Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Partridge's "Dark Harvest"

Norman Partridge has written tales of horror, suspense, and mystery — “sometimes all in one story,” says his friend Joe Lansdale. Partridge’s latest novel, the prize-winning Dark Harvest, was chosen as one of the 100 Best Books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Dark Harvest, and reported the following:
When I set out to write Dark Harvest, I wanted to put my own spin on a Halloween tale. Part of the challenge in doing that was working with all the familiar holiday elements you’ll find teetering on the line between iconic and clich├ęd — the pumpkins and scarecrows and cornfields, the small town with a secret — while trying to make them my own.

So I ran my imagination down those well-traveled tracks, and I found a Midwestern town circa 1963. A mythic creature called the October Boy (a.k.a. Sawtooth Jack) rises from the cornfields each Halloween. Armed with a butcher knife, he’s hunted by packs of teenage boys eager to confront a walking nightmare in an annual rite called the Run. The kid who takes down the monster gets a one-way ticket out of town… the only means of escape possible.

A friend boiled down my approach as “Twilight Zone noir,” and that’s certainly part of the vibe I was trying to create. But I was looking for something a little more primal, too. In Dark Harvest, I wanted to step across the page and directly address my readers. I wanted them to feel me sitting there, the way you do when you’re listening to a campfire tale and you get that “I gotcha!” moment that’s best delivered through oral storytelling.

While you don’t get a moment like that on page 99 of Dark Harvest, you do get a revealing glimpse at the winners and losers who make the Run what it is. In this scene, we’re in a deserted house, in a bedroom where one of the Runs’ winners once lived. My technique here had a little more in common with cinematic montage than campfire storytelling, but it begins to peel away some of the town’s truths through snapshots of those who have visited that room.

From page 99:

the wall in black letters, written by a loner who spent a solid week’s worth of corn-shucking money on a Levi jacket just like the one Shepard wore the night he won the Run. And there’s another kid standing next to him — he’s barebacked on an August night, wearing nothing but a pair of jeans. And he can’t believe he’s writing JUMP THE LINE!!!!! on this wall while his girlfriend lies naked on the mattress behind him, drifting in a halfdream as she thinks of the things she just did in the room where Jim Shepard used to sleep.

That girl can’t hide her feelings — her boyfriend might as well be a shadow as she dreams her dream… and pretty soon he is. A lush cornfield eclipses his face, the words WELCOME TO CORNCOB, NOWHERE threading like dark weeds through the green. Coming through that cornfield is a pumpkin-headed maniac with a knife, and if that naked girl got a look at him she’d scream her little head off. But she’s long gone by the time this particular September night rolls around — Sawtooth Jack’s razoring a path toward an artistic kid who’s so damned scared he can barely work up the courage to draw the demonic scene stirred up in his brain… a kid who’ll knuckle under in just a second and run into the night, leaving his art-class chalk there on the floor. And his pumpkin-headed creation will live up there on the wall as the calendar turns another page, but the chalk won’t last. It’ll grind to dust under a pair of heavy boots two weeks later as an angry boy with one hand in a cast cavemans a message on the wall, calling down the sadist who shattered his wrist with one crack of the nightstick.
Read an excerpt from Dark Harvest, and learn more about Norman Partridge and his other books at his website.

--Marshal Zeringue