Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

SIGN UP FOR SNEAK PEEKS OF MY NEXT BOOK + NEWSLETTER-ONLY UPDATES.

IWSG: Simon says…

I must have been the only writer to attend a screenwriting masterclass and be thrilled to discover it was not, actually, a screenwriting masterclass.

You see, I have no interest in writing screenplays. I hope that one day, some talented person will be the one to turn my books into movies or television programs, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have some creative input. But write them myself? I’d rather not.

What I was interested in was the guy giving the masterclass. (Not in that way–get your mind out of the gutter.) Simon Barrett is the screenwriter responsible for two of the most brilliant thrillers to grace the screen in years: The Guest and You’re Next. Even his B-movie creature features are elevated by his sarcastic sense of humour (I highly recommend Frankenfish).

Frankenfish

Seriously, how brilliant is that tagline?

You’d never have known that the guy on stage was someone who got to write movies for a living. Wearing a toque and a shy smile, Barrett admitted he was horrified when he discovered his talk had been billed as a “Screenwriting Masterclass.”

I’m just going to ramble about my career, he said, and you can ask me questions.

He also expressed surprise that there were any women in the audience. (To be fair, we were greatly outnumbered.)

In spite of Barrett’s insistence that he would share nothing of value, he did have several pearls of wisdom that would benefit any writer:

“People like characters who are crafty, and who respond to peril smarter than people think they will.”

Who hasn’t yelled at a character not to investigate that weird sound in the basement alone? Exactly.

“We want to see a person make interesting choices, and struggle with adversity in a clever, fun way.”

“Characters are likeable if they are active.”

“Try to do things you haven’t seen before.”

“Just try not to have contempt for your audience.”

“Think of an original way to truly scare people that hasn’t been done.”

“Take inspiration from horrible movies (or horrible books). How do I do this better?”

“What version of this is no one doing that I would like to see (read)?”

“Anything you can cut out of a script (story) you should. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, get rid of it.”

Though Barrett might roll his eyes about being called inspiring, he truly was. When he said his only goal is just to keep working, I admired that so much. It’s way too easy to lose sight of why we do this crazy thing, and doing it in order to keep doing it is just a noble reason as any. It was fascinating to hear about his struggles through a series of dead-end jobs and unsold scripts to get to where he is today.

And for my fellow Guest fans, did you know The Guest was inspired by the Halloween series? Instead of an actual mask, David’s mask is “the semblance of charming human behaviour.”

Best of all, there will be more Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard movies starring Dan Stevens in the future. I can’t wait.

When I asked Barrett to sign my DVDs, I mentioned that I was a writer who would love to collaborate with him one day. He has a dry, sarcastic wit that people don’t always get. “Were you trying to be funny?” is a question he was asked about both The Guest and You’re Next. Of course those movies were meant to be funny. This really resonated with me, thinking about the reviewers who thought Jackson, a protagonist in the GhostWriters series, was an asshole instead of realizing he was sarcastic.

“Sure, send me something,” he said. “I’ll read anything.”

I don’t know if he meant it or was just being polite, but beyond social media accounts he apparently never checks, I’m not sure how to get a hold of him. I don’t want to be one of those writers. However, if it ever happens, I’ll die happy. At least I tried. And got my DVDs signed like a proper fangirl.

Meeting Simon Barrett

***

BIG writing news

Dalnavert House by Friends of Dalnavert Museum Inc.

Remember how I stayed overnight at the haunted Dalnavert House and had a creepy encounter? Of course you do! Well, I’ve got some good news. As I was writing the required short story for the Fantasmagoriana chapbook, I realized it had the makings of something much bigger. Or at least much longer. The story was meant to be a novel.

After I finished the short version, I contacted Don D’Auria, my editor at Flame Tree Press, and pitched it to him. Once I fleshed out the idea, so to speak, he was game, and then pitched it to his boss. Long story short, the ink is now dry on the digital contract. I’m so excited. This is the very first time I’ve been paid for work I haven’t yet done. Of course, this means that I actually have to write it now. But that’ll be fun, right? Right?

Still more BIG writing news

Happy to announce that my Audible Original thriller, Dragonfly Summer, has a release date–February 13th. If you’d like to be an early listener, and receive a free copy in exchange for a review and spreading the word, either on social media or your blog, please let me know.

Here’s the blurb:

The perfect next listen for fans of Wendy Walker and Shari Lapena, Dragonfly Summer is a gripping thriller that asks: What happens when the past comes back to haunt you?

