Baseball pops up in a lot of your stories (the kids in CHILDREN OF THE DARK, Mike in WOLF LAND…) how important is the sport to you, and could we ever see a BLOCKADE BILLY style novel?
Thanks for the awesome introduction, Matt. It's very appreciated.
I love baseball. I played a lot as a kid and was a good fielder. I could never hit it very far since I was built like a stick figure, at least as a child. Because of my lack of pop at the plate, I lost interest in it when I was fifteen and concentrated on basketball because I was much better at it. However, when my son was born, I saw the opportunity to share the sport together, and as luck would have it, he's a darn good player and a far better hitter than I ever was. So we share the sport and spend a great deal of time hitting at the field, playing catch in the yard, or going to Cubs games during the summer. It's very special to both of us.
As for a baseball novel...I will definitely use it in some way at some point in the future. As in, yeah, I can for sure see doing a baseball story. I'm not sure what form it would take yet, but there's no question the sport lends itself to great storytelling, so I'd like to delve into it deeply at some point.
By the way, you're the first one to ask me that question!
You don’t shy away from graphic scenes (much in the same vein as Richard Laymon), yet your characters are well rounded and sincere. How important is it to find that balance, and do you think there is such a thing as ‘too far’?
First of all, thank you! Secondly... I always adhere to the William Faulkner theory. He was asked once (after he'd written a rather shocking novel called SANCTUARY) if he included shocks just for titillation. His answer was basically, "A carpenter doesn't build a house so he can hammer nails; he hammers nails so he can build a house."
That's how I view violence. It's a raw material (or a tool) that an author sometimes utilizes to tell his/her tale. For me, my imagination is pretty dark, so I naturally gravitate toward unpleasant events, but I never do that because I enjoy it or because I'm misanthropic. In fact, much of what I write hurts me to write. But I have to tell the truth, and I have to be honest with the story and the characters.
As far as whether or not anything is "too far," I think that's a question each artist has to answer individually. There are certain elements I'm not comfortable with, so I only refer to them in an oblique way. For example, in WOLF LAND, there's a sexually abusive father. I included just enough to show how ghastly this was, but I stopped well short of describing events in detail. I wouldn't be comfortable doing that, but that's a situation another author might handle differently.
Horror often serves as a mirror for social issues and personal ghosts — Has a novel ever helped you through a bad time?
I'd say so, yes. I overthink everything, as my wife often reminds me, and the fact that I get to work out my fears and insecurities and doubts and regrets on the page really does help my mental health. Like everyone, I have regrets, so those get shared as a sort of confessional in some books. I sometimes feel unequipped to be the father I want to be, so you'll see that insecurity arise often, as in THE NIGHTMARE GIRL and the SORROWS books. When I have lost someone dear to me, writing has been a sanctuary, so in that regard it's also highly therapeutic. So...yes. A resounding yes to your question.
Coming-of-age stories tend to get the same scrutiny as horror tropes in terms of sub-genre, were you apprehensive about how CHILDREN OF THE DARK might be received?
I thought it would end my career. I really did. Then again, I've felt that way about a couple of my books (WOLF LAND and CASTLE OF SORROWS come to mind), but I don't think I've felt it as strongly as I did with CHILDREN OF THE DARK. It was just so...different from my other stuff. The characters were much younger, obviously, and the you-know-what didn't hit the fan until halfway through the book. What would readers make of this? Would they think I was trying to soften my approach or write something more commercial? I didn't know. I was worried sick though. Ironically, it has been my most successful novel so far, which shows I know absolutely nothing about how folks will receive my work.
Is there a singular piece of advice you return to when in doubt about your work?
Absolutely. Mike Myers, the guy who plays Shrek and Austin Powers, got his start on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. He wrote for the show as well as performing in it, and what he told himself was, "Give yourself permission to suck." For me, that advice really resonated because I tend to be a perfectionist. And I get to be--in the editing. But when I write my first drafts, I just go, and though much of what I write at first is just garbage, no one ever sees it, and there's more than enough quality buried under the refuse for me to shape the piece into something I can be proud of.
What’s to follow EXORCIST FALLS?
Man... 2018 is going to be insane. Outside of three completed books--one that's already contracted with a publisher, one that's with my agent, and another that I haven't really shown anybody and love more than anything I've done so far--I'll have, at minimum, nine books coming in 2018 that aren't currently for sale.
Eight of those, of course, will be my backlist titles: THE SORROWS, HOUSE OF SKIN, THE DARKEST LULLABY, SAVAGE SPECIES, DUST DEVILS, CASTLE OF SORROWS, THE NIGHTMARE GIRL, and WOLF LAND. The other will be a ghost story coming from Flame Tree Press called THE SIREN AND THE SPECTER. I'm finishing up edits now and will send it to my editor on Halloween. After that, I'll be doing some finishing touches and the aforementioned "secret" project that I'm in love with, and then around Winter Break (late December), I'll return to CHILDREN OF THE DARK 2 (not the real title). I'm hoping to have that one done by the end of...probably May 2018. Then I'll get to work on my next project.
Thanks for having me, Matt. You're a great writer and an even better person.
EXORCIST FALLS is available to buy HERE