Mick Garris: The Horror Stories That Reside Within Us - Writer's Digest

Mick Garris: The Horror Stories That Reside Within Us

Award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter Mick Garris shares the writing process for his collection (These Evil Things We Do), what surprising thing happened during the publishing process, how writing a story is different than a script, and more!
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Award-winning filmmaker Mick Garris began writing fiction at the age of 12. By the time he was in high school, he was writing music and film journalism for various local and national publications, and during college, edited and published his own pop culture magazine. He spent seven years as lead vocalist with the acclaimed tongue-in-cheek progressive art-rock band, Horsefeathers.

Mick Garris

Mick Garris

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His first movie business job was as a receptionist for George Lucas’s Star Wars Corporation, where he worked his way up to running the remote-controlled R2-D2 robot at personal appearances, including that year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Garris hosted and produced “The Fantasy Film Festival” for nearly three years on Los Angeles television, and later began work in film publicity at Avco Embassy and Universal Pictures. It was there that he created “Making of…” documentaries for various feature films.

Steven Spielberg hired Garris as story editor on the Amazing Stories series for NBC, where he wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 44 episodes. Since then, he has written or co-authored several feature films (Nightmare Cinema, *Batteries Not Included, The Fly II, Hocus Pocus) and teleplays (Amazing Stories, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Masters of Horror), as well as directing and producing in many media: cable (Tales From the Crypt, Pretty Little Liars, Witches of East End, Once Upon a Time), features (Critters 2, Sleepwalkers), television films (Desperation), series pilots (The Others, Lost in Oz), network miniseries (The Stand, The Shining, Bag of Bones), and series (She-Wolf of London, Fear Itself).

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He is Creator and Executive Producer of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series, as well as creator of the NBC series, Fear Itself, both anthology series of one-hour horror films written and directed by the most famous names in the fear-film genre: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, George Romero, John Landis, Dario Argento, and several others. Garris also is a writer and director on both series. Garris was also Executive Producer and Director of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones miniseries for A&E. He is currently developing three series.

Mick is also known for his highly rated podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garris, where he sits down with some of the most revered filmmakers in the horror and fantasy genre for one-on-one discussions, including the likes of Stephen King, John Carpenter, Roger Corman, Walter Hill, Neil Gaiman and many others.

(13 Stephen King quotes on writing.)

His new book, These Evil Things We Do: The Mick Garris Collection, featuring four novellas and his second novel, Salome, was published by Fangoria Press in 2020. A Life in the Cinema, his first book, was a collection of short stories and a screenplay based on one of the included stories, published by Gauntlet Press. Garris’ first novel, Development Hell, was published by Cemetery Dance, who are also publishers of his novellas, Snow ShadowsTyler's Third Act, and Ugly. He has also had many works of short fiction published in numerous books and magazines.

A biography, Master of Horror, by Abbie Bernstein, will be published in early 2021.

In this post, Garris shares the writing process for his collection, what surprising thing happened during the publishing process, how writing a story is different than a script, and more!

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Learn from the experts on how to write a horror story that excites readers for decades (or centuries)! Even the scariest and most attention-grabbing horror story ideas will fall flat without a foundation of knowledge about the genre and expectations of the audience. In this collection, you'll find practical tips for writing horror stories that are plausible and cliché-free.

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Name: Mick Garris
Literary agent: Echo Lake Entertainment
Title: These Evil Things We Do: The Mick Garris Collection
Publisher: Fangoria Press
Genre: Horror Fiction

Elevator pitch for the book: A collection of four novellas and a novel that delves deep into what man and woman are capable of. The deepest horrors are often found within ourselves in this nervy collection that dives deep into the concept of “Awful People.”

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What prompted you to write this book?

This book is a collection of stories that I created in between my work as a screenwriter and director of films and television. Each of them was crafted in a very personal sense, to pursue storytelling without needing to consider film budgets, impossible locations, studio politics, ratings, creative egos, or other stumbling blocks to conveying intimate stories. It was crafted to utilize the beauty of language, to create tales where words matter, and are not merely blueprints to a cast and crew. 

(20 screenwriting myths.)

I wanted to continue my dive into the human psyche, and to take some of my own least noble traits and amplify them a thousand-fold, to lay bare my most shameful thoughts and actions in terrifying and sometimes darkly humorous ways, with an intimacy between thoughts and actions that you can’t do on the screen.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

Because each of these stories were written independently of one another, despite the thematic similarities of piercing our darkest capabilities, each one was written very quickly, the longest gestation being the novel Salome, which took two months to complete. That and three of the other stories were printed in individual volumes on their own. 

The latest novella, Free, was written very shortly before the book was committed to be published by Fangoria, which was in the process of forming their own national imprint. So it took some months for that to come together and become one of their first books published.

Were there any surprises in the publishing process for this title?

Well, there was one big one. Fangoria’s owner company was embroiled in a controversy that led to its dissolution of their book publishing wing, and the titular magazine behind the whole enterprise was sold to new owners, who have not yet got the company up and running again. So two weeks before the book’s publication, the company went out of business, though the book itself is still being published through Amazon.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

There were experiments I wanted to make in my writing process, because, as the great author Richard Matheson says, film is external and fiction is internal. The novella Free is written in the first person, about a young mother who is driven to escape from family life as her twin children and distant husband drive her to near madness. Could I write in the first person in such an empathic mode? That was my challenge, and I found myself easily finding her heart and soul (and her overloaded sense of guilt and self-loathing).

In wearing the mind and body of characters who are seemingly not at all like me is my job as an author, but could I get under the skin of an arrogant Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who cannot tolerate less than comely humans, as in Ugly? It was surprising how comfortable I was in digging deep into those ruptured, festering minds. And to commit unspeakable acts while living within those souls.

(How I interviewed a serial killer and stayed sane.)

It surprised me how easy it was. Gulp!

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope they enjoy their journeys into these five stories and their characters. As dark as these stories tend to get, there is an underlying sense of humor, and an attempt for the audience to understand and identify with actions that we hope we never make… but feel capable of. 

They are horror stories, some more sanguinary than others, but all of them are about people and what motivates them, and I hope that we can tell horror stories that aren’t about the splatter or arcane monsters, but about the scary shit that resides within us, waiting to be let out.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Something I learned from Stephen King, with whom I have collaborated often in films and television adaptations of his work: to be fearless, to not let trends and other people in power talk you out of your originality and intent. To be bold enough to bare your soul, and not to inhibit yourself when you’re putting your heart into your words. And that the first draft is just for you.

*****

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If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you’re seeking isn’t craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren’t good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can’t write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly!

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