Family is forever through the good, bad, rough and easy. It is an institution that causes drama, creates happiness, brings out the worse in us and unconditionally is a foundation of love. Dream Woods by Patrick Lacey embodies the very dynamic and complicated idea of family through multiple perspectives reflecting age, desire, limitations, power and the idea of happiness. This novel reflects connecting dramatic storytelling that weaves truly wicked humor and horror that thrusts you into shoes of each character mindset and even deeper into darkness of the legend of the theme park in Dream Woods. Patrick Lacey took some time out to talk with the Horror News Network about character development, the horror of family, influences, strong female characters and a vending machine that is deadly and honest.
Jay Kay: Thank you, Patrick for taking some time out to talk about your latest book Dream Woods. One of the scariest aspects of growing up whether by age or maturity is reflecting on the past memorable moments as part of your childhood. In Dream Woods, we see a family go on a Griswold vacation from hell. Tell me about how the novel came together and the impact of a powerful memory that can become an obsession?
Patrick Lacey: Thanks for having me! I wanted to write a destination horror novel. I love the idea of having the setting be a character in and of itself. I’m also interested in the idea that memories are never truly accurate. You may be able to recall some moment in your life with what you believe to be total clarity but the fact of the matter is this: your mind is filling in the gaps. I have a great memory. I can remember learning how to count in the high chair while eating macaroni and cheese. But, like Vince, I tend to romanticize certain recollections. For him, Dream Woods is the best place that’s ever existed. But as the novel progresses, we learn that’s far from the truth. Which begs the question: was it ever all that angelical to begin with, or was his mind painting this nightmare into heaven on earth?
JK: Before we fully jump into the story, reading Dream Woods you see influence from authors like The Eagles and Roald Dahl as well as films like They Live!, Westworld and Escape from Tomorrow for sure. What were the influences that went into not only the family but the theme park world that from almost chapter one is so creepy and consuming?
PL: I definitely loved Escape from Tomorrow and growing up, They Live! was in heavy rotation at the Lacey household. It’s hard to deny their influence on Dream Woods because, even from a very early age, I’ve always been fascinated with how fragile reality is. I always got this feeling that if we just stopped for a moment and studied the world around us—really took it all in instead of working, studying, etc.—there we’d notice something. Something beneath the surface. That theme runs through most of my work but it’s probably no more evident than in Dream Woods.
JK: At the dark heart of this story, we see a family in turmoil for a variety of reasons including complacency, mistakes, obligation, denial and more. Talk with me about the construction of The Carter’s? Also, what as an author does realistic horror offer?
PL: Family is scary. In fact, any kind of relationship, whether it be by blood or otherwise, can be scary. Think of how many families and friendships have been ruined by grudges or fights. Think about how quickly people can change. For the Carters, though, the problem is simple. They’ve drifted apart. Happens to the best of us. But with their situation, I truly believed throughout the writing process that if they just sat down and had an actual conversation, most of their problems could’ve been solved. That’s another theme that runs throughout the book: lack of communication. If they’d bared their souls earlier on, before they let this distance boil over, they wouldn’t have gone to Dream Woods to begin with. But then I would’ve had to write a happy ending and where’s the fun in that?
JK: Why make Vince and Audra punk rock, wild and tattooed? Did you write to punk music or are you a fan? What kind of canvas did it offer you to have such complexity and depth in each of these characters? What was the thinking behind having twin boys like Tim and Andrew?
PL: Growing up, my hometown had nice little music scene with lots of punk and metal. Not to mention Boston itself has a huge hardcore scene. I thought it made sense to have Vince and Carter part of that scene. It gives them a certain dynamic because Vince has all but moved on from those days. He’s settling into adulthood just fine, doesn’t feel like the scene is part of his identity anymore. But with Audra, she doesn’t want to leave the scene. She wants to live in it forever, free of any responsibilities. They’re in vastly different places in their life, which is what initially leads to their issues and their trip to New England’s favorite haunted amusement park. Regarding the twins, I thought it would be interesting to have them be the same age, have the same appearance, but also be the polar opposite of each other. This comes into play later in the novel, when the park starts using its influence on the Carters but for fear of spoiling anything, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.