Jo Carter never thought she’d return to Clear Springs, Minnesota. But when the former journalist receives a cryptic note about the disappearance of her friend Sam twenty years before, she’s compelled to find out what really happened. During her investigation, she learns another high school friend has died in a mysterious accident. Nothing is as it seems, and Jo must probe Clear Springs’ darkest corners and her own painful and unreliable memories to discover the truth – and save herself from a killer who could still be on the hunt.

Deliciously twisty and suspenseful from the first minute to the last, Dragonfly Summer proves that no small town’s secrets can stay buried for good.

***

Happy New Year! I hope you found Simon’s pearls of wisdom useful. May 2020 be a successful, productive year for us all, one in which we hear more good news than bad. Fingers crossed.

The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThose who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

81 Comments

  1. Avatar

    The Ghostwriter series would make brilliant films or TV series!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Jim! Hopefully someone with $$$ they’re willing to spend on it eventually feels the same. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    I would have gone to the Simon’s “screenwriters” class, too. Glad you made a great connection. Congratulations on the book deals!!! I’d be happy to be an early listener to your audible book. I have an audible account. You have my email.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Mary. I’ll definitely be in touch.

      For me, it was a great connection. For him, I’m not so sure…

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    All sorts of goodness! At the very least, the organizer of that event would know how to get a hold of Simon. Pitch something – you never know.
    Congratulations on another contract!
    And thanks for co-hosting today.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Alex. That’s a great idea. Can’t believe I used to be an investigative reporter and I never thought of that!

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    I like the idea of getting inspiration from horrible movies / books. I can think of a few that I could draw from. 🙂

    Congrats on all of your wonderful publishing news. An audio release and a contract – it’s all so exciting! Especially the part about getting paid for something you haven’t written yet.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Ellen. Congrats on publishing the fourth book in your series. I had no idea I’d fallen behind. I’ll have to read Poisoned by the Pier stat, so I can catch up.

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    Wow, some really cool stuff here. First, thanks for co-hosting this month. Congratulations on your publication success and your new contracts. Dragonfly Summer sounds great; I hope it’s a huge Audible success.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Toi. I really appreciate the kind words. May 2020 be an incredible year for all of us!

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    I would have gone to the class too. I once took an online class from screenwriter Alex Sokoloff. Learned so much! Thanks for co-hosting this month. Congratulations on your new audiobook.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Joylene.

      I recently bought an all-access pass to Masterclass, and I’m surprised at the lessons I’m interested in taking. Things I don’t really want to do myself, like play tennis. But I figure almost everyone–especially people who have reached the top of their game–have something valuable to teach about grit, persistence, strength through adversity, etc.

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    You got some great tidbits from that session. You really do need to contact him.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks. I’ve tried, but so far, no luck.

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    I love the part about characters being crafty and responding to peril in smart ways. Lots of good info here – thanks for sharing!

    Congratulations on the contract and the audio release date!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome–glad it was helpful.

      Thanks so much for the kind words. Hopefully the good news will continue.

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    I love hearing Awesome News! Congrats! Thanks for co-hosting!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Cathrina! It was my pleasure.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    There are some real pearls of wisdom in there. The sort of stuff that comes in really useful. I’ve founds that many of my characters and scenes have been inspired by comments overheard in coffee shops

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Richard. I’m glad you found it helpful.

      And that’s really cool, finding inspiration in ordinary life that way.

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    Great post! Wonderful pearls of writing wisdom-thanks for sharing. And a stay at a haunted house . . . you win, hands down. You deserve the money up front! Thanks for co-hosting this month!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Nancy. The overnight was a blast. I was with three other dark fiction writers and we were given full access to a heritage home and allowed to write where we wanted. It was an incredible experience.

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    Love that tagline! I’m a total wimp and can’t do horror so I don’t know anything about Simon. Sounds like he was a great speaker and I like his advice!
    congrats on all the good news – so exciting!

    Reply
    • JH

      The Guest isn’t horror at all, Jemi. It’s definitely a thriller–you should check it out. I highly recommend it.

      Thanks for the kind words. Happy New Year!

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    I can’t wait for the new book! I think your GhostWriter’s series would be make a great adaption–not to mention, THOSE THAT CAME BEFORE.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Kimberly. Hopefully Netflix is listening. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    That sounds like an excellent talk! I especially agree about characters who find clever and interesting ways to overcome adversity. Those are the characters who stick with me the most.

