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How to Scare a Monster!: Exclusive Interview with Tom Holland and Dustin Warburton

Saturday, October 14, 2017 | Interviews


Leonard Charles Vincent just can’t sleep. There’s something in his closet!

Written by Master of Horror, Tom Holland, and co-authored with Dustin Warburton, How to Scare a Monster! invites you to join little Leonard on a spookily fun journey as he confronts and befriends his greatest fear: a monster living in his closet.

Tom has scared and shocked audiences for decades, creating classics such as CHILD’S PLAY, FRIGHT NIGHT, and THINNER. Dustin has also firmly cemented his place in horror, having written several books and graphic novels such as DENNIS THE WILD BULL with Dennis Rodman, TASTE, and STRANGE THINGS, as well as the films SPIDERS 3D and BLACK ASYLUM. Together with illustrations by Lenny K., Tom and Dustin give us a fun way to introduce monsters and scary stories to the little ones. 

I caught up with Tom and Dustin to discuss How to Scare a Monster!, childhood fears, and what lurks behind the closet door. 

How to Scare a Monster! is my apology for ruining the childhoods of so many little kids with Chucky.” – Tom Holland

I’m interested in what inspired the idea for this project and how the two of you got together to write How to Scare a Monster!  How did this collaboration come to fruition?

T: Dustin was behind it all!

D: I started as a horror writer and just being a parent, I fell into children’s lit and film. I had worked with a couple different celebrities on some projects and Tom and I connected a few years ago on social media. I was always a really big fan of Tom’s work and I sent him some of my stuff and he liked it, which was very humbling to say the least. One thing that Tom had mentioned was that he had never written a children’s story and he loved the idea of it. He spoke about how one of his friends mentioned to him, “what should I show my child to introduce them to horror?”

T: That’s the key. What was happening was there were more and more people, and this is not bullshit, asking me if I had something that would introduce their children to horror. But in a good way, in a fun way. So I was getting parents coming up to me with their little kids at horror conventions. I don’t know if you’ve been to any conventions in the past couple of years, but they are more family affairs now. When they started out back in the dark ages, it was all sweaty young teenage boys. It used to be that you took a girl to a horror film so that maybe you could grab a kiss. But somehow as the genre has exploded, which is what I think we’re experiencing right now, multiple generations started to show up. And it started to happen especially with FRIGHT NIGHT and in a lesser way with CHILD’S PLAY. I just got off an interview with LA Weekly and the woman who was interviewing me had seen CHILD’S PLAY when she was six and said it had terrified her. What I was getting was that we can’t even show our kids CHILD’S PLAY. They’re too young. So I realized they needed a picture book. Now I didn’t know anything about picture books particularly, and life being what it is, Dustin reached out to me. I thought it was a great idea because I knew there was an audience or a want within the horror community. We needed a book that you could sit down as you’re putting your kids to sleep and read to them and share the pictures with them. Then Dustin came along with this brilliant idea.

D: One thing just really led to another. Honestly, out of all of the people I’ve ever worked with, Tom was by far the highest honour to even share the same space with. As a writer, I feel like I’m still growing and for me I really focused on the collaboration aspect. It’s always something I’ve focused on and I just want to learn from the best.

T: When we were talking about how we’d come up with the story, we started thinking about childhood fears that you’re scared of when your parents put you to bed. You know, when they’re finished reading to you or kissing you and they close the door and you’re there in the darkness, what are you scared of then? And that’s how we came up with the monster in the closet. 

D: Yeah it’s funny because we created this, but we’ve taken a backseat to all of the logistics. Walmart and Barnes & Noble are actually carrying it. It’s pretty cool and we want to hit the mainstream. We want this story to really reach its audience and become associated with Halloween the same way Rudolf and Frosty are with Christmas.

T: Because if it does well, you know there’s going to be a sequel!

You are both experienced writers in horror. How is writing horror for a children’s book different than a film? Does the medium and audience effect the creative process?

T: Well so much is dependant upon the artist. They’re both visual and look, How to Scare a Monster! is for little kids. Nobody is stabbing anyone or anything like that.

D: First I would say that one thing I’ve noticed, and granted my film career is much smaller than Tom’s, but you have a little bit more freedom when it comes to children’s books. We don’t have to follow so many guidelines. A lot of people fall into the trap where they write something and get an artist and then they tell them what they want. I didn’t want that. I wanted Tom and I to collaborate and come up with a story that we felt good about and then to find an artist who is equally talented to let them tell the story in his or her own way.

This seems like a story that both children and their parents can enjoy. How did you achieve this balance?

D: I think that’s something that all creatives strive to do and it’s hard. Sometimes you hit the mark and other times you miss it. With this project, I think being able to create this story and pay homage to Tom’s career at the same time was key. One thing that is very interesting is that the character in the story is named Lenard Vincent. Well in a very subtle way that’s Peter Vincent’s grandson we were thinking about. Peter Vincent the great vampire killer. When we were creating this we were throwing in all these subtle references to Tom’s career and then when Lenny K. came on board he just went all the way. I mean you can see a FRIGHT NIGHT poster on the wall.

