently impossible! You see Durxis enlisted the aid of Tublikon the noble wizard. When the two got together, they changed Zonzor the Diabolical to Zonzor the Pure. He turned all white and fluffy, and there were these sparkling doodads that appeared on his horns, and … 

STEEL:            The tree, sir? We were talking about the tree and not …

AARON:         Freezonia. It’s the utopian community where elves, fairies and trolls can now roam free! *sighs* It’s so freakin’ beautiful! *starts to sob*

STEEL:            *hands Smith a tissue* Yes, that’s truly epic, but how about the tree?"

AARON:         Come again?

STEEL:            Well, did the tree have any enemies?

AARON:         *does face palm* Can I get you gentlemen anything to drink?

GOMEZ:        Yeah, yeah. That would be real nice. What with all that smoke,  it was like inhaling about ten cartons of cigarettes all at once.

AARON:         Yes, it was as bad as when the zombies set fire to the skyscraper in order to drive the humans into the streets for harvesting. Oh, that’s in a story I’m working on. *puts pitcher of red mush on table* *places three glasses down* Help yourself! *pours himself a glass and starts drinking*

STEEL:            Uh, what exactly is that crap?

AARON:         Crap?

GOMEZ:        It does look like blood, Mr. Smith. Do you care to explain?

AARON:         Blood? *laughs hysterically* Oh, heavens, no! It’s an elixir I put together for my yearly Halloween party! Crowd loved it! It’s only fruit punch flavored Gatorade thickened with corn syrup. Promise! Scout’s honor! *crosses heart and hopes to die*

GOMEZ:        And the fleshy chunks?

AARON:         Cherry puree. Yummy.

STEEL:            Are those severed fingers, sir? If they are … well, you remember those steel bars we discussed earlier?

AARON:         No, they’re just cinnamon sticks … carved to look like fingers. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that the knife had been used in several unsolved homicides.

STEEL:            And how would you know that, Mr. Smith? Unless, of course, you were involved in those slayings?

AARON:         Duh! I discovered it the way anyone would! You see, when I bought the knife in the thrift store, I didn’t actually pick it up. It came in this little box that I’m going to use for regifting. I save so much money doing that, but I was talking about the knife and how I know about the murders. So it was in this cute little box, but when I got the knife home, I took it out. You following me so far?

STEEL:            Yes, we’re following you, but I have some questions about regifting. How do you keep track of who gave you what and when?

AARON:         Excel spreadsheet. I can show you how to set it up later, if you’re interested. Anyway, I started carving the first fingernail in the cinnamon when I got this overwhelming feeling of fright. A tidal wave of blood washed in front of my eyes and the sound of a woman screaming kept echoing in my head. When I tried to cover my ears, I dropped the knife Wouldn’t want to stab myself in the head, now would I? Anyway, when I dropped the knife, the vision went away.

GOMEZ:        Psychometry. Same things happens to me.

AARON:         Exactly! Psychometry. It’s so strange finding a kindred spirit in this way. Sort of like Michael Myers stalking her sister until Laurie realizes that it’s her fate. *reaches out and squeezes Gomez’s hand*

STEEL:            *coughs loudly several times* Okay, so the tree had no known enemies. Is that what you’re saying? And please don’t let me put words in your mouth. I wouldn’t want to do that. Not even after you served that. *points at the red punch*

AARON:         Yes, that’s what I’m saying -- unless you count Cujo. It’s a dog that lives down the street. I mean, he was killing that tree by peeing on it every night, so I put that little fence up. Stopped that mama jama in its tracks. It’s wee-wee pads and fire hydrants for that drooling, hyped up mess. He really does need a bath.

GOMEZ:        *snaps his notepad shut* Well, then that concludes this investigation. I think we’ve found our suspect.

AARON:         Cujo? He seems like such a nice rabid dog.

GOMEZ:        Close, but no Milk Bone, Mr. Smith. You see, Cujo is owned by that little girl Charlie McGee. She was in that government experiment.

STEEL:            Yeah, how she starts those fires is just weird. Her hair starts blowing and she pants like this *demonstrates fast, open-mouth breathing* See? Nothing happens when I do it. *officers stand* *shake Smith’s hand* *an object slides out from underneath the collar of Gomez’s shirt*

AARON:         Say, that’s a pretty unusual necklace. Mind telling me where you got it?

GOMEZ:        Grocery store. It’s where I bought the garlic to make it.

AARON:         Garlic?

GOMEZ:        Yeah, we both wear them to keep away the vampires. You know, there’s one on every block. You should start wearing one yourself, sir. They seem to gravitate towards writers.

AARON:         *plays along* Yeah, sure, sure ... I’ll buy a clove .... yup, on every block ... of course. *the two officers exit* *Smith closes door, leaning against it* *exhales a sigh of relief* Weirdos!

Muttering he heads outside. Pulling back the hedges he peers through a neighbor's basement window to watch the experiment of re-animating a dead squirrel with electricity.



Aaron Smith's new horror title CHICAGO FELL FIRST is now available for Kindle and Nook. The zombie tale explores science and civilization in a race for a cure to a zombie outbreak wiping out Chicago. Can one man’s illness be another man’s blessing?"

Here are the links directly to the book.The zombie tale explores science and civilization in a race for a cure to a zombie outbreak wiping out Chicago. Can one man’s illness be another man’s blessing? Published by Buzz Books. 

Aaron Smith is the author of over thirty published stories in various genres. His novels include the spy thriller NOBODY DIES FOR FREE and the vampire novels 100,000 MIDNIGHTS and ACROSS THE MIDNIGHT SEA. More information about his work can be found on his blog at

Buzz Books (publisher of CHICAGO FELL FIRST) site: 


Wendy Potocki lives and writes in NYC. If that isn't scary enough, she writes in the genre of horror. She feels creating good horror is an art form. She religiously devotes herself to pursuing it over hill and dale -- and in the crevices of her keyboard.

Named one of the Top Ten "New" Horror Authors by Horror Novel Reviews, she has six self-published novels. Book trailers for many of her works may be found on her official website Her next planned projects are Thrill, The Witch's Stone, The Virgin, and ZaSo, a Gothic tale of horror. Please subscribe to her mailing list for updates and giveaway information.

In her spare time, she loves to go for long walks, drink Starbucks Apple Chai Lattes, make devotional offerings to her cat named Persephone and be stilled by the grace, beauty and magic of ballet.

Through November 9th, Wendy is running a free giveaway of THE VAMPIRE'S GAME. It's the first in her Adduné trilogy and is a sexy, scary, creepy story that'll keep you up for days.

If you can't get enough Vamps, this one is for you!


No comments:

Post a Comment