    Reply
    • JH

      If you haven’t watched You’re Next, you totally should. If you like characters finding clever and interesting ways to overcome adversity, you will love that movie.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    Wow! So much good news! What a way to begin the new decade, not to mention new year. Thanks for sharing Simon’s tidbits. They are so worth reading, and applying. Happy rest of 2020!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Lisa. I’m so glad you found them helpful.

      Happy 2020! All the best to you.

      Reply
  16. Avatar

    Sounds like a wonderful masterclass. Congratulations on your new contract!

    Reply
    • JH

      It really was. It was such a treat to get such insight from him, and he was 100% honest. No sugarcoating.

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Reply
  17. Avatar

    Screenwriting intrigues me but I’ve made no attempt to try it. Recently I discovered that the son of my next door neighbor has become not only a screenwriter, but he has also directed some of what he’s written. One of his films is now on Amazon Prime and it’s not bad. It made my wife cry even which I guess means something. To think that fellow used to be an annoying kid who lived next door and now he’s starting to make a name for himself in the screenwriting community. I’ve got to admire his accomplishment.
    Amazon Prime (

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s really cool, Arlee. Guess you never really know who you should be sucking up to. 😉

      Reply
  18. Avatar

    What a ton of great news! Congrats and keep it up. I love your take on the masterclass. I too have no interest in screenplays but have been inspired at several workshops given by people who excel at them. Odd but effective.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Jacqui! If it hadn’t been Simon Barrett, I wouldn’t have considered going, but I’m a huge fan of his work. Even if he’d talked about how many lines to have on each page, I would have found it fascinating. But nowhere near as much.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Patricia!

      Reply
  19. Avatar

    Glad you found Simon’s class inspiring. Thanks for sharing some pearls of wisdom. And thanks for being a co-host.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Natalie. It was my pleasure. Happy New Year!

      Reply
  20. Avatar

    No rest for the wickedly talented! Congrats on heading into the new year with so much Big Writing News! I love it when a writing class is both surprising and productive. Thanks for sharing some of Simon’s tips. And thanks for co-hosting today.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Lee. T’was nothing. And thanks for the kind words.

      I could have listened to Simon talk about his career path all day. I love that stuff.

      Reply
  21. Avatar

    How cool is that! I am so happy you met this man who inspired you and that you took the initiative to ask to collaborate with him. Not too many people would do this. I am glad you were inspired by your ghostly encounter to create a new novel. Cheers to you and a hauntingly good new year

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Birgit! I hope you had a wonderful holiday and very happy New Year.

      I just hope he’s happy that I took the initiative. He might think I’m one of those annoying, opportunistic writers, just waiting for an opportunity to accost him.

      All the best in 2020!

      Reply
  22. Avatar

    Well done, my friend. Lots of good news here. I’m happy for you. Hope to see you tabling alongside me at shows throughout the year.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, A.P. If you mean cons, I’m probably done with those locally unless one makes me a good offer. I’ve just found they’re SO much time for so little return. I’ll still be doing workshops at the library and McNally, though.

      Reply
  23. Avatar

    That’s genuinely fascinating. I’ve heard many of those scriptwriting ideas before, but never phrased as succinctly or all together. Thanks for that.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Dave, but I’m only the messenger. Simon was the font of knowledge.

      I’m glad you found them helpful.

      Reply
  24. Avatar

    So much big news! Congratulations! And best of luck with your upcoming release. You might enjoy getting in touch with author GJ Stephens, he writes horror/thrillers and he’s incredibly generous about sharing his blog for interviews and new releases. Thanks for co-hosting today, as well.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the great suggestion, SE! I’ll have to look him up.

      Reply
  25. Avatar

    Those were useful pearls. Congrats on all the big news. I’ve only ever received a contract once before a novel was completed. Great feeling.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Susan. It’s a new experience for me. Did you find it hindered your motivation at all?

      Reply
  26. Avatar

    Those sound like excellent suggestions made by Simon.
    Congratulations on the contract for the haunted house story. I look forward to listening to the Dragonfly Summer story once it’s out on Audible. Happy New Year to you too and thank you for co-hosting the IWSG.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Kalpana. The man definitely knows what he’s talking about.

      Reply
  27. Avatar

    Sounds like it was definitely a worthwhile class to attend. And congratulations on the successful pitch!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks! I definitely thought it was. How often do we get to meet one of our writing heroes? And it was thoroughly entertaining. I didn’t want it to end.

