Interview with Tim Dankanich, author of Old Hag Syndrome
His creepy horror thriller, Old Hag Syndrome, is soon to hit the big screen and was published by imprint Dark Alley Press in September 2013.
What was your inspiration for Old Hag Syndrome?
The Old Hag Syndrome was inspired by the very real and terrifying phenomenon experienced by more than half of the world's population, myself included. The Old Hag Syndrome is a mysterious and horrifying sleep disorder documented throughout almost every ancient culture and known today by its modern medical term as sleep paralysis. For this story I was first inspired to create my own explanations for this widespread and unexplained nightmare that cannot be fully rationalized by psychology, culture or medical science. Then I tried to create characters who were not only likable but worth caring about. Consequently I led these poor people through every insane and disturbing horror my mind could imagine.
Twins and the psychic connection some seem to have is critical to your novel?
“Critical” is a very interesting word choice to use in that question. That particular adjective contains different meanings, yet looks exactly the same. Much like identical twins themselves, which are statically the only sets of twins to sometimes share acute psychic abilities between each other. But I honestly think the only critical aspect of such a connection would be that the novel itself would have looked very differently had I not mentally given birth to identical twins as important characters, when I first started to compose the skeletal structure of the story itself.
Are you a twin? If so do you have this connection with your twin? Could you give us some examples?
Sadly no, I do not have a psychic twin. It’s rather depressing to think of how quickly and efficiently the writing process would be if I had such a twin finishing my thoughts and typing them out for me while I had other things to do.
If not, where does your fascination with twins and this connection come from?
Honestly, I’m not exactly sure where my fascination with biological nonconformity and the entire spectrum of the paranormal originates from. I wish I knew. Although I do remember when I was younger (about the age of 9) a friend’s mother took her and I to see a psychic, who only told me very vague and incomplete thoughts during my reading. After my friend and her mother had their readings and we all left, her mother told me that the psychic refunded the money she had paid for my reading. When she asked why, the psychic told her that I had frightened the poor fortuneteller because no matter how hard they tried, I could not be read psychically. Or it could have something to do with being born five days after Halloween.
The story mentions many different sleep disorders. Is this something you’ve experienced yourself? If not, what drew you to delve into this topic?
I think the basic biological need for sleep has always disturbed me in some way. Not only do we spend more than half our entire lives asleep, but modern science is still searching for the exact reason behind why we as a species need to sleep and dream in the first place, and why it’s a necessity in order for us to stay alive. I myself have always been nocturnal by nature, as well as being able to stay awake for several days at a time. I think I may have experienced almost every sleep disorder at least once or twice in my life, including the Old Hag Syndrome. But it wasn’t until a friend of mine confessed to suffering through Hag Attacks on an almost nightly basis that this phenomenon first became the larval stage of a nightmare that I set out to explore artistically. It was an attempt to better understand exactly what I had experienced, and why so many others throughout human history were also afraid of falling asleep in fear of it happening again. The most frightening aspect of this experience is the widespread, dramatic, realistic, and bizarre elements of this phenomenon that cannot be fully explained as being nothing more than a sleep disorder.
What sort of research did you do for this book?
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I honestly did extensive research online, at libraries, in bookstores as well as contacting a university professor said to be an expert on the subject, (but he never wrote me back). However I think the most interesting and insightful research I did was when friends, strangers, or second hand acquaintances would ask me what I was writing about. Once I told them about the Old Hag Syndrome, I was shocked to learn just how many people I knew or happened to meet that had experienced it firsthand. Some of which never even knew there was a term used for what had happened to them. Some of those people had never even told anyone about their encounters before, or were even aware that other people have had the same thing happen to them.
Is there any part of you in Annette?
I think Annette is comprised of a lot of people I used to know, as well as me. In the most compassionately simplistic terms, Annette Chambers is a beautiful mess. Despite everything she’s ever been through she retains her self-taught independence. She prides herself on never asking for anyone’s help. She is careful with the little money she has managed to save. But she still eats poorly, dresses poorly, and cares very little about what people think of her. She understands that exterior beauty and inner strength are nothing more than psychological projections upon strangers. She knows the power of a single action, and the influence of a nice smile. She has also helped more people than she knows by being able to distinguish between the two. One thing Annette perfected during her abandoned education in psychology was how to compartmentalize all her flawed human emotions. She is able to place all of her fear, anxiety and sadness into large formaldehyde filled jars within her mind and seal them shut in order to function properly and efficiently as a person. She places these jars in her psychological basement storage facility, amongst all of her other deformed, well preserved, and euthanized emotions. She already knows that storing so many cognitive containers behind walls of repression is in itself a dangerously detrimental defense mechanism, which could potentially possess severe and long lasting consequences. But she is also fully prepared to one day go through every imaginary jar from the past and thoroughly dissect and study every saved specimen, in order to one day better understand herself and the f**ked up world around her.
What was the toughest part of this story to write?
As an avid horror fan I would have to say the hardest part was trying to frighten myself as I wrote. I would rewrite and rewrite rewrites until what I wrote scared me enough to never write it again.
