It’s probably possible to have a conversation with me where you don’t find out I’m a humungous gaming nerd, though scientists have yet to discover the exact combination of words necessary to have this hypothetical discussion. The point being that when I say that gaming has inspired me on occasion, it should not be too surprising. The surprising part is probably how dark it can get. I tend to play a lot of thief/rogue types, mostly because the point of a lot games is to go places you’re not supposed to and the guy with the sneaky skills and the lockpicks is the best suited to do so. I was playing one of these characters in a modern urban fantasy game, and thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I stole this fairy chick’s ring and got her powers?”
It’s a fairly innocent thought as the sliding morality of gaming goes. In a medium where it’s not uncommon to slaughter entire tribes of orcs (they were just farmers, man!), some light larceny barely registers. Another gamer might have stopped there, but my mind had become inspired, which, to a horror writer, looks like a swirling black maelstrom of infinite torment. I pretty much instantly moved off of powers and onto identity, just because in most things I wrote the average person can’t throw around winter winds, but nearly everyone has a sense of self. I reasoned that certain items become very important to that sense of self, linked to us through the process of ownership (it’s no coincidence that traditional sympathetic magic can move through possessions just like former body fragments like hair and fingernails). The act of theft then becomes symbolically important, and along with the item, the identity attached would go along with it. This was the birth of Ian Covey, the titular Everyman.
I envisioned him as being somewhat similar to Stephen Monaghan, the brilliant and damaged protagonist of The Dollmaker. While Stephen harnesses his genius and is harnessed by his broken sexuality to create a new race of beings, Covey’s madness takes a far more destructive shape. He’s denied an identity by a neglectful mother, and becomes a parasite, stealing what he can never have on his own. He would be dangerous because of his weakness, not in spite of it, a paradox I’ve always found fascinating. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a book. All I had was this little creep stealing people’s lives, which would get repetitive pretty quickly. He had nothing to do, no one to struggle against, and I didn’t have a plot.
I was housesitting in Echo Park several months later when the second piece of the puzzle fell into place. I was feeling out of sorts and isolated, and when this happens, I sink into a state where I don’t feel quite real. Like if I were to see someone I know, that person wouldn’t know me. Instead of trying to escape the feeling with a book or movie as I usually do, I dwelled on it. Before long, I had made the connection with the previous idea of the thief of faces. I thought of myself as a victim of the doppelganger, and because the night in question was one of those Los Angeles summer nights where everything is at once close and very far away, the musing went down a decidedly surreal path. Before long I had a conception of the Gestalt Entity. I knew it was going to be a challenge, simply because I was writing about this mutating monster who was not aware he was mutating, and thus would not consciously think about the primary thing going on in his chapters. He has a bunch of people in his head, but has no idea this is the case: he believes every thought in his mind belongs to him, even if it conflicts. It’s not until someone points it out that he notices. After that revelation, the decision was made. I would write the book.
But I still didn’t have a book to write. Who are we cheering for? We have two monsters locked in this bizarre struggle for identity, and not really anything grounding the story in good, old-fashioned human emotion. Sophie came from that line of thought, but she did not come to life until I was able to connect her thematically with the larger novel. Ian Covey has no identity of his own, so he takes identities from others. The Gestalt Entity has tons of identities, but his own, whatever it was, is gone. Sophie is someone who has lost an individual identity, and if the book is her journey to getting it back. Now I had something.
The bungalow court in the book was a way to visualize the theme: separate units within a fenced in whole. Each one is something like a Gestalt Entity in itself, and is an essential element (as my architect friend assured me) of Los Angeles terroir. While the neighborhood exists (Atwater, just south of Glendale), the actual court does not. The jellyfish pool is based on a weird little piece of Los Angeles history, a pool that was the site of cheesecake photography back in the ‘40s or ‘50s. I like to use real, or realistic, locations to ground the action. When you’re dealing with a character who gives himself powers and the giant monster that results, it’s important that everything else pass the smell test, because once the reality is gone, so is the fear.
This is probably the point where I say “spoiler alert,” since I wanted to talk about some of the odder flourishes in the novel, specifically, the objects and the ghost Covey. I knew I wanted the objects gain a false life, though the internal debate was whether they would sort of “transform” into little insects still recognizable as the objects, or if I would choose the route I took in the novel. I went with the latter because it disturbed me a little more, and when in doubt, always go with that. I don’t want to say exactly what ghost Covey is intended to be, although I will say I chose his medium of appearance because it felt more believable for whatever reason. “There’s a ghost here? BULLSHIT. Oh, he’s in a TV? That’s okay then.” That is more or less what my brain did, and silly or not, that was the decision making process.
With Everyman, I was trying to create a horror story about identity. Whether I succeed or not is up the individual reader, but I am reasonably proud of the result. Even if it’s because I think the Gestalt Entity is cool.