I’m often asked if my debut novel, Mortom, was inspired by other works. The short answer is yes: Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and the brilliant A Simple Plan (Scott Smith) both factor into the finished project. But what most people don’t know is the biggest influence didn’t come from another author . . . but rather a cartoon dog.
When I completed the first draft of Mortom (many, many, many years ago) it was fairly obvious I had ‘borrowed’ heavily from Salem’s Lot. Both stories had creepy buildings, bad guys with supernatural powers, and protagonists revisiting small towns they had known as children. My story was mediocre at best, and after some indifferent tinkering, I shelved it away.
Years passed, but the story never fully left my mind. When I discovered the novel A Simple Plan, I realized why Mortom didn’t work: my characters were absolutely and utterly uninteresting. The protagonist in A Simple Plan was so flawed he was borderline evil, and his wife—in many ways—was almost worse . . . but they felt real, and because of that I rooted for them. I dove back into my story, fleshed out my characters, and dropped the supernatural element. It was a much stronger read, but there was still something missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. The manuscript returned to hard drive hibernation, and I moved onto other projects.
It was a Friday night, and my daughter and I had rented Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers. For those not familiar with this video treasure: Shaggy and Scooby travel to a plantation to claim an inheritance from a recently deceased uncle. When they arrive they find a letter promising hidden treasure . . . if they can decipher a series of clues.
When I tucked my daughter into bed that night, I was still thinking about the movie. The idea of a real-life game of ‘follow the clues’ was so intriguing that I began mentally cataloging distant relatives, wondering if any were rich and/or eccentric, and all at once it hit me: the chances of anything like that happening to me were one in a billion.
But it could happen in Mortom.
I already had a great backdrop (dilapidated small town), a cast of colorful characters (fresh off the assembly line), and a storyline just waiting to be tweaked. But most importantly, I now had the twist I had been searching for.
An hour later I had a handful of notes. The next day I had an outline, and two months later I had a revised draft. Mortom had been reborn into the world . . . all thanks to a cartoon dog.
Erik Therme has thrashed in garage bands, (inadvertently) harbored runaways, and met Darth Vader. None of these have come close to the thrill of releasing his debut novel, Mortom.
When he’s not at his computer, he can be found cheering on his oldest daughter’s volleyball team, or chilling on the PS3 with his 11-year-old. He currently resides in Iowa City, Iowa–one of only 7 places in the world the UNESCO has certified as a “City of Literature.”