My Favorite Bit: J. R. R. R. Hardison talks about DEMON FREAKS
J.R.R.R. Hardison is joining us today with his novel Demon Freaks. Here’s the publisher’s description:
It’s the night before the SAT test. The forces of darkness are stirring.
Twin brothers, Bing and Ron Slaughter, know they’ve got to cram like their lives depend on it because their college plans sure do. If they don’t ace the test, they’ll be doomed to spend the rest of their days flipping burgers at the McDonald’s their parents run. That’s why they hatch a plan to meet up with the members of their punk band, the Ephits, spend the night studying at a secluded cabin in the woods, and maybe squeeze in a little jamming. What could go wrong with a brilliant plan like that?
Ancient evil. That’s what.
As a cataclysmic lightning storm rolls in, Bing, Ron and the rest of the Ephits find themselves tangled in a sinister plot to summon a demon. Yes, demons are real. To survive the night, the band must find a malevolent artifact, battle bloodthirsty monsters and stand against the most dangerous and powerful foe humanity has ever faced…the Golfer’s Association.
What’s Jim’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit of writing Demon Freaks was working on the mechanics of psychic powers. The story features psychic communication, thought control and even physical possession. I’ve been fascinated by mechanics that could plausibly drive paranormal phenomena for a long time, all the way back to when I was little.
A few months after I turned eight, my oldest brother, Bill, came home from studying psychology in college for Christmas Break. It was the early 1970’s, and I gather that academia was in a kind of hippy-influenced phase, so part of his course load included several classes on extrasensory phenomena—ESP. On a day it was snowing too hard to play outside, he proceeded to run an experiment on the only subjects he had ready to hand—his siblings. He assembled the three youngest—one of my older sisters, myself and my younger brother—and asked us to play a game. He’d draw a playing card from a deck, hold it up so that only he could see the face, and we’d guess which one he’d drawn. A right answer was worth a point.
Though it was fun, none of us got any of them right.
Then he changed things up. He announced that three points would earn a prize, and he pulled out some giant-sized Milky Way Bars. A hush fell over the room. You see, in my family we weren’t allowed to buy candy until we were twelve, a magic threshold none of us younger kids had crossed. Bill said he thought we could probably guess the right answer if we just wanted too enough.
He resumed the game. Despite the tantalizing promise of the candy bars, my older sister and I both guessed wrong again, but on his very next card, my four-year-old brother got it right. As my sister and I continued to fail in mounting frustration, my little brother got another two of the next three cards right and won himself a gigantic, fluffy nougat filled loaf of heaven. Being a little jerk, he immediately tore it open and started eating it right in front of us. We both wanted to strangle him.
That was when Bill informed us that anyone who got to six points would get two candy bars. Now we were bound and determined to guess right—not just to win for ourselves, but to stop the possibility of our little brother getting three candy bars when we had none. I concentrated so hard on the back of the next playing card that I thought it would explode. I still guessed wrong. Same with my sister. My little brother, on the other hand, effortlessly got the next one right. We demanded to know how he was doing it. Face smeared with chocolate, he said he wasn’t doing anything—just making his brain so empty he had “room to let the card in”. After that, I tried to make my mind empty, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stop thinking. I was working on that when my sister sabotaged me. When it was my turn to guess, she said, “Don’t think of a zebra!” So, of course, I thought of a zebra. I couldn’t stop myself forming the picture.
But, amazingly, on that turn, I guessed right.
I never guessed right again, and after four more wrong guesses from my sister and me, and one more right guess from my little brother, we older two quit the game and stormed off. It was a strategic move, the only way to stop my little brother getting the additional candy. My one right guess, however, got me obsessed with psychic phenomena, how it would work and why—an obsession that stuck with me until, decades later, it made writing the paranormal mechanics of Demon Freaks my favorite bit.
P.S. After finishing the book, I mentioned the psychic experiment to my sister and how much it had influenced my thinking. She laughed and said that my older brother wasn’t testing psychic ability at all. She pointed out that he never showed us the cards he’d drawn—just told us if we had been right or wrong. I protested until she revealed that years after the experiment, going through boxes of stuff my mother had saved, she’d come across a college paper Bill had written. It was about how relational dynamics break down when people believe an unfair advantage, like psychic ability, is being used for personal gain. Hmmm. There’s a book idea in that.
J.R.R.R. Hardison has worked as a writer, screen writer, animator and director in entertainment and commercials since graduating from Columbia College of Chicago in 1988.
Jim is the author of The Helm, which YALSA praised as one of 2010’s best graphic novels for young readers, and has directed animated commercial and entertainment projects, including spots for M&M’s, AT&T, and Kellogg’s.
He co-founded Character LLC in 2000 and has given story advice to many of the world’s largest brands, such as Target, Verizon, Samsung, McDonalds and Walmart, and has even appeared on NBC’s “The Apprentice” as an expert adviser on brand characters. Jim lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, two kids and two dogs. Fish Wielder, Jim’s debut novel, was released in 2016 and Demon Freaks, his second novel, was released in October 2017.