T: Yeah there are a lot of Easter eggs in there that Lenny K. put in. But only if you’re a horror fan will you notice these things.

D: And I guess to answer your question, I mean it’s one of those things we try to do every time. It’s what Dr. Seuss did. It’s really hard. God if there was a formula you know we would do it every time. I think that the passion that we all had working on this and the fact that we all truly became a team – we all got along really well and all became friends – I think that when you trust one another and you collaborate and hear each other out, then you’re going to end up with something really amazing in the end.

T: We have Baker & Taylor distributing for us. So we have to market ourselves, but our distribution is excellent. 

D: Now it’s just a matter of getting it out to the audience.

How To Scare A Monster!  is about a young boy who wakes one night to find a monster in his closet and needs to confront his fears. Did either of you insert some of your own childhood experiences into the book?

T: I’m an expert on this. I did CHILD’S PLAY, and what kid hasn’t looked around their bedroom before they went to sleep and wished that their toys wouldn’t come alive? It was the universality of that which convinced me to do CHILD’S PLAY. And it’s the universality of How to Scare a Monster! Because every kid has gone to bed and thought what’s in the closet.

D: You’re so right. I grew up in an old lake house in the middle of the woods. The closet door in my bedroom was from 1909 and it had this little hook latch, but it wouldn’t lock all the way. So when I was a little kid I remember laying there petrified of that closet. It’s funny to me how these things stay with you. I remember telling Tom when I first met him that I have this memory from when I was a kid, probably six or seven, of seeing a commercial for CHILD’S PLAY. That scene where the doll runs behind the woman on the couch totally scared the hell out of me. I just remember some of these things vividly staying with me. So it was interesting to write about a kid facing his fears, because most of the time you outgrow them. You don’t necessarily face them. 

T: How to Scare a Monster! is my apology for ruining the childhoods of so many little kids with Chucky.

Let’s talk more about the connection to Child’s Play and the relationship between children and monsters. Would either of you like to elaborate on that?

T: Well if we get the chance and we’re lucky enough to write sequels that’s what we’ll explore. I mean really these things are very short in terms of the amount of text because they’re for little kids, so it’s more visual.

D: You’re right, it’s not like a screenplay where you take a year writing and re-writing it.

T: It’s very dependent on Lenny K.

D: Yes, the artists who we have on this, I can’t praise him enough. I’ve worked with a lot of artists over the years, but Lenny K. is just by far one of the best. 

T: We’re trying to tell kids that the monsters in the closet aren’t all that scary. They’re just like them, they just happen to look different. And in a PC universe, that’s a welcome message.

D: There’s one scene in the story at the very end where you see the monster in his world laying in his bed with the monster father tucking him in. In the background you even see a poster that says, “attack of the 5 foot human.” You see all these things the way we fear monsters.

The artwork for How to Scare A Monster!  has a recognizable horror aesthetic. What was the inspiration for this? Were there any specific influences for the illustrations?

D: I would say it’s is a cross between Tim Burton meets Where the Wild Things Are. 

T: It’s charming and its whimsical.

D: Tom and I worked for a good year at least before Lenny K. came into the picture. But when Lenny came into the picture, it was like the puzzle piece that we were missing. He just fit perfectly. 

Are you anticipating this to be part of a larger series? If so, what can we expect?

D: I would say so. I remember when Tom and I first finished writing the story we knew in our minds that we wanted to see what the monster’s world is like. I almost feel like the second part has to happen. So we’ve already got the idea and we’ve already been discussing it. Who knows maybe for next year. 

T: It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? I’ve always been fascinated by the story I told in the first film that I did called THE BEAST WITHIN about a teenage boy turning into a monster. It’s an interesting area, but Dustin is perfectly right if we get a sequel, we’ll take Lenny the little boy into the world of monsters. What’s behind the closet door.

D: Well because the only reference that I can come up with that explored beyond the closet door is MONSTER’S INC. The boogyman myth is carried over into different cultures, but the old idea of the closet as a portal comes from that. I’ve always been interested in what’s behind the closet too.

How to Scare a Monster! is currently available at Walmart, Barnes & Noble, and on Amazon.

Cover designed by Lenny K. 

Maddi McGillvray
Maddi is the Editorial Assistant at Rue Morgue Magazine. She is also a PhD student in Cinema and Media Studies at York University, where she writes extensively on the horror genre. Maddi is completing her doctoral dissertation on women working in horror. She is also currently writing book chapters titled "Fleshy Female Corporealities: The Cannibal Films of the New French Extremity" as well as "To Grandmother’s House We Go: Documenting the Aging Female Body in Found Footage Horror Films."