Jason Offutt, Maryville’s best-known literary bogeyman, is at it again with more tales about the scary, spooky, supernatural and downright strange.
Offutt, a former newspaper reporter who is now a senior instructor of journalism at Northwest Missouri State University and a columnist for this newspaper, has made something of a name for himself as the author of books and articles about the paranormal.
“Road Closed: Twelve bloody stories to brighten your day,” now available through Amazon.com, is his 12th book, and the fifth dealing with topics beyond the realm of what most people would call daily experience.
What makes “Road Closed” a little different from anything Offutt has produced previously is that it’s fiction in the classic sense, a collection of 11 short stories and one 23,000-word novella.
Of course, one could argue that all ghost stories and other paranormal tales are fiction. But much of Offutt’s earlier work has a distinctively journalistic cast and consists of reports and “eye-witness” accounts he’s collected from people who really believe they saw something — though just what is open to question.
The stories in “Road Closed,” however, are pure imagination and include, among other things, yarns about a family farm where trees come to life and a convicted man fleeing his victim’s family through what amounts to a dystopian nightmare.
As for the novella, “Matriarchal Nazi Cannibals,” Offutt said he’s not too worried about reviewers providing readers with spoilers because “the title pretty much does that anyway.”
Here’s a quick summary that offers a few hints: “A small Missouri town where a Nazi matriarchy lies silent, hidden, waiting — and they’re hungry.”
Offutt said the story revolves around a group of college film students who “find something hidden,” but he swears the plot isn’t based on his own experience with young people studying media at Northwest.
“It came to me in a dream,” he said. “My wife told me, ‘You’d better write that down. That’s good.’”
Another of the tales, “A Just Cause” was adapted by former Northwest student Harrison Sissel into a screenplay that won Best Science Fiction Script at the 2011 Los Angeles Film and Script Festival under the title “The Balance.”
Offutt said he thinks readers will find his latest offering to be more than just a collection of spooky stories. Some of the tales, he said, are closer to related genres like horror and science fiction.
As a boy, Offutt was a big fan of the “Twilight Zone” television show, and he said he hopes “Road Closed” offers something of the same flavor. Though, unlike the classic anthology series created by Rod Serling, Offutt said readers looking for moral insights and reflections on the state of society may be disappointed.
“I write a lot of things that are what I like to read, and I write for entertainment,” he said. “It’s not a social message, it’s just wanting to have fun.”
And Offutt has a word of warning for readers who may have squeamish stomachs.
“The book’s subtitle is ‘twelve bloody stories to brighten your day,’” he said. “I’m not necessarily trying to scare somebody’s pants off, but hopefully there’s a little bit of that in there.”
Offutt has published short stories before in magazines, and he said the form places demands on a writer that are very different from those associated with creating a novel or a work of non-fiction.
“With a novel you’ve got 300 pages,” he said. “These short stories are maybe 5,000 words. One is only 700. The shorter it is the more challenging it is to be able to tell the story.”