Friday, July 17, 2020

"Kill Creek," by Scott Thomas--Fiction Review

Hello obscurists, why don’t we slip into something spooky? I was thinking for today’s review we’d discuss “Kill Creek” by Scott Thomas, and since this is my blog, you’ll have to humor me on that… please. Please humor me on this. It’s so lonely here in the Obscure Dome. 

Scott Thomas

***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***

What I love about this book:

That first chapter after the prologue, man—I still go back and re-read it every few weeks. It feels like auditing part of a master class on horror writing. It feels that way, because well, it is in a way, Sam McGarver is a best-selling horror author teaching a college class on the subject of horror writing. I’ve never been more jealous of college kids. Why I especially like it is, from the little bit of his class, we as the audience get to see, Sam seems like a great teacher and I found it all very engaging.  

"Kill Creek," is a book about writers, specifically horror writers, experiencing a haunted house together, which is a concept that I find infinitely amusing—a model that’s been working for Stephen King for more than half a century, so it ain’t broke.  

As such, when the bestselling authors show up at the creepy mansion, the tone and sense of fall weather, and Halloween style horror is palpable. For me, that’s like a mental warm and cozy wingback chair next to the fireplace, blazing with hellfire. So the whole concept is really in my wheelhouse. 

The fact that these famous authors are all at this haunted house for an interview as a publicity stunt for a wealthy playboy website owner devoted to anything and everything in the horror genre—especially tickles me. I have a website. I talk about horror a lot. Why not Kevin? I like Wainwright, the rich kid who owns the website, as a character, and his earnest endeavor to make all things horror more mainstream, even though the success of his fictional website seems—well, let’s say unlikely. 

What I don’t love about this book:

Sam McGarver isn’t a real person and doesn’t have a freshman-level class I can take, and this book reminds me again that life is just truly unfair.

Back on the topic of the book, and with less melodrama, T.C. Moore, the female author of the group, is problematic as a character. On a side note, I didn’t see this aspect of her character until after I finished the book and a friend pointed it out to me, which goes to show when you like the overall product as much as I did with this book, you can be blind to its faults.  

As a deuteragonist, she has her positives, she’s undoubtedly a very strong-willed woman, but they’re overshadowed by her negatives, which cause her to fall into stock-character parody at times. T.C. Moore falls into that super serious badass woman trope, who isn’t afraid to use her sexuality as a weapon—which is an overcorrection from the weak-willed damsel in distress cliché. Being a badass and having a strong sexual identity aren’t bad things, but they’re literally all of her things, she has no more qualities to round her out. Now given a choice between her or the damsel in distress, I’d pick the super-serious badass woman every time.       

This preview is an Amazon Affiliate link; 
as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

So, the novel begins in the class mentioned above, where Sam McGarver is teaching a class on horror fiction. Specifically, he’s delving into the sub-genre of gothic horror. At the end of the class, he is interrupted by someone asking about his own writing.

After the class is over, Sam meets with his agent. The agent is concerned that Sam is suffering from writer’s block after his separation from his wife. Sam, of course, disagrees, but it should be mentioned he hasn’t produced anything in two years. 

We jump to T.C. Moore going to a dinner with Hollywood studio executives, like Sam, Moore is also a horror writer. Moore’s writing is a bit more extreme than Sam’s, to put it mildly, and the studio wants to tone it down for their adaption of her book, which is named “Cutter.” Moore doesn’t take it well, apparently an everyday thing with her. She storms out, after stabbing one of the executives in the hand with a fork, and returns to her daily rituals of writing, which make her inexplicably prolific.

Soon after, McGarver and Moore, along with two other authors Daniel Slaughter and Sebastian Cole, are invited to an interview. They all choose to travel to the interview and meet with Wainwright, full well knowing from his reputation that there is more to it than just a simple interview. And after a glitzy presentation, their suspicions are confirmed, Wainwright wants them to accompany him and his videographer to a supposedly haunted house at Kill Creek. There they will spend the night, on Halloween, and he’ll interview them for his website. There is some initial resistance from the authors, but Wainwright is paying well, and they all for their various reasons really could use the publicity.

They arrive at the house during the day, and at first, pro forma, nothing seems too unusual. The oddest thing is how well maintained the house is, and some minor creepy things happen, but they never rise to a dangerous level. There is a scary room at the top of the house that is bricked off, so no one can get in it.  The interviews go off mostly without a hitch, other than Wainwright seems to be goading all of the authors, pushing them a little to get a rise, which only exacerbates McGarver’s mistrust for the man, but then again, Sam is suspicious of everything and everyone.