Dream Woods is no Disney. However, it does have the unknown factor that when you pull back the curtain, you see the darkness that reflects secrets that no one should no. DREAM WOODS is surrounded by legend, rumor and truth pertaining to why it was shut down and then mysteriously re-opens after decades. Talk to me about forming the back story of the theme park and the restoration of it? Did Dream Woods come together in the pre-writing or was it more fully developed during the process of writing the story?
I love the idea of rumors. They fascinate me because there’s always at least a kernel of truth to them, no matter how outlandish they may be. With Dream Woods, I wanted to use the rumors as a way to hint to the reader that all is definitely not right at the park. I allude to fun things like mass murder and ritualistic sacrifice but you never find out what truly happened there. But in a way, all the rumors are true to some degree. As far as the park’s backstory, we don’t get much light shined on the subject until about the halfway point of the novel when a former employee enters the narrative. I don’t outline, although sometimes I’ll decide some of the key points I want to hit with a book ahead of time. With Dream Woods, though, I had no idea about its origin until I was writing about it. The whole backstory—or at least the little we’re given—practically wrote itself.
JK: Did you living in New England play a role in the overall feel and creation of Dream Woods? New England has its share of seedy and scary figures. What makes the Dream Woods mascot so scary?
PL: For sure. I’ve lived in New England, not too far from Salem, all my life and there’s something distinctly creepy about it. That’s part of the reason I never left. It’s a horror writer’s dream (pun intended) come true. With the theme park, I wanted to make sure it seemed very New England and I think (hope) I’ve accomplished that to some extent. Regarding Sebastian, the Dream Woods mascot, I got the idea from watching those old Six Flags commercials. The ones where a school bus rolls up and an old man steps outside, dancing faster than any human being ought to dance. I’m not sure if the creators of these advertisements thought the bit was comedic but I sure as hell didn’t. That guy scared me to death, so I had my work cut out for me while trying to ponder on a new mascot. Sebastian is creepy but he’ll never come close to that senior citizen with the killer dance moves.
JK: As Vince convinces his family to follow him on his childhood memories of Dream Woods, we see kind of a creepy and desperate side to each of the family members mutating from the issues already present. This is developed though several troupes of horror storytelling but come together so effectively to show the dark side of each character. Are the Carter’s good people? Talk with me about developing those characters and how Dream Woods would play into the truth and horror of it?
PL: Each of the Carters has their own baggage (both literally and figuratively) they bring to Dream Woods. I thought it would be interesting for the park to not only be able to sense these issues but exploit them. Then the haunting wouldn’t just be random. It would be personal. There’s something terrifying about a haunted place knowing your inner most fears and being able to make them a reality (using the term lightly). This became another major theme during the writing process.
Once the family enters Dream Woods, you have several chapters that develop the mask covering the theme park before pulling it off and learning about the motives as well as the entity pulling the strings. This entity is not a beast but gentleman. “The Director” wears a suit, has business sense and is rotten to the core. He is a very interesting and smart monster. Talk with me about forming more a business/corporate monster rather than beast to be at the center of Dream Woods?
It’s no secret that Bentley Little is one of my favorite authors of all time and a huge influence on me. When I was first trying my hand at writing, I was reading his books almost monthly. Couldn’t get enough of them. That’s because he and I share a fascination with corporate entities. His novel THE STORE imagines a “Walmart-esque” change of businesses that not only shut down smaller business in each town they open, but offer something much more sinister than competitive prices. In a sense, with the corporate structure of Dream Woods, I was trying to explore this interest of mine, although Mr. Little does it a billion times better than me.
