From Author to Screenwriter

by David Sakmyster

Being on the HWA’s Stoker Jury panel for screenplays, I figured at the least I’d get to study a lot of the year’s best screenplays. I’d engage in interesting discussions about the merits, and particularly the faults, of the current crop of horror movies, and learn some tips to improve my own writing (being an aspiring screenwriter as well as an author). Being on this team did offer all those benefits for sure, and it’s still ongoing and fun to say the least; but I was even more thrilled when a few weeks ago I learned that I just received my first option for a screenplay.

When I wrote Nightwatchers, it was my fifth script. The others had done well in contests, some making it into the final rounds, and I was getting some appreciative looks but no offers to dance. So I had this other really cool idea that I thought would work for a short story. But I knew it would also fit well as a film, so when a producer who liked one of my other scripts asked if I had something else a little lower budget, I pitched this idea, which intrigued him.

So Nightwatchers went fast from idea to script. The producer wanted a single-location script with a minimal cast and not a lot of special effects. So I gave him a trailer park with three main characters and just a few others (who I’ll just call ‘fodder’). He loved it and I got the option a few weeks later. In the end, I think what helped seal the deal was that I also followed up with enthusiasm about what else I could do for the script besides just writing it. I offered to leverage my other skills, helping out with promotions (facebook, twitter, myspace and leveraging the various blogs, reviewers and contacts I’ve made at conventions, and especially through the HWA). And also I leveraged my day-job background as a financial analyst to help him design and improve the business plan, budget and investor package. Overall, Nightwatchers was fun to write, and now I’m in the great stage of helping to bring it to life. And the HWA helped lay the groundwork for the confidence I needed to go after these things.

Up next, I’m juggling a lot of work: adapting best-selling novelist David Golemon’s newest thriller, The Supernaturals, into a screenplay (which I got because of the Nightwatchers option). And I’m working with the very talented screenwriter, Brian M. Logan from Australia on three higher budget, high octane thrillers that we’re preparing to imminently launch onto an unsuspecting Hollywood.

And hopefully in the next year or two, when I have to exempt myself from the Stoker jury, the other panel members can review and vote (hopefully favorably) on my script.

In the meantime, I’m also pimping my latest novels. The Mongol Objective is book two in a series about psychic archeologists solving history’s most perplexing riddles. And Crescent Lake is a chilling horror novel about a man trying to escape his sins, but winding up in a town that can bring them back to life in the most terrifying fashion.

Excerpt from Crescent Lake

Lloyd ripped open his shirt and pulled out the .38 before the fat sheriff had time to reach for his own weapon–which, Lloyd figured, had a layer of dust so thick around the trigger he’d have to brush it off before use. Instead of opening up on the sheriff and the thin father, Lloyd lunged for the closest woman and hauled her to her feet, the .38’s muzzle digging into her temple.

“Keep your hands in the air!” Lloyd yelled, over the screams and gasps of the people. “Or this babe’s brains are going to be mixed with the salad dressing.”

The sheriff raised his arms. The father merely stood there, his upper lip curling into a snarl. Suddenly the boy sat up, staring at something outside, a figure moving slowly and steadily across the street toward the diner.

“All right,” Lloyd said in a calm voice. His back was to the doors. “Where is Nick Murphy?”

The sheriff asked, “Who?”

Lloyd increased the pressure on the woman’s throat. “Stop playing games, asshole. Where is he?”

The sheriff looked at the father. They both shrugged. In a moment, the father followed his son’s stare, and he began to smile.

Lloyd hissed. “Is this whole town crazy? All of you? I am going to shoot this woman now. Do you hear? Right now unless I learn–”

The door opened and the bell rang.

“What seems to be the problem here?”

Lloyd spun, dragging his captive with him. The silver-haired newcomer was dressed all in black like a priest, or a reverend. Lloyd kept one eye on the sheriff as he prepared to deal with this old man. “Who the hell are you?”

The reverend blinked at Lloyd and raised his hands, which were concealed by spotless white gloves. Slowly, he began to peel away the one on his right hand. “I assure you,” he said, “I am your salvation.”

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Lloyd couldn’t fathom this at all. He felt like a hapless magician on stage in front of a packed crowd, and none of his usual tricks would work.

He cocked the hammer of the .38.

“Where is he?”

The glove came off. It dropped to the floor, flipping over twice as it drifted down, like a leaf blown off a branch.

The newcomer took a step closer. He began to unroll the other glove. A woman at the back of the restaurant stood up, holding her head. And the sheriff relaxed his hands, making no further move for his gun.

Lloyd narrowed his eyes at the approaching man. He realized he had to make an example of someone. Blowing the woman away would accomplish nothing. But this guy was asking for it. Maybe if he just gave him an exquisite gut-wound.

He pushed the woman to the floor and turned the gun on the reverend just as he dropped the second glove and took another step.

Lloyd fired twice, at point-blank range, into the man’s lower chest. The thunderous gunshots deafened everyone, and echoed with the screams of the women.

The impacts knocked the reverend back to where he dropped the first glove. Two gaping holes were aligned side-by-side on his stomach; blood sputtered out for a moment, then became more viscous and tough, clinging to the wounds, and even appearing to draw back inside. Lloyd moved in, sighted, and fired again, a little higher. The bullet exited out the reverend’s spine and stuck in the wall.

He touched the latest wound, then brought three bloody fingers up to his face and stared at them with a half-hearted curiosity. Then his fingers spread and he looked between them at Lloyd. The reverend took two quick, unimpeded steps, knocked the gun-hand aside, and pushed past Lloyd’s clumsy, shocked attempt at defense. He gripped the hitman on either side of his head, thumbs on his forehead, fingers stretched behind his ears.

“What is this shit?” Lloyd screamed as he swung the .38 under the black-clad arms. He released three quick rounds into the reverend’s chest. Each slug jerked the man in the air a foot, but he never released his hold. After the third shot, Lloyd started to scream. He dropped the gun and clutched at the reverend’s wrists, trying to dislodge the hands that now started to burn with the intensity of a searing grease fire.

His fingers were scorched as soon as they touched Reverend’s exposed wrists. He tried to pull away, but his head and hands seemed to be on fire, suffering a scalding, agonizing blaze; his legs kicked, and his entire body convulsed like a puppet manipulated by a sadistic boy. Nick Murphy was forgotten.

Everything in the immediate past was wiped away with a thought, and in its place rose something terrible and frightening, a collage of faces and names, connected by deeds that Lloyd had long since erased from his conscience after a lifetime of discipline and training.

Over thirty years of horrors swam through the bloody seas of his memory, struggling to be free, to exact revenge, drawn out by the hands on Lloyd’s head that acted as midwife, easing these sins into the world, giving them power, giving them life.

Lloyd screamed as he never screamed before; his heart cracked open and was laid bare. The burning ceased, but the pressure remained around his head, and he was quickly and effortlessly lifted and hurled through the air. He struck the door and fell through the glass, onto the sidewalk in a hail of glass.

But he was up in a second, staring wild-eyed at the shambling things that came after him, stepping over the glass shards. The things that had huddled, discarded in his conscience, now reached for him in the night. Silenced for decades, they now had a voice, and their cries of vengeance overpowered Lloyd’s screams of terror, even as he fled down the street and ducked into an alley.

He tripped on a garbage can and bashed his head against the asphalt.

He prayed for unconsciousness.

In the next few minutes Lloyd knew, if there was a God, he chose to ignore this mortal’s desperate plea for aid. Or maybe He took a malign satisfaction from Lloyd’s plunge into hell.

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