Interview With an Author: Scott Thomas

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
an image of the Kill Creek book cover and the left side, and the right side a black and white photograph of the author Scott Thomas.

Originally from Coffeyville, Kansas, Scott Thomas attended the University of Kansas where he earned degrees in English and Film. He is the Co-Creator and Executive Producer of Disney Channel’s Best Friends Whenever and Disney XD’s Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja. Thomas has written TV movies and teleplays for various networks including MTV, VH1, the CW, CMT, Nickelodeon and ABC Family. Recently, he co-wrote the MTV horror trilogy My Super Psycho Sweet 16 and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his work on R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour. He lives in Sherman Oaks, California, with his wife and two daughters. Recently, he agreed to be interviewed by Daryl Maxwell for the Los Angeles Public Library about his first novel, Kill Creek.

What was your inspiration for Kill Creek?

The idea for Kill Creek came from a couple places. I’ve always loved haunted house stories, the slow burn, the creepy Gothic atmosphere, the tension as the entity subtly—and then aggressively—makes its presence known. I began to wonder what would happen if you took horror writers—people who think about the supernatural for a living, who have researched it and fantasized about it—and you put them through a real, honest-to-God supernatural experience. I loved the idea of these writers sitting around in an old, dark house, talking about scary stories while something truly terrifying is listening from the shadows. Nothing they wrote could prepare them for that experience.

Years before I had this idea, I was a student at the University of Kansas, and I would sometimes drive from Lawrence, KS, to Kansas City. On K-10, one of the highways between those two places, there is an exit sign for Kill Creek. I’ve never even taken that exit, but I saw the sign and filed it away in my brain as a great title for a horror story. One day, both of these images—that exit sign and the writers in the haunted house—came together, and the story started to grow from there.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

The exciting part of writing a story is discovering things you didn’t know were going to be there. You start with your basic premise, and then you begin to shape the characters and let them talk to each other, and one of them will say something or do something that you didn’t expect. You wrote it, but you didn’t plan it.  It just happened. And suddenly you realize you’re off the map, you’re in uncharted territory, you’re discovering something even you didn’t know was there.  Kill Creek began with a basic premise, but as I wrote it, one of the characters revealed something about himself that made everything else—even the things I hadn’t written yet—fall into place. I knew what the story was about.

I’ve always been a believer in the equal importance of Plot and Story. Plot is the A to B to C that carries you through the narrative, but Story is why you care about going on the journey. I once read an article about Die Hard that said the Plot (as most of us already know) is about a lone man fighting a building full of terrorists, but the Story is about a guy trying to save his marriage. That’s why we care about John McClane, not because he’s a super-human killing machine but because he’s an ordinary person who just wants to patch things up with his wife, and that plan gets totally screwed up by Hans Gruber.  

In Kill Creek, a moment happened with one of the characters, and I realized that the Story was about not wanting to be forgotten. It’s why we write, why we commit stories to paper—not only to ensure that the stories are remembered but that we are remembered, that our experiences ultimately mean something. That might be the scariest thing of all, to think that we could cease to exist and everything we did on this planet would be immediately forgotten, that the joys and struggles we experienced ultimately meant nothing.

I wrote the first draft of Kill Creek over ten years ago, but I couldn’t seem to get the attention of anyone who could actually do anything with it. Then, in early 2016, I stumbled upon the Launch Pad Manuscript Competition, and I decided to enter Kill Creek. At the time, I was showrunning a series on the Disney Channel, and while I was busy with that, I was getting the results to the contest and watching as my book made the Top 100, then the Top 75, the Top 50, the Top 25, and finally the Top 10. It was thrilling to know that I wasn’t the only one who liked what I had written. Kill Creek didn’t end up winning the contest, but it got the attention of one of the sponsors, the publishing company, Inkshares. They decided to publish the book, and I worked with the editors there to rewrite…and rewrite…and rewrite the book. I’m a professional TV writer, but I hate rewriting. Fortunately, the notes from Inkshares were incredibly supportive and insightful. I always knew we were making the book better with each rewrite because their #1 goal is to end up with the strongest book possible.

There were a few things I lost along the way that I miss, mainly some scenes early on with the characters of Sebastian Cole and Daniel Slaughter, but they were cut for a reason, and ultimately it made for a better book. The most exciting change we made was to make T.C. Moore a woman. Moore was originally written as a man, but when I changed him to a woman, the character truly came alive. I can’t imagine Kill Creek without her. She’s an incredibly powerful character.

Are Sam, Moore, Sebastian, Daniel, Wainwright or Kate inspired or based on specific individuals? What about Joshua Goodman, Alma Reed and/or The Finch Sisters?

None of the characters are truly based on anyone, but there were inspirations. Because I was writing about horror authors, I wanted them to represent different approaches to the genre. 

Sam is very much a writer of popular horror fiction like Stephen King or Peter Straub, two authors I greatly admire. Sam is also the most like me: he’s from a small town in Kansas, he has a connection to the University of Kansas, and he struggles to make sense of the ongoing battle between good and evil in life. 