Later in the evening, after all the author’s retire to their rooms in the manor, they experience the supernatural in a way that can be written off as merely disturbing dreams. The next morning, the group is still feeling tense from the adversarial interview, and the location, so everyone is anxious to leave. When they’re going, though, the police show up with bad news, Daniel Slaughter’s daughter had been killed last night in a car accident.

The second half of the novel opens with Sam McGarver, months later, obsessively working on his new book. By obsessive, to the exclusion of all his responsibilities as a teacher, maintaining his home, and even his health. The novel has also ballooned way outside the length of a conventionally sized book, a small detail aspiring novelists will appreciate. Every time McGarver tries to stop, however, creepy supernatural things start to happen, which are reminiscent of Kill Creek, causing him to question his sanity. Speaking of Kill Creek, McGarver’s latest novel is majorly inspired by his experience at the creepy old house. Then when he gets to the part about the characters in his book trying to make their way into a bricked-up room, just like the one at Kill Creek—McGarver hits a wall—figuratively.

Soon after, McGarver, along with Moore, discover that they’ve all been writing essentially the same novel, with the same zeal. They find out that they’ve all been compelled by supernatural forces, which seem to have killed Wainwright’s videographer. Then after they all gather together again, they go and meet with the person who put it in Wainwright’s head that Kill Creek would be a good place for him to pull one of his publicity stunts. That person reveals that the house at Kill Creek isn’t haunted in the traditional sense. There isn’t a specific malignant spirit haunting it. The place itself is evil and powerful. How it derives its power is through notoriety, which is why it needed the authors.

The group returns to Kill Creek to find a way into the sealed room, so they can hopefully figure out a way to destroy the house and its power over them. The house convinces Daniel Slaughter that it can give him back his daughter, and he turns on the rest of the group with bloody consequences. In the end, after the house is destroyed, only McGarver and Moore escape with their lives and during, yet another interview, McGarver isn’t so sure about Moore.        


“Kill Creek” is both a gothic horror novel and a meta-commentary on horror novels in general. Thomas shows that, like the other popular genres, horror also has its own subgenres and themes. These are embodied in the four author characters who make up the core of the group of protagonists. Sam McGarver represents the most contemporary version of the genre, with the classic small town, a nuclear family experiencing a haunted house kind of story. T.C. Moore represents the bleeding edge of the new guard, more interested in exploring how society marginalizes and the alienation of certain groups. Sebastian Cole, in contrast, represents the classic cosmic horror like Lovecraft and has a focus on more literary stylings. Daniel Slaughter, like R.L. Stein, is focused on a YA audience, and like the Goosebumps series, Slaughter’s stories tend to be spooky morality tales.  

I like the supporting character of Wainwright in this story so much because of his quixotic quest to make horror a respectable landed genre within the mainstream. The truth is horror waxes and wanes in popularity and currently isn’t as popular a genre like fantasy, science fiction, mystery, thriller, suspense, or romance. It’s more likely to be broken up as “elements.” For an illustration of my point, these marketing descriptions are common; this story is a fantasy story with horror elements or a romance with horror elements—anyone who has read a vampire novel where someone falls in love with a vampire has surely read one of those.  

Parting thoughts:

Writer’s block is a thing that comes to us all at one point or another. Nothing is more intimidating to a writer than that initial blank page. But sometimes things can be going well, and everything is just flowing, then suddenly the next word dries up. 

It’s especially frustrating for me when I know the next part of what I want to write about, but the in-between part of getting there is the part I’m stuck on, and sometimes I give in to the temptation and cheat. What I mean by that is I’ll jump ahead and work on the bit I’ve been imagining, but here’s the rub; you still have to get there in the end, and that’s a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, jumping around in your story and writing the parts you’re currently imagining or find most interesting can increase your output in the here and now. However, when you have to go back to the transitional parts of the story, your enthusiasm is lower, and that shows in the writing, maybe as stilted uninterested language choice or worse, the dreaded plot hole. Why plot holes develop from this method, is because once you’ve written a future event, you’ve already married yourself to the concept. And like actual marriages, it can be hard and messy to break it off once you’ve invested so much into it—even when you ought to have done so before now. So your transitions to that point in the story can start to make less-and-less sense and sound more-and-more improbable for your characters to do based on the personalities you’ve established. To use a financial concept, what you’re doing is buying a short term benefit—in the form of increased output—at the possible cost of long term quality.    

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