JK: Dream Woods offers different layers of communication. We see the lack of communication as the horror and paranoia develop for each character. We see different types of communication between Vince and Audra. We see it in a wicked way between park staff and the visitors. We see it even in the advertisement of the theme park on more of a low-key way. Talk with me about your thinking on communication in Dream Woods and why it is so hard to actually communicate?
PL: As I mentioned above, communication (or lack thereof) plays an important role in Dream Woods. There’s something inherently sad about all of the characters (even the villains) because everything, every single problem and conflict, could’ve been settled if only there was some form of communication with not only each other but themselves. These characters refuse to admit that their lives are spiraling out of control because they don’t want to upset the apple cart, to use a cliché. If they were more open to not only recognizing their issues, but also addressing them, they wouldn’t be stuck in the most dangerous place on the eastern seaboard.
JK Dream Woods has its moments of levity and twisted humor. It is needed to balance out the growing dread and tension of the story. Figures like Doris, the sinister influence on the minds of the visitors as well as just small things that you chuckle out loud but yet make you feel uncomfortable. How important was infusing humor in its diverse forms throughout the book? How much fun was writing the vending machine scene?
PL: That vending machine scene might just be my proudest accomplishment as a writer. I’m not even joking. Writing that was a blast and I recently read it in front of a crowd. Got plenty of chuckles. I like tonal shifts in books, especially when the setting offers so much dread and oppression. It’s a good way to calm the reader down before smacking them all over again. You probably won’t be laughing out loud at these tonal shifts but I hope you’ll at least crack a smile. Then I can get back to trying to scare you.
JK: Can you talk with me about the female characters in Dream Woods? Why was it necessary to have Regina’s storyline a part of the overall story arc?
PL: I grew up in a family with strong women. My father was an artist and stay-at-home dad, and my mother was a critical care nurse (i.e. the bread winner), so I never had any preconceived notions about gender roles. Most of my books have strong female leads and Dream Woods is no exception. Regina’s role in the narrative is two-fold. Firstly, it helped build some of the backstory and mythology of the park. Also, I could get the reader into the park, behind the scenes and deeper than the Carters could get. She’s also not introduced until about the halfway point of the novel. We then get several flashback chapters. I always try to write books in a completely chronological fashion but I’m a sadist and my mind doesn’t let me do anything without complicating things.
JK: What was the scariest part of the story to create and experience? For me, it was Vince trapped behind the doors inside the Dinosaur part of Dream Woods while the park visitors went through terrible things. It offered so much to the reader to just lose their minds to the sensory terror that unfolded behind the doors. What was it for you?
PL: Let’s pull the curtain aside with this one. There’s a scene in which Andrew, one of the two Carter twins, wakes from a nightmare and is certain beyond doubt that a man named Raymond is standing just outside his hotel room door. Who is Raymond? He’s a made-up bogeyman his parents used when he was little to keep him from roaming out of the yard. This is totally true. My parents told me there was a creep by the same name that prowled my neighborhood. It was perhaps a bit cruel but damn if it didn’t work. I never once wandered away. That’s effective parenting right there.
JK: What is next for you and where can we find out more?
PL: As I mentioned right above, I have another novel coming out through Sinister Grin next year. DARKNESS IN LYNNWOOD is not only my longest novel but also my most personal. It involves a teenage cult that only seems to attract the popular kids. I’m immensely proud of it and can’t wait to unleash it upon the world. Then, in 2018, we’ll see the release of BONE SAW. Like DREAM WOODS, this was going to be released through Samhain before their meltdown. It’s now found a home with Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. I’ve worked with them on several short stories and am stoked to be releasing a full-length book with them. This one is much more comedic and over the top than most of my other work. It’s got movie monsters come to life, vengeful she-demons, and a bumbling private investigator who’s addicted to cough syrup? Did I mention it’s also a love story? For folks who want to connect with me, look me up on Facebook or Twitter (@patlacey) or check out my website at patrickclacey.wordpress.com. Thanks again for asking these amazing questions!
Interview conducted by Jay Kay @JayKayHorror