Moore has a violence and sexuality to her work that was inspired by writers like Clive Barker. When I first wrote the character, Moore was a man and was born out of an experience I had in college when James Ellroy came to speak to one of our classes. He launched into this filthy, perverse speech that threw everyone off guard. Then a few weeks later, I saw an interview with him and he gave the same speech, and I realized it was designed to rattle us. It was this aggressive, sexually-explicit speech that immediately gave him command of the room. I loved that, and I gave a little bit of that to the character of Moore. When I changed Moore to a female character, I found myself even more invested in why she had this armor. I mean, horror in the past has been a bit of a boys’ club. But recently there have been incredible films by directors like:

They’ve made some of the best horror films of the past couple years. It’s like Patty Jenkins—she made the best DC film to date, not because she’s a female director but because she’s an amazing director. Period. But there’s a sense that women have to prove they can tell genre stories, where men can make bad movie after bad movie and keep getting the gigs. This is the B.S. that Moore faces. So Moore became a very rich, powerful character in the world of horror.

Sebastian was very much inspired by the elegant, classic approach to horror we see in authors like Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Shirley JacksonH.P. Lovecraft and, of course, Edgar Allan Poe. Sebastian is the father figure of the group. He wants to see all of his children succeed.

Daniel comes from the youth-oriented world of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, but he is also a man of faith, so he is caught between writing bloody horror stories for teens and spreading a message of love and redemption. 

The rest of the characters weren’t necessarily based on anyone in particular. I was inspired by the modern world of dying bookstores and social media fame in which these writers find themselves, and by the area of Kansas where I grew up.

Do you have a favorite haunted house story and/or novel? Film or television show?

I have several favorite haunted house films: 

I love books like The Haunting of Hill House, The Turn of the Screw, The Shining, The Exorcist (which starts out as a sort of haunted house story) Ghost Story (which is about a haunted group of people), House of Leaves and Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone (which is essentially about a town haunted by its past).

My #1 favorite ghost story is a story we told as kids about an old abandoned house in my hometown. It was completely made up, but that didn’t stop us from sneaking into the house in the middle of the night to hunt for ghosts.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I’ll borrow my answer from Fox Mulder: “I want to believe.” I’ve always been interested in the supernatural, and as a kid I looked for ghosts pretty much everywhere. As an adult, I’m much more of a skeptic, but a skeptic who wants to be proven wrong.

After writing Kill Creek, would you ever consider spending Halloween night in a famously haunted house? What other authors would you want there with you?

I would 100% stay in a haunted house. I would want a group of authors and filmmakers who I’ve always admired to join me:

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn, a fellow Inkshares author. It’s a very cool supernatural revenge tale about a witch in the Old West.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

In grade school, I loved Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and The Hobbit. Also a nonfiction book from my local library that I think was just called Ghosts. In middle school, I discovered Stephen King and devoured everything he wrote. But my all-time favorite books I read as a kid were A Clockwork Orange, A Wrinkle in Time, Ethan Frome and Lord of the Flies.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

  • Stephen King: since I’ve mentioned him several times already, it’s pretty obvious he is a huge influence.  He taught me that horror doesn’t have to stay confined to creepy mansions and abandoned houses.  It can very easily invade our everyday lives, and that makes it even scarier.
  • H.P. Lovecraft: for introducing me to cosmic horror and the unnamable things that exist in the universe next door to ours.
  • Edgar Allan Poe: I mean, who doesn’t love a descent into madness every once in a while?
  • Jack Kerouac: he taught me to truly appreciate the rhythm of writing.  When you stop worrying about the grammar police and your writing becomes music, it’s an amazing feeling.  Kerouac did that with every line.
  • Paul Auster: who showed me that we are all detectives trying to solve the mysteries of our own lives.

What is a book you've faked reading?

Frankenstein. I know, it’s shameful, but I still haven’t read it.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. The cover looks like an ‘80s horror movie VHS cover. I had to buy it. But I’ve also heard great things about the book, so it wasn’t only for the cover.  I’m excited to read it.

Is there a book that changed your life?

I don’t know if it changed my life, but there was a book called Grandpa’s Ghost Stories by James Flora that I loved as a kid. It was pretty morbid for a children’s book, but as a kid whose first story was in the first grade and was about a headless body on a cruise ship, Grandpa’s Ghost Stories showed me that being a little morbid wasn’t a bad thing. I still have my copy of that book, and my kids love it.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Reading that book is an experience. He creates truly terrifying moments by not showing you what lurks in the dark.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. First it’s a mystery story. Then it’s a mystery story about trying to solve the previous mystery. Then it’s a mystery story about the writing of those mystery stories. It’s like three levels deep of inception into a writer’s brain.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

A quiet morning to write, then hiking with my family in Colorado on a crisp, cool day. Grilling steaks, watching some KU basketball and finally beers around a firepit. Oh, and The Replacements would show up and play a private concert.

What are you working on now?

Writing a pilot for Disney Channel and planning my next book.