BTB Storytellers episode 6: J. R. Park talks UPON WAKING

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Well, for starters I think Mr Park wins an award for the best author pic so far!

This week, and the following two, we will be spending some storytelling time with the three gentlemen from the Sinister Horror Company.

Justin Park is up first, talking about his extreme horror story ‘Upon Waking’. Mr Park is on a sort of upward curve with the extremity of his writing, it seems. It all started with ‘Terror Byte’, a techno-horror thriller that showed glimpses of where he might eventually take us. Park then took us to the seaside with ‘Punch’, a story that showed a gorier side to his writing. But it wasn’t until last year, when we saw the release of ‘Upon Waking’, a story that has its feet firmly planted on the extreme side of the horror genre. As a disclaimer, it might be good idea to read the book before you peruse this piece as there are spoilers ahead!

J. R. Park has recently released his latest novel ‘The Exchange’ which he says is “a little different for him”. I will be reading and reviewing this one in the not too distant future. Mr Park has also contributed stories to the two charity horror anthologies, released by Sinister Horror Company called ‘The Black Room Manuscripts’, alongside authors such as William Meikle, Graham Masterton, Shaun Hutson and Matt Shaw!

Thanks to Justin for a great piece, and I hope you check out this book and his others.

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Upon Waking

By

J. R. Park

Like most of my stories the inception of Upon Waking came from a number of different ideas bubbling around in my brain that came together to form a union of concept and execution that ignited my imagination.

I began drafting the initial ideas of this round the same time as I completed the Punch script, so sometime in 2012.

My first plan was something that I’d always wanted to do, which was to invert the general form of the slasher.  In almost all slasher tales we see a hulking brute of a man running around slaughtering pretty, young girls.  My idea was to simply reverse this and have a hulking brute of a woman running around slaughtering pretty, young men.  I figured it was time for the women to have their revenge.

It was important to me that not only did womankind get their turn behind the knife, instead of in front of it, but they went further than the men proceeding them.  I wanted them to do it better.

The ‘human dildo’ scene was my initial starting point, hopefully this could be a water cooler moment that really set the stall out, hitting the guys where it hurt.  It’s for this reason that this is the first death scene in the book. Giving the story time and space to build before we reach this point, and making it as shocking as it could be.

Of course from there on Cassie really goes to town…

Secondly, there was an idea I’d had since watching Wolf Creek a year previously.  In that movie there is a point where we follow one person as they try to escape.  Unsettlingly they get captured (I think they might even be killed), then we jump to another victim who had been unconscious.  She wakes up and we follow her.  She tries to escape and through her experience we learn a little more about the psycho kidnapper.  The film then continued in traditional fare, but it left me thinking what a film would look like if the story was told completely in this way.

So for Upon Waking the story would be told through different people’s accounts and viewpoints; each account would begin with the person waking up/coming into consciousness and end with them losing consciousness/dying etc.  Each account would be individual to them but would tell a developing story, each one giving us further details about the killer, her actions and her motives.

I then began jotting down different scenarios in which people could wake up and where they might find themselves to help progress a story.

The killer needed a name, which came to me rather quickly.  I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d based her on them and as I didn’t know anyone called Cassandra it seemed pretty safe.  I shortened it to Cassie as I liked the way it sounded; a name you can say with a lot of venom.

Cassie needed a motive and a satisfactory way of killing and remaining undetected.  I thought that vacuum packing body parts seemed like a clean and smell free way of disposal.  In order to do this you’d need to use a hoover.  This got me thinking: in the initial concept I didn’t want to make any point about her gender, but then I thought, why don’t I take some of the sexist stereotypes and turn them in her favor.  Make her even more empowered by these things rather than being weakened. And so Cassie became, on the surface, a house proud, cleanly-obsessed woman.  But there was more than meets the eye here; we could think she was hoovering when actually she was sealing a body part for disposal in the rubbish.  What you initially thought was one thing turned out to be something else.

But how did she get her victims and what was her motive? 

I had given internet dating a first and decidedly unsuccessful attempt at this time and I had thought about just how you could make fake profiles and lie to people very easily.  This seemed like a great way to lure our young men, again showing something that in actual fact was very different to its initial appearance.

As a quick aside: This concept of ‘things aren’t what they seem’ became a strong theme throughout the book. ’ I hammered this point home in the early chapter ‘Adam’, when he launches into a stoned conversation about The Shining having deeper levels of meaning and even paraphrasing Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven with the line ‘sometimes things have two meanings’. (I didn’t quote the line exactly for fear of any copyright issues).

The theme continues with Cassie appearing as a sweet, kind host, her house appearing as a normal place of residence. Kathryn is first seen as a figure of evil intent by Emily, and the Private Investigator’s phone call to Henry’s Dad, Gary, at the very beginning of the book comes across like a threat. Of course later on we understand she was calling with news about his son, and his reaction was for his son, not about the caller.

