“The open book lay flat between us, with the picture staring repulsively upward. As the old man whispered the words, “more of the same” a tiny spattering impact was heard, and something shewed on the yellowed paper of the upturned volume. I thought of the rain and of a leaky roof, but rain is not red.”
This passage is from “The Picture in the House” by HP Lovecraft. Two things occurred to me after I recovered from the story: how brilliantly drawn this moment in the narrative was, and also whether this is the first known instance of this now cliched horror image. The drop of blood spattering on a held object—often an open book—from the ceiling above where unspeakable horrors await. According to my edition, Lovecraft wrote the story in 1920. I am wracking my brains trying to figure out if I’ve come across the image in anything written earlier—Poe for instance, or Hawthorne. Anyone know?
My 1991 edition of Stephen King’s story collection, Nightshift, begins with an introduction by John D MacDonald (most famous for his detective Trevor McGee and for his story, The Executioners, which provided the basis for the film Cape Fear (1962, 1991). MacDonald tells it straight. In order to write well you need:
1. Compulsive Diligence
3. Empathy (know yourself in order to see a little piece of you in everyone else)
4. Enough objectivity, but not too much.
5. “Story. Story. Dammit, story!”
Story, according to MacDonald, is “something happening to someone you have been led to care about … without author intrusion.”
Author intrusion is: “My God, Mama, look how nice I’m writing!”
MacDonald makes it sound easy, but most diligent, empathetic, objective story-tellers know that these three adjectives and one noun describe a frustrating, heartbreaking and at times rewarding journey with no definable destination. MacDonald himself had to write 800, 000 words, typing 14 hours a day for five months before he finally got a $40 sale to Dime Detective in 1946.