      Reply
  28. Avatar

    Thanks for co-hosting!

    Reply
  29. Avatar

    Thanks for co-hosting this month. What a treat to listen to Simon Barrett. If he said send something, do it. Find a way to contact him. Don’t delay. Authors don’t say something like that to be polite. Love his sayings you shared, esp. “We want to see a person make interesting choices, and struggle with adversity in a clever, fun way.” Yes! We want to root for a character who is smart, clever, not “too stupid to live.”

    Reply
    • JH

      His characters are awesome. I defy anyone to watch You’re Next and not fall in love with that protagonist and how smart and strong she is. It’s a fabulous twist on the home invasion thriller.

      Well, he just finished shooting a movie here, and now it’s gone into editing, so anything from me would probably get more attention and be received better once editing wraps.

      Reply
  30. Avatar

    That’s some great news! Congratulations!!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thank you! 🙂

      Reply
  31. Avatar

    Wow! You are on fire! I’m so sorry I missed hearing about your ghostly encounter, but I’m stoked to hear you’re getting a deal out of it! *Psst…I think the ghost liked you. 🙂
    Thank you for co-hosting IWSG. Happy New Year to you!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Sheri. Happy New Year!

      As for the ghost liking me, did you read the post? I’m not so sure…

      Reply
  32. Avatar

    Congrats on all the great news. I took a screenwriting class and loved it. Thank you for co-hosting this month. Happy IWSG!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re welcome, and thanks for the kind words. For me, this was a special case. If it hadn’t been Simon Barrett, I never would have gone.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Samantha! Happy New Year.

      Reply
  33. Avatar

    Congrats on meeting one of your writing heroes, congrats on the new book too. I would love to be one of your listeners and I am definitely willing to leave a review and share. I hope you have a fantastic year. You are so inspiring. I’m a little late making the rounds. Happy IWSG!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Juneta. I’ve put your name on the list to receive an ARC!

      Reply
  34. Avatar

    Congrats on the new story. I couldn’t imagine visiting a haunted house though. I’d be too much of a chicken.

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, it’s always an “allegedly” haunted house, but I can attest to the veracity of this one.

      Reply
  35. Avatar

    Love the idea of a smart hero. I always try to make my characters smart too, instead of brawny.
    Congrats on your new contract. Thanks for co-hosting this month.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Olga! Brains beats brawn, every time.

      Reply
  36. Avatar

    Congratulations all around, JH. Such exciting news – from the opportunity to pitch something to Simon, to the audio book, to the “real author” step of getting an advance to write a book. You are so on the right track and it’s only getting better. May 2020 be as successful or better than 2019 and may it bring you happiness, peace, furry and human love, and some relaxation as well.

    PS: When I read your title “Simon says…” I thought your post had to to with Ellen’s mischievous imaginary cat. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Liesbet. Same to you! I hope 2020 is a great year for you.

      Simon is also the name of my partner. I guess it’s a popular choice. 🙂

      Reply
  37. Avatar

    Thanks for co-hosting and Happy 2020!

    Those are some great questions to ask. He sounds very humble and glad you enjoyed the class.

    You had a creepy encounter at a haunted house? You’re a braver woman than me. Don’t think…no wait, I know I wouldn’t have done it. But at least you got a new novel idea out of it.

    Reply
    • JH

      He was definitely humble. Really took the mystique out of the career of Hollywood scriptwriting.

      Reply
  38. Avatar

    J.H.,
    thank you for dropping by my humble blog and leaving a helpful comment. I love what you’re saying here. Thank you for sharing your experience at Barrett’s Workshop, I would’ve loved to be there. That’s fabulous advice to give your characters a clever way at handling adversity–I’ve always tried to do that because I don’t want them to dumbly follow the creepy gurgle coming from the basement, either. LOL

    I’m interested in reviewing your book if it’s not too late, and I’d love to become friends with you!

    elizabethmueller6 (@) gmail (.) com

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Elizabeth. What a lovely comment! Always happy to make new friends.

      I’ve added you to the ARC list. Hopefully you should be hearing from the team at Audible soon.

      Reply
  39. Avatar

    Ask Barrett’s publisher to forward correspondence from you to him. That way, you don’t seem to be a stalker trying to find his address. Be sure to include your C.V and the fact he wanted to hear from you.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s a good idea, Mark, but as Barrett is a screenwriter, not a novelist, he doesn’t have a publisher.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.