Here’s another fantastic guest essay, this time from Brett McBean, author of THE INVASION. To learn more about the book and to purchase it, follow any of the product links on this page.
About Brett McBean:
Brett McBean is an award-winning horror and thriller author. His books, which include The Mother, The Last Motel and Wolf Creek: Desolation Game, have been published in Australia, the U.S., and Germany.
He’s been nominated for the Aurealis, Ditmar, and Ned Kelly awards, and he won the 2011 Australian Shadows Award for his collection, Tales of Sin and Madness.
He lives in Melbourne with his wife, daughter and German shepherd.
Find out more at: brettmcbean.com
The Invasion of Fear
By Brett McBean
Writers are often given the advice: write what you know. For writers of horror fiction I’d suggest a slight refinement: write what you fear.
For me, the threat of home invasion is high on my fear list. Home should be a sanctuary. A place you can retreat to in order to escape the violence and insanity out there. A place that, once the doors are closed and locked, you can fully relax and know that whatever else is happening in your life, whatever bad things are happening out there, you at least have the safety and comfort of home.
Except when the bad things from out there come into your sanctuary.
That, to me, is the ultimate betrayal of safety. For such a violent force to come into your home means all bets are off. There’s nowhere safe in the world. All the gates, security lights and locked doors can’t ward off the bad things, and that is a terrifying prospect.
I’ve long been fearful of the threat of home invasion. I remember lying awake at night as a boy, staring at my bedroom window, imagining someone creeping around outside with the intention of breaking into my room. Sometimes, if I was in a particularly brave mood, I’d hop out of bed and pull back a corner of the blind and take a peek out into the darkness, to allay my fears that a bad man was in fact out there (most of the time I’d imagine this bad man looking like a maskless Jason Voorhees).
Even now, as an adult, I occasionally get out of bed and walk around the dark house, checking the windows and peeking outside. I also, like many people I suspect, keep a weapon beside my bed for protection (currently it’s a heavy fireplace fork). Just in case.
Because we humans are morbidly fascinated by that which scares us, I’ve also had a long interest in true crime cases involving home invasion (as well as home invasion movies – hey, it’s fun to be scared, right?). If someone were to ask me what the scariest book I’d ever read was, I’d answer without hesitation: Helter Skelter (with In Cold Blood close behind). No book has ever given me the creeps like when I first read Helter Skelter, sitting up in bed at night, immersed in the horrific exploits of Charles Manson and his followers. Not surprisingly, the parts concerning the two home invasions hit me the hardest. I couldn’t get what those poor victims went through out of my head. The pain, but also the terror. Because the victims weren’t just murdered, they were chased and tied up, tortured and butchered. These weren’t quick kills. The murderers toyed with their victims. They prolonged their fear and suffering. And for what end?
That was the other aspect of the crime spree that was as confounding as it was terrifying. The young people who committed these atrocities weren’t hardened criminals. They weren’t serial killers with long histories of assault and animal cruelty. They weren’t hired killers out to collect their fee. They were kids, most with no prior convictions. Kids caught up in a combination of disillusionment, mind-altering substance abuse and a man named Charlie. It was this aspect of the murders that added an extra element of horror. That such apparently ‘normal’ young people could end up perpetrating such brutal murders, merely through a bizarre yet not wholly unique set of circumstances, was almost unthinkable. That the human mind could be so easily coerced into taking another person’s life, for no discernibly sane reason, was terrifying.
The Tate-LaBianca murders of August 1969, were the inspiration behind my novel, The Invasion. I wanted to write a novel that dealt completely with the occurrence of a home invasion. I wanted to explore what it might be like to experience such a hellish ordeal; what Sharon Tate and the other victims might have suffered through. Ultimately, I wanted to face my own fears. Because at its most basic level, that’s the appeal of horror: confronting your fears in relative safety.
That’s why I chose to keep the viewpoint solely within that of the victims. The story isn’t about the why, what leads the group of home invaders to break into a stranger’s house and carry out a brutal mass murder. It’s about fear. The fear of the protagonists. Just as the victims of the Tate-LaBianca murders almost certainly wouldn’t have known who their intruders were or why they had come to harm them, I wanted my characters (therefore the reader) to be just as in the dark as to the motivations behind the killers in the novel. Sure there are hints and suggestions, but ultimately there’s no true motive behind the home invasion. The protagonists in my story are more concerned with staying alive. The who and the why are secondary. The terror and the fight for survival are paramount.
Even though I drew inspiration from the infamous murders of the late ‘60s, I didn’t want to simply recount the crimes. Instead, I updated the scenario to a modern setting; to a nice outer Melbourne suburb, to be exact. I kept the basic outline of the crime – a plush home of a successful artist (in this case a writer instead of an actress) is invaded by a group of young people who proceed to torment the occupants – but I extended the night’s horrors, and made the cult a product of the internet-age rather than a bunch of hippies from a commune. I thought, if Manson was starting out now and building his gaggle of naïve and disenfranchised followers, he most likely wouldn’t do it by creating a commune out in the desert. No, he’d use the internet. He’d collect his group by trawling the message boards and infiltrating sites populated by the young, the gullible, the outsiders. So, I made my cult one born from the internet; still as detached from emotions, brainwashed and bloodthirsty as their real-life counter-culture counterparts, but with a modern day twist. It’s the Manson murders for the 21st century, complete with smartphones and Instagram accounts.
Still, what The Invasion is really about is fear. I may have written the novel as a grown man over forty years after the Tate-LaBianca murders took place, but at heart I’m still just a boy of ten, awake in the dead of night, dreading the thought of a stranger from out there coming into my world of comfort and safety and turning it into one of pain and terror.
I’m still a teenager curled up in bed reading Helter Skelter for the first time and feeling a sense of dread while reading about the shocking nights of murder.
I can’t ever truly know what those poor people went through on those two dreadful summer nights at the tail end of the peace and love movement. Nor would I want to. I’m thankful all I have to draw on is my fear.
When writing horror fiction, sometimes what you fear is a lot safer than what you know.