It’s horrifying. Well, that was the goal, at least, for the Cheltenham-High-School-teacher-turned-author who penned “The Trail,” which was published and released last month. The author, Brian Francis, recently held a reading from his horror novel about a college reunion camping trip that turns deadly in Chestnut Hill at the Musehouse: Center for Literary Arts.
“I hope it scares the pants off everyone,” Francis said before the reading. “I’ve heard it’s a real page turner and people cannot legitimately put it down. I’ve structured it in a way where there are 136 short chapters, and everyone ends in a cliff hanger — it’s a lot of what I’ve learned of thinking visually and teaching a film class.”
Horror is the oldest story there is, according to Francis, who referenced etchings in caves about humans surviving being chased by large animals. It’s also a part of America’s zeitgeist, something Francis tapped into with his new book.
“Public interest is moving into dark fiction with ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ and zombie and vampire shows. Maybe it’s escapism,” he said. “Times are hard for some people with the economy and unemployment; this is something that people can lose themselves in.”
In some way, “The Trail” was also an escape from daily life for Francis.
The author describes the book as a campy horror story that was inspired by the many camping trips he took while studying English as an undergrad at York College and trips to Pine Grove Furnace State Park.
“The Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia, and it takes six months to hike the entire thing,” he said. “This takes place in an actual place in central PA. I renamed the town Crenson; it’s fictional town. The real town is not one specific town, but one of many in that area – in the woods I camped.”
Although he used visual thinking and his knowledge of films to write the book, Francis hasn’t planned the movie version yet.
“I didn’t picture any Hollywood actors. I pictured my friends’ camping trips. It’s all a fusion of people I know, everyday conversations I’ve had. [It’s] much more than any actor or actress,” he said.
Francis, whose real last name is Smith, chose his nom de plume because “it had a little more flair than Smith, and also to separate my two worlds of teacher and horror writer,” he said.
His middle name is Francis, so he took it as his pen name. During the day, Francis teaches American literature, film studies and other courses to high school students. By night, he is a husband and father of two little girls in Glenside. He carved out time between responsibilities in the afternoon before going home to write each day.
“I was one of those guys writing a novel in a coffee shop,” he said with a laugh, fully acknowledging the cliché of the author with laptop pecking away in the corner.
After work, Francis spent no more than two hours in a local coffee shop before going home.
“I knew when I got home, I’m in the mix and I’m needed. I want to play with the kids or be with my wife. You need the space and the quiet to write,” he said.
It took Francis about two years to write the book.
“Toward the end, I started to write at a higher frequency because I could feel the end coming,” Francis said.
Although some authors meticulously map out their book, take notes on characters and develop the plot line before beginning, Francis made it up as he went along.
“I simply came out with the title and imagined the cover and then I just started writing without plotting and tried to surprise myself with each chapter,” he said. “That was a more natural way to work. Because it was not plotted so much, the characterization was much more natural.”
Francis found his publisher at a the World Horror Convention this summer in Texas, where he also got to meet some of his personal heroes and legends of the industry. He met with several publishers during 10-minute sessions where he quickly pitched his book. Three months later, he heard from publishers at Damnation Books and they gave him an advance on the book and set a quick turnaround print date.
Francis does plan to write another book — one set in a high school.
“I’m pressed for time right now, but I’ve got the beginning of an idea for it,” he said.
For more information about Francis, visit his website at www.brianfrancis.info.