What is it about Annette that you think will draw readers to her?
I suspect readers will be drawn to the challenges which test the character and resolve of Annette that happen to be a series of inescapable psychological horrors. I think the readers may establish immediate sympathy for Annette through her relatable and understandable struggle of just barely scraping by in life, while walking that thin line between things going from success to failure at any given moment. But no matter how bad they think her life seems, they could never even imagine the nightmare that awaits her at the bottom of the downward spiral of being forced to not only question the foundation of reality but also surpass the boundaries beyond all known fear and insanity.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
The realization was a very slow process starting at a very young age after I first started drawing and before having the ability to read. It was through comic books that I first noticed the exquisite craft of connecting written text with visual art to create a captivating story. Prior to being old enough to even spell simple words correctly, I was illustrating and writing the stories for my own childish comic books. I remember it frustrated me to the point of tears that I couldn’t draw what I saw clearly in my imagination, so I would just rip up the paper and start all over again. This process led me to focus more on practicing and perfecting my visual art throughout high school. I would always have a notebook on hand to write down ideas, stories, or any interesting conversations I had that day. I soon noticed I was subconsciously adding more and more words, random text and cryptic storytelling into my artwork. That was around the time when I alternated my complete attention from a canvas and paintbrush to a notebook and pen.
Why do you write?
I write as a personal artistic challenge, as an attempt to fine tune, document, and expand upon my overactive imagination. With my writing I aspire to show and share everything I see in my mind by using only words. I write because I came to the conclusion that every form of art contains its own deadline for someone to formulate their own negative or positive opinion of it. With visual art, personal opinions are immediate. You like what you see, or you don’t. Music on the other hand takes a little more time to listen closely and decide how it makes you feel. But reading a book from cover to cover, that takes time. That is a commitment. But sometimes you gain more from art than just an opinion of it.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. *insert comedic drum roll here*
What do you think makes a good story?
Well established believability, especially towards the unbelievable aspects of the story, and a mutual trust between the author and the reader.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I love horror, including all of its varied subgenres, especially non-fiction books on the paranormal, supernatural, and the unexplained.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
I respect and admire so many authors, each to their own credit. However my top three would be: William S. Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and Hunter S. Thompson. As for pure poetry, nothing beats a case of beer and something by Bukowski.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Stalking Is a Contact Sport, by (a brilliant bastard and friend) Fred Seton. As well as the author’s entire unpublished works.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe. This was read to me and my fellow first-grade classmates by a sweet old librarian during story time. It all spiraled downward from there.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
I find the most inspiration from imperfections, mistakes, and the unknown, easily found both in myself and the world around me.
What does your family think of your writing?
I assume they think the same thing as they thought about my visual art; if I’m not getting paid every time I do it, it’s not a job.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
…I’ll answer that question as soon as I have or find the time.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Not that I’m consciously aware of…
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The middle and endings are always a challenge. Starting anything is easy.
What are your current projects?
I’m currently composing several horror movie spec screenplays, while continuing to raise and be responsible for an abandoned baby squirrel that I rescued from the hands of death earlier this summer, a squirrel which is now a happy and healthy blur of chaos and destruction.
What are you planning for future projects?
I really hate to plan anything too far ahead so I’ll just cryptically say, “It’s a surprise.”
Do you have any advice for other writers?
My only advice is; adopt a monkey. Or if you live in a place where monkeys are readily available, invite one to stay inside your home… because if you are able to continue writing while a temperamental primate screams and destroys your house, you will obtain discipline and focus. A monkey will also teach you the proper way to handle discouragement and rejection by learning to wipe it all away and move on. Just like all the feces the monkey will throw at you… and yes, you will be repeatedly hit with monkey excrement… monkey excrement that smells of humiliation and shame… just wipe it away, and move on.
Where else can we find your work?
Some of my artwork and prose can be found in Migraine Expressions, a beautiful book of powerful migraine poetry, prose, art, and photography promoting awareness and understanding of migraine and the need for further research, understanding, and treatments.
That and I sometimes vandalize roadside billboards with profound anti-consumerism truths. Or you may find one of my notebooks filled with strange drawings and written madness that I am compelled to purposely loose in random public places whenever I travel. www.timdankanich.brushd.com
Tim's chilling supernatural novel, Old Hag Syndrome can be purchased from our website or from your favorite online bookstore in print or ebook format.
For the last twenty years, Annette Chambers has been haunted by the same recurring nightmare of her beloved twin sister’s death.
When a cryptic stranger warns Annette that she is in danger of being murdered -- just like her sister -- by an ancient evil that dwells between dreams and reality, Annette initially dismisses the idea until she is attacked in her sleep by an unseen entity.
Annette soon learns what she experienced is known throughout history as Old Hag Syndrome, a horrifying affliction that causes victims to awake, paralyzed, unable to scream while they are tormented by hallucinations.
Soon Annette realizes the Old Hag she faces is real and has been killing off her friends and family. Her nightmare becomes a frightening reality where the only hope of survival lies somewhere between death and madness.