The first time I heard about Eel River, Shannon wrote me a lovely, creepy story for my anthology CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE URBAND KIND called "The Hippie Monster of Eel River." I was intrigued. Now, Shannon talks about using her own life as inspiration for a horror story even though her life wasn't horrific.
My Life Is Not A Horror Story...So Why Is My Novel?
When I was five, my parents bought seventy-two acres of raw land in the middle of nowhere, intending to establish a self-sufficient, back-to-the-land commune. They sold all our worldly goods and moved us out of the big, corrupt city. We had no electricity or indoor plumbing in our one-room A-frame cabin with a loft. Our land was twenty-five miles from the nearest “big” town; a little crossroads with a store and a gas station was ten miles away. (Though we never shopped there, because they didn’t like hippies.)
It was just us the first year—my parents, me, and my one-year-old brother. He slept in a crib which took up half the army surplus tent we lived in while my dad built the cabin. Mom cooked over a campfire till we moved indoors, whereupon she upgraded to a wood cook stove. Marvelous things came from that stove! I can still remember perfect lemon meringue pies, though of course, mostly we ate more basic Seventies Vegetarian Hippie Fare—lots of tofu, cheese, and broccoli.
I played alone a lot, outside whenever I could, reading when the weather kept me indoors. My favorite thing to do was construct little villages where tiny ceramic animals would drive around in Matchbox cars and visit each other. The world in my head was very social, even as my life was quite isolated and quiet. (It’s no mystery to me at all why I became a writer!) I was a shy, maybe even spooky child, awkward around people, lonely but also content to be solitary.
Yet it was an idyllic time. The land was beautiful, and I had absolute freedom to roam it. We had a gorgeous stretch of beach on the river—the Eel River—and, once I learned how to swim, you could hardly get me out of the water. I loved our goats, and our dogs; I even liked the other people who came to live on the land, even though it never really turned into the functional commune my parents had dreamed about.
So, how did all this turn into the horror novel Eel River?
It’s a funny process, how a story becomes Story. Most writers have had the experience of trying to tell some amazing story about their lives—only to have it not work at all, narratively. All sorts of interesting things happened on the land. But when I tell you about it as it happened, it’s just a series of details, without any coherent meaning.
I knew that I needed a Story to tie together the details of my story. So I thought about what it meant to me, to grow up in such an odd environment. I had to learn a lot of resourcefulness and self-sufficiency early on; I saw adults differently than most of the other kids at school did. I had to learn how to straddle the divergent worlds of elementary school with redneck farmers’ kids and my home with pot-smoking hippies. I was sort of an outsider everywhere, observing the different tribes.
In writing the novel, I wanted a self-sufficient, spooky little girl as the protagonist. Naturally, she needed something huge to challenge her. Something that threatened not only her, but her home and everyone she cared about.
I created a monster.
And once I had those elements, set in a place I was utterly familiar with, the Story just flowed. But not back to where it started...rather, forward to something new. And that ‘something new’ was a horror novel: Eel River.
I hope you enjoy the “trip.”