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Stuff of nightmares: Horror novel Dollhouse was inspired by dream from 20 years ago

Andrew McManaman draws on ’80s horror flicks and his own subconscious in new book 
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Andrew McManaman at a signing for his new horror novel, Dollhouse.

Most of us still have that one nightmare that was so vivid, so frightening that the memory of it lingers within us, sometimes for years on end. For former Whistlerite Andrew McManaman, it was a particularly terrifying dream he had as a seven-year-old that has refused to relinquish its hold on his psyche all these years later. 

“It was horrible. I’ll never forget it,” the author says. “I’m 27 and I still remember it clear as day 20 years later.” 

Not one to let a good idea go to waste, McManaman laid his two-decade-old nightmare into the foundation of his new horror-thriller novel, Dollhouse, about single mother Darla, who awakens to find herself trapped in a house in the woods, surrounded by six complete strangers and with no memory of how she got there. Every night when the clock strikes nine, the house’s only door unlocks. But as the group ventures out into the forest, it becomes clear something is lurking in the darkness that wants to do them harm, forcing them back to the cabin. With limited food and no water, Darla must solve the puzzle of who put them there, while deciphering the true intentions of her fellow housemates. 

A lover of horror from the late ’70 and ’80s, McManaman says films like John Carpenter’s The Thing and even Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful Eight served as inspiration for the book. 

“I love when characters are isolated in a location. I don’t know if it’s a real term or not, but I consider those kinds of movies a pickoff, like each character getting picked off one by one until there’s the final person,” he explains. 

Like most great horrors of that ilk, the real threat lies not just in the monster lurking outside, but the people inside. 

“I’m so fascinated by human nature, and especially groups of people and how they react in a stressful situation. With Darla and all these other characters, not everyone is who they seem to be. That paranoia and that fear of one another is so prevalent,” McManaman says. 

While the idea for Dollhouse came well before the pandemic, the bulk of McManaman’s writing happened while he was living in Whistler (he moved to Vancouver last spring), much of it during lockdown. Dollhouse’s themes of isolation and paranoia ended up being timelier than he could have imagined. 

“As I kept writing Dollhouse, I was also in isolation and that feeling was obviously not nearly as extreme as [in the book] but it did help to experience that feeling of being stuck, a little freaked out and paranoid,” he says. “I love that drama, that chaos. I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated by it. Even now with everything going on, it’s interesting to see how people are reacting to this pandemic. There are people you didn’t even expect to have certain beliefs, but they do. It’s interesting times.” 

Dollhouse was originally put on paper as a short story, before McManaman, an avowed film buff, adapted it into a screenplay. It wasn’t until the Ottawa native made the move to Whistler a few years back that he truly buckled down on the novel. 

As it turned out, Whistler’s distinct landscape loomed large over the writing process. “In my old dream as a kid, it was actually a house in the middle of the desert. Well, woods are way scarier,” he says. “I was on a hike in the middle of the woods and that feeling of night in the woods is a unique feeling. I know it sounds so cliché, but it is scary once you’re there. It’s a freaky feeling. I think being in Whistler was definitely helpful.” 

Now with his third novel under his belt, McManaman went the independent route for Dollhouse, releasing it through his own imprint, Popcorn Paperbacks*, a nod to his love of films and the visual way he works. 

“There are certain books that read like a movie, and I love books like that, and that’s what I was trying to get at with it,” he says.

But while the 27-year-old enjoys the freedom of self-publishing, he has his eyes set on a traditional publisher that specializes in horror Westerns, a subgenre that is near and dear to McManaman’s heart. 

“I love Westerns,” he admits. “One story is written, first-draft-wise, and I have three horror-Western ideas that I’m working on. I was maybe going to pitch out to them. I wouldn’t mind having a traditionally published book; I think it’d be great.” 

Dollhouse is available at the Whistler Public Library, on Amazon and wherever books are sold. 

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the name of McManaman's independent publishing imprint.