I’m so excited to be hosting the very talented Geoff Gander, author of The Tunnelers on my site today. Isn’t that an amazing cover? It drew me in the first time I saw it. Creepy and eerie. I wanted to walk down that tunnel to see what made the light at the end. Now I’m glad I didn’t. Have you read this story yet? You definitely need to.
The story’s told in the format as if we’re reading from the case notes of a Dr. Vincent Armstrong. There’s a slow build up of tension and suspense that had me turning the pages to see where this intricate tale went next. Vincent takes on the challenge of a new patient, Michael Kirkwood, whose convoluted story of monsters and blood and death underground fascinates and intrigues him.
Vincent is pulled into Michael’s wild ramblings and begins to research the native legends of the Tunnelers. But the closer he gets to the truth, the more his fear grows that not only Michael’s life but that his own was in danger from these ancient monsters. This story is well told and keeps you guessing until the very end. I recommend it to anyone who loves suspense.
About the Author:
Geoff Gander started writing stories as a child and hasn’t stopped yet. He draws inspiration from such diverse authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Terry Pratchett, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Anton Wilson, and P.G. Wodehouse, and has always felt that writing is the most powerful and direct way to show his creative side and share his thoughts. In addition to a number of fantasy and horror short stories, Geoff has written numerous roleplaying game products. Geoff lives inOttawawith his wife, two boys, a dog, and numerous fish.
The Tunnelers is his first novel.
In Horror, Less Is More
In his book, How to Write Horror Fiction, William E. Nolan states that “senseless horror, featuring gore for gore’s sake, is desensitizing and dehumanizing” (1). He goes on to argue that in horror, it is more effective to suggest what is happening, and leave details to the reader’s imagination
This resonates with me, as I feel that excessive gore will only alienate most potential readers. When a reader interacts with a page (electronic or dead tree), they are reproducing the author’s world in their own heads. And what the reader’s own imagination produces will resonate more deeply with them than anything the author can describe. This is because the reader’s version will never be an exact copy of what the author had in mind, as each person has their own preconceived notions about nearly everything. And in literature, that’s okay.
For example, let’s suppose we’re reading a surreal short story involving a gun-toting white cat. Quickly now, is the white cat short- or long-haired? What colour are its eyes? How does its voice sound? Your mental image of this cat likely differs from mine, but “your” cat is just as real to you as “mine” is to me. Yet if I were to describe that white cat, it would be “my” cat, and when you read about it you might sit back and think, “That’s not how I imagined it.”
Stories are more involving when they describe less, not more. An author should draw an outline, and let the reader fill in the details and colour. This, in my view, lets the reader personalise the story to some degree (thus giving them more of an emotional stake in it as a co-creator of the world).
This is the route I took when I wrote The Tunnelers. I didn’t want to bore the reader by describing the monsters in minute detail, but at the same time I wanted to create a suitably horrific image of them, as I will show in the following excerpt. As a bit of background,Kirkwood is a miner who had a traumatic encounter with the Tunnelers. His subconscious mind blocked it out, but his psychiatrist, Dr. Armstrong, is trying to helpKirkwood retrieve his memories. In this scene, a hypnotherapist has placedKirkwood under hypnosis, and is guiding him through his encounter:
“Can you describe what attacked him?” [asked the hypnotherapist]
“It was b–bigger than a m–man, with p–pale skin. L–long arms and claws.” [repliedKirkwood]
“But what did they look like? Can you describe their faces?”
“Sh–short neck, big head, and ears.”
“What about eyes? Their mouths?”
“N–no eyes! J–just skin and a line for a m–mouth! It bit Jacobsen! The teeth! So long, like needles! Blood! So much blood! He kept screaming and bleeding!”
A large (larger than man-sized, since the speaker is of at least average size), pale-skinned creature (therefore they wear no clothing) with long arms and clawed fingers (implying a body shape closer to an ape than a human). Their heads are large in proportion to their bodies, and large ears are clearly visible. They lack eyes, and as the only described feature on their faces is a mouth, it is strongly implied that they don’t have noses, either. To add to the horror, their mouths are described as being a line (no lips) filled with needle-like teeth. We know this mouth has to be large, because of the large quantity of blood spilled when it bit Jacobsen – this also means that they can probably open their mouths wider than a human can. Definitely inhuman, and definitely not something you would want to run into.
But that description above is how I put the pieces together. You would probably imagine them differently – and they would be equally horrific to you. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
(1) Nolan, William E. How to Write Horror Fiction (Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990). p 77.
When a traumatized mining foreman is placed under the psychiatric care of Dr. Vincent Armstrong, the doctor thinks he has started just another shift. But as the victim begins to remember what drove him temporarily insane, Armstrong’s interest becomes personal, and he makes a series of discoveries that threaten to tear apart his carefully constructed scientific view of the world, and show in horrifying clarity that his patient is anything but delusional.
As Armstrong’s world falls apart, his recovering patient learns that he has not escaped the horrors he encountered underground, and that no place on earth is truly safe from the “Tunnelers.”
The following document, as well as a bundle of newspaper clippings, was found among the personal effects of Dr. Vincent Armstrong, a community psychiatrist in the Evaluation Unit at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Center, whose disappearance in Montreal is a matter of public record.
Although the police dismissed this package as being immaterial to their investigation, I believe that this information has a profound – almost sinister – significance when considered in relation to recent events of a more personal nature. I will let the reader decide.
Testimony of Vincent Armstrong, M.D.
My name is Vincent Armstrong. I have been practicing psychiatry at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Center for twelve years; the last five of which have been with the Evaluation Unit. Over this time I have treated mental conditions that many would find horrifying, but a recent case has forced me to confront something so terrifying and so far outside my experience, that the world is now a much, much darker place for me. Other people need to know, so I have compiled my notes in a format that I hope others might find useful.
June 14, 1992
Mr. Michael Kirkwood, an employee of Argus Minerals, was referred to my care from the Ottawa General Hospital Emergency Ward as an in-patient today at 6:22 p.m., under restraint and in a state of acute agitation. The accompanying report, written by a doctor posted at the site where Mr. Kirkwood had been working and amended by the referring physician from the emergency ward, indicated only that he had witnessed a particularly horrific industrial accident, and that his resulting psychological trauma was the basis for his referral to our facility for an assessment period.
When I first saw him, Mr. Kirkwood was pleading with a nurse to be kept high above ground. He calmed down after I assured him that we would do as he asked, and I took that opportunity to administer a heavy sedative. After he was brought to his room, I examined the patient and then ordered that he be placed under close observation.
Based on that preliminary examination and a review of Mr. Kirkwood’s medical records that I had requested from his employer, the patient appeared to be a healthy man in his mid-forties, with no history of mental illness or substance abuse. His previous medical exam, conducted four months earlier, showed that he was in excellent physical and mental health. With no other information available, I called Argus Minerals to request all additional information regarding the accident, as well as copies of his performance assessments, because I wished to cover all possible causes of Mr. Kirkwood’s breakdown. By that time, my shift had ended, but I left instructions that I was to be contacted should his condition change.