Father and son writing teams are nothing new, and are perhaps more common than you might think — Alexandre Dumas, pere, and Alexandre Dumas, fils; H.G. Wells and Anthony West; William Buckley and Christopher Buckley; Charles Dickens and Charles Dickens Jr.; John Updike and David Updike: and, of course, Stephen King with both Joe Hill and, more recently, Owen King, are a few examples — but few are the teams that marshal such seamless and chilling storytelling in so brief a novel as noted authors Richard Chizmar and son, Billy Chizmar.
The Chizmar’s “Widow’s Point,” (Cemetery Dance) is a contemporary ghost story that manages to do what few contemporary ghost stories achieve — read like a classic.
Given Richard Chizmar’s background as the founder of Cemetery Dance Publications and recent co-authorship, with Stephen King, of “Gwendolyn’s Button Box” (read the Mountain Times’ interview at https://goo.gl/nDhv3D), that comes as little surprise.
Still, the story of the Widow’s Point Lighthouse in Harper’s Cove advances the “one man set on debunking the haunted house” genre, conjuring a mixture of soft- and hard-trod ground in a story that at once feels familiar and new. And, given the breadth of horror fiction currently available, that is a surprise.
To talk about their collaboration, Mountain Times reached out to the writing team with a few questions. The answers printed here have been edited for clarity and length.
Tom: There is a long literary history of father and son writing teams, from Alexandre Dumas to Stephen King, how did the partnership of Richard and Billy Chizmar come about?
Richard: Mark Parker asked us each to contribute to his sea-based horror anthology, “Fearful Fathoms,” and I suggested to Billy that we collaborate. I came up with the initial idea of a paranormal writer looking for his next blockbuster inside a haunted lighthouse, and the rest took off from there.
After “Widow’s Point” was finished, I reread it and immediately knew there was a lot more to the story that we hadn’t uncovered. I suggested to Billy that we expand it into a full-length novella and he jumped at the idea.
Billy: It seemed natural. My father has always coached me in athletics, and was my biggest supporter throughout my early writing career. We’re best friends and have always been so close that collaboration seemed inevitable. Nevertheless, I’m very grateful Mark Parker sparked it!
Tom: Tell me about the story itself — where the idea came from and how you worked on the plot together.
Richard: We didn’t have much of the storyline in our heads when we started. We figured most of the writers in the anthology would craft stories actually set on the sea, and we wanted to do something a little different. That’s where the lighthouse came into the picture. But we had no idea that we were going to create so much backstory and history for the town and lighthouse. Or, what the specific plot points were going to be. As for the process, we just traded the manuscript back and forth for a month or so. Rewrote each other. Added. Subtracted. Made suggestions to each other. It was a really free-writing process, and I think the finished story shows that.
Billy: I really wanted to mix in a Lovecraftian thread. I wanted to experiment with a character’s slow descent into madness, and furthermore, see how well I could pull it off. As a result, I ended up writing more of the ending during the first pass. It turns out that, while the finished story contains everything but the kitchen sink, my original finale included not only the sink, but also an entire set of kitchen appliances. It was ambitious to say the least!
Tom: You’ve managed to answer that old conundrum about how to tell an advancing fate ghost story with a first-person narrator. Along the way, you’ve also updated the way stories are told to incorporate the way modern readers consume literature. Where did that come from?
Richard: Honestly, using the video camera and voice recorder seemed a natural fit for this story and this character. If I was going to stay several nights in a haunted lighthouse, I would lug the same equipment along with me. The rest is just one of those happy accidents I often talk about when it comes to writing. We simply went where the story took us. We didn’t know ahead of time that the camera would stop functioning the moment he stepped inside the lighthouse or that the voice recorder would become such a critical part of the story. It wasn’t until the early reviews started pouring in that we realized how well it had all worked out.
Billy: I always had “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James in the back of my head. It was such a great model for a first-person descent into madness. The modern update was an experiment that turned out really well. I don’t think we could’ve pulled it off if we weren’t the cinephiles that we are!
Tom: Tell me about the artwork in this brief (150-page) novel. As expected of a Cemetery Dance publication, the illustrations from cover to story are extraordinary.
Richard: Widow’s Point is a modern ghost story, but much of the backstory takes place decades and even centuries in the past. At its dark heart, it’s also a very old-fashioned take. We knew we wanted detailed black-and-white line drawings to illustrate the story, and longtime Cemetery Dance favorite, Glenn Chadbourne, immediately came to mind. As usual, Glenn hit it out of the park. The illustrations are terrific.
Billy: All the artwork is amazing. Glenn Chadbourne killed the interior illustrations. Bob Eggleton’s wrap-around cover for the trade edition is gorgeous (and currently my phone background). Francois Vaillancourt’s digital render for the limited edition is stunning and chilling. We were extremely fortunate to have such a host of talented artists on board with the project.
Tom: What upcoming projects are you both working on? And, importantly, will college freshman Billy Chizmar, a U.S. Lacrosse Academic All-American whose stories and essays have been published in various anthologies, have time to churn out a few new tales for what will be a growing readership?
Richard: I have a brand new story collection coming out in 2018 from Pete Crowther’s PS Publishing in England, as well as a new novella from Subterranean Press and a “Little Book” collection from Borderlands Press, so I’m busy wrapping up all those projects. I’m also starting to harass Billy about writing the sequel to “Widow’s Point.”
Billy: Unbeknownst to my father, I’ve actually started the sequel to “Widow’s Point!” I was about to fall asleep on my airplane ride back to school this past weekend when my mind exploded with ideas. I ripped my laptop out of my backpack and started writing as fast as I could (unfortunately, the battery was low and I couldn’t get too far).