Kathryn appears in this theme again as we discover right at the end of the book that she is Charlotte, the woman captured and forced to watch as Cassie indulges in her sadistic pleasures.

The book itself also follows the same theme, revealing not to be what it first appeared; the timeline not being as linear as you first assume. But more about that later…

So my notes sat in a file for a couple of years.  When I started writing books I knew I wanted Upon Waking to be my third book.  It was a little more challenging in concept and so I hoped that by then I would have enough experience to give it a go.

So after Punch I dusted off my notes and began looking at them, picking through the scenarios and finding the best ones with which to hammer out a progressive plot.

Whilst in the midst of doing this I was in conversation with two of my friends.  It was my housemate Jake that listened to my first ideas and gave me the idea that Charlotte should blind herself.  I loved the idea.

Secondly I was visiting Daniel Marc Chant and talking through where I had gotten to so far.  He liked the ideas but when I talked about Henry I explained I wasn’t happy with my idea for his torturous death. I don’t know if he’ll thank me for letting you all know that it was his warped mind that suggested Cassie bite his bollocks off!

As I began building the plot I realized that a great twist would be to mess with the timeline so although you would think it’s running in order you realize when you get to the end that it’s not.  That Stuart could never have escaped as we had already passed his account right at the beginning of the book. In order not to trip myself up I created a chronological timeline of when each chapter happened, something I have toyed with releasing in print at some point.

I finished my first draft and realized that it was not only woefully short (containing 7 chapters), but also seemed to be a bit one dimensional. I needed another story in there, a second layer that weaved throughout it.  The idea came of a private investigator looking for a missing person.  With that Kathryn was born.  Gary would be the lead in to her and made for a more satisfying and cryptic start to the story.  Emily’s chapter was then written in order to introduce Kathryn and I felt this fitted nicely with the ‘things aren’t want they first seem’ theme as she is considered a threat, but of course we later learn that she is the exact opposite.

It was whilst I was writing these I was wondering what was going to happen to Kathryn, and then the idea came to me: let’s really mess the timeline up and have Kathryn as Charlotte. This meant the book was going to have a second twist at the end and one that was even more satisfying for me. (interesting little fact – Kathryn and Charlotte are identical twins that I know, so the naming of the characters was a cheeky little in-joke to the fact they would look the same)

By the time I’d got to the end of draft 5 I really didn’t know if it had worked or not.  Fearing I’d written an incoherent mess I sent it to a few friends to read over and see if they ‘got’ it.  To my delight they all came back saying that they really enjoyed it.  I quizzed them about the twists at the end and they had all understood.  My joy was hearing that it had momentarily confused them and then all made sense, and of course I loved their disgusted reactions to the more extreme scenes.

The cover, like the book, was constructed in parts. The basic design was sketched out by my housemate, featuring an alarm clock with blood dripping down it. A trip to the shops to buy said alarm clock and we were visiting a friend’s house, who graciously let us pull apart their living room whilst we took various photos. After deciding on the best image I treated it in photoshop with a red wash and sent it to Daniel Marc Chant. He in turn passed it to Vince Hunt (creator of the Sinister Horror Company logo), who hit the roof that I dared use the font ‘Chiller’. Within hours he sent back a mock up of his design, using the photograph, but with a layer of split, skin-style texture over the top.

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The design was pure grindhouse, and I loved it.

 

Before its release I was worried about the reaction people might have to the book and almost thought about pulling it. I wanted a reaction, but what I wasn’t expecting was the praise it has received from a wide spectrum of the horror community.

And nothing beats the glee I feel when I know I have disgusted someone.

Alternative Titles

Originally I was going to call it The Waking but found a film with the same name. I trialed a few other titles before I stuck with Upon Waking.  Below are some of those titles:

Maneater

Hysteria

Don’t be fooled

Don’t answer that email

Don’t go on that date

Scorned

A Woman Scorned

Hell Hath No Fury

Unused scenes

In my first plans Cassie was going to take Henry’s penis and slice it in two, length ways, then let him bleed to death.  This is a horrific image and would have been shocking but as we already had penis mutilation with Benjamin I thought the testicle scene was a more varied and better fit.

Fi was a babbling mess, a character that spoke in a demented stream of consciousness from a mind twisted and warped. Through her I was able to suggest the backstory and motives of Cassie. I had toyed with devoting a whole chapter to Fi, having the prose written in the same circular babbling as her speech. This would have provided more details of her own history and experiences in Cassie’s clutches. Whilst this would have been great fun to write, scratching that James Joyce itch, it would have slowed the pace of the story. I felt I had already given enough breathers. Although I still like this idea, and might use it for a sequel.

A sequel you say? I’ll only do it, if I can it get it exactly right, but there are ideas floating around in my mind, just waiting to come together to form a union of concept and execution, igniting my imagination.

Visit Sinister Horror Company.

Visit J. R. Park

J. R. Park Amazon page.

Find him on Facebook and Twitter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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