1. In The Narrows, is the town of Stillwater based on a real place?
Stillwater is based loosely on the area of western Maryland just west of Cumberland, where the Cumberland Narrows wind through the mountains in much the same fashion as they do in the book. I’ve kept the names of the mountains the same in the novel, although I’ve slightly altered their positions around the town to better suit the story. Even the plastics factory in the book is based on the old Artmor Plastics Corporation that was based on Wills Mountain in real life. So in a sense I’ve sort of taken that area and run it through my mental processor so that it comes out similar to Cumberland but also a bit different, too.
2. Who has been your biggest influence as a writer?
That’s a tough question. I’ve had different influences throughout different parts of my writing career, and not all of them have been authors. Of course, Stephen King’s and Peter Straub’s works were almost among my favorite and most influential. Ernest Hemingway is a writer I’ve always idolized and attempted, from time to time, to emulate. Music has also influenced my writing, as I feel every story I write has a specific soundtrack—anything from Springsteen and Mellencamp to both modern and classic jazz. The beats in the music translate to the beats in the text—dialog and exposition each have their own beats, their own tempo. Lastly, I’ve got a two-year-old daughter, and just becoming a father has influenced my writing in that I’ve readjusted the things I find engaging in the things I write (and read). I think you’d agree with me, Carl, but I don’t think a person can comprehend the breadth of true horror until they have a child. You worry about them constantly. The moment they’re born, you become a side-player in the story of your life, because now it’s all about them. As a horror writer, this has opened the door to a fresh new understanding of what true horror really is. I think this is reflected strongest in some of the work I’ve been doing lately.
3. What made you want to start writing horror?
Stephen King. I read his book The Eyes of the Dragon when I was just a young boy and went out and sought all his work after that. I read It right around the time I was about the same age as the young protagonists in the novel—eleven or twelve—and it just sucked me in. As a kid, I tended to go bounce from different artistic pursuits like a frog going from toadstool to toadstool; I’d watch cartoons then began drawing my own. I’d listen to certain music and wanted to play that music on the guitar or piano. I made “movies” with an old video camera, utilizing my siblings as actors, set to the Back to the Future soundtrack. Keeping with this trend, after reading King, I decided to write my own story, one which decidedly ripped off King’s Eyes of the Dragon (and one which I still have in a steamer trunk in my basement). Of all those pursuits, the writing has never left me, and it has only matured as I have. When I began to write “seriously,” it was King’s influence that came out on the page. That changed as I matured and continued writing, so that after a time I had developed my own style, my own voice. And although I’ve written non-horror stories and even what the good folks at publishing marketing departments would term a “mainstream novel,” I’ve always come back to horror. It’s where my heart lies and where my mind goes.
4. Is there any subject that is off limits for you as a writer?
Of course, I have my preferences as to what interests me—I’ve never been a big gore fan, for instance—but if the story calls for it, then no, nothing is off limits. Someone once said it’s the artist’s job to never look away, and I believe that.
5. The Narrows has some strong mystery elements. Do you ever foresee writing a mystery novel in the future?
I’d say that nearly everything I write has some element of mystery to it. My 2011 novel Floating Staircase is just as much a mystery as it is a ghost story. The town’s name in Staircase is Westlake, which is a nod to crime writer Donald Westlake, so yeah, that was a very conscious thing. Even older books, like Passenger, is a mystery at its heart, albeit done in an unusual fashion.
6. How did you come up with the concept for The Narrows?
On the heels of the success of my novel Snow, which deals with some unique monsters, I continued thinking along those lines. Vampires have been done to death, and there was nothing left about them that—at least for me—scares me (although I’ve recently read Enter, Night by Michael Rowe, a wonderful novel which shows that there are still some delightfully creepy and original things being done with the sub-genre). Yet I still liked the feel of vampire stories—the gothic dread, the atmosphere. I thought, What if I could write a vampire novel without vampires? What type of creature could take their place—a creature that, throughout history, may have given birth to the vampire legend? And that opened up the door to all these thoughts. I thought of the symbiotic relationship between animals in the real world, and that was how I came up with how the creatures eat and survive. The story I built around these creatures was based very loosely on an old manuscript I’d written…oh, I guess back when I was a teenager…about vampires coming to a small town. I took pieces of that old story and Frankensteined it into this new tale.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The Sun Also Rises.
8. Do you outline prior to writing your story, or do you work out the plot as you write?
I never outline. I let a story stew in my head for some time, and once that opening sentence jumps out at me, I sit down and begin to write. Often, I’ll have some semblance of an idea where the story is headed, though I generally never have the ending completely planned out. I feel this gives the stories a more natural and organic feeling. I also find that outlining a story breeds writer’s block; once I know where a story is going—once I know all the beats and how it ends—I lose interest in writing it. I write from the point of view as the first reader, and I want the reading process—the writing process—to be one of adventure and discovery.
9. What current writing projects are you working on?
I’ve recently finished a novel called Little Girls, which my agent is currently shopping around. I’m also gearing up to promote the paperback and ebook release of my novel Cradle Lake which will be out in June. In the next few months, Samhain Publishing will be re-releasing my 2004 novel The Fall of Never in paperback and ebook, and I’m really excited about that. And of course, my novella The Mourning House was just released this month from Darkfuse Publications, and has already garnered some delightful reviews.
10. If you could invite five people to a dinner party (alive or dead, real or fictional) who would you invite?
I’d invite my grandfather, and keep the remaining four chairs empty.