What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Oh, days are easily filled by my two awesome kids, my girlfriend, and her boy. I try to work out every morning. And if I have some evening downtime, a good, dark TV show and a margarita is hard to beat.
What's your motivation to go so very dark in your writing?
Well, a good story is about conflict. I like to explore how someone reacts to great tragedy, or some event that is beyond what most people would ever have to deal with. What do they have to do to push through to the other side? In order to test the limits of my characters, bad things need to happen. It's not so exciting to see how someone deals with a tax audit.
Why did you choose to narrate a male protagonist and a female antagonist?
The killing that takes place in the first chapter was originally perpetrated by a boy. When I re-read it, there was something not quite right about the scene. Then I re-wrote it with a 16 year-old girl doing the killing, and it just became so much more intriguing. It's just so unexpected.
What did you discover in your research of female serial killers for The Boy in the Woods?
Female serial killers have such different motivations than their male counterparts. Women kill typically kill out of passion or for money, whereas male serial killers are much more ritualistic, often sexually so. A sexually motivated female serial killer is very rare, and I wanted to explore that angle.
Is the girl from the woods based on any historic female serial killers, or did you draw inspiration for her elsewhere?
No one directly. I researched the most prolific female serial killers and took some bits from each of their stories. Of course the most famous is Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed, who was thought to have killed hundreds of young girls between 1585 and 1610. It's no coincidence my antagonist shares the same first name as her.
Is it difficult to get into the head of a serial killer and justify her actions?
Ha! A loaded question if I ever heard one. The short answer is: yes, it can be difficult. Serial killers usually believe what they are doing is correct and just, so I had to get inside Elizabeth's head and try to understand not only why she does the things she does, but how she can enjoy those things as well. For Elizabeth, killing is as necessary to her existence as food and water. Death is life for her.
Tommy, the protagonist of The Boy in the Woods, is a best-selling thriller writer--not unlike you. Are there other similarities between you and Tommy, and if so, were they intentional?
There are a few similarities, but not too many. I'm much funnier and have far less money.
Do you use fiction as therapy, like Tommy does?
Writing is often therapeutic for me. It's an escape for a part of the day into a place only I know about, or at least until I let others in. It's my secret hiding spot.
Has anything from your past ever come back to haunt you, and if so, what was it?
Speaking of therapy! Well, there was the one time that I--Honestly, no, and certainly not on the scale of what Tommy's past contained. In writing the book, I was intrigued by how far someone would go to keep a secret from their family in order to "protect" them. This, of course, was the essence of the show Breaking Bad, which found its protagonist falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole as he tried to live a lie.
You're known to frighten your readers with your dark plots, so tell us: what are you afraid of?
Good question. In no particular order: open water, ebola, hoarder houses, any insect with more than two eyes, musky basements, identical-twin children dressed in all white, and any clown that smiles.
Have you ever written anything so dark you had to edit it out?
Never anything that I was told to remove, though I've written some things that I've deleted after letting the manuscript sit for a while. There was a paragraph in THE BOY IN THE WOODS that I removed just before it went to print, not because it was too disturbing, but because it felt more like I was going for shock value rather the paragraph being integral to the story. And that's the key. It's okay to be shocking, but there needs to be a reason for it. There was a scene in my first book that disturbed some editors, but my agent, Pam Ahearn, supported keeping it in because it was important to the story. Pam is awesome, by the way.
What motivated you to keep trying after publishing companies rejected your first four books?
My writing improves with each book, so a rejection is just an opportunity to create something better. It does get frustrating, however, because it's such a highly competitive field with less and less money coming into it.
Your bio says you live in a "spooky" Victorian house in Colorado. What's the story behind the house?
I live in a neighborhood that is of newer construction, but all the houses have to be designed in a style that would have been present in 19th-century Colorado. I wanted a design that had flashes of the Addams' Family house, so it was conceived in that spirit. Purple and green, a turret with iron cresting, gargoyles, bats, etc. Halloween is a lot of fun at my house.
Would you ever consider writing a fiction novel that's not a thriller?
I would, but not so different it would alienate my existing readers. I'm working on something now that would still be considered suspense, but far less dark than my first two novels.
The Minneapolis Books Examiner said that The Boy in the Woods is "in the vein of early Stephen King or some of Dean Koontz's stronger single novels." How have successful thriller novelists, perhaps Stephen King and Dean Koontz themselves, influenced your writing?
It's hard to find a better storyteller out there than Stephen King. I think I've tried to learn from both King and Koontz how to keep the pace of a story tight and fast, without sacrificing character development. Often a well-placed word can say more about a character than a page of backstory.
Your first published book, Final Crossing, was in fact the fifth book you tried to get published. What advice can you give to aspiring authors who have also been rejected?
The same thing any other writer will tell you: 1) Learn from your rejections, 2) Write every day, and 3) Don't quit your day job.
Do you have any stories currently in the works, and if so, what are they about?
I have a book completed written from a woman's point of view, and it's about her realization that something is very wrong with her husband. And the second book I ever wrote is something I'm returning to now, because it's a good story that wasn't written the way it needs to be. In essence, it's about a man who attempts suicide after his wife is killed in a car accident, and his failed attempt brings about a series of visions that he's convinced will uncover a plot about the real reason his wife was killed.
Earlier this summer, you gave away copies of The Boy in the Woods to five lucky fans who emailed you their favorite expletives in the subject line. How did you come up with the idea for the contest?
A reviewer on Amazon hated my book because I apparently used the word "fuck" too much. That fucker was my inspiration for the contest.
What were the winning expletives?
Oh, they were all atrocious. You should have seen my inbox. One of my favorite (and more subtle) winners was "Gay cockin often yom," which apparently is Yiddish for "go take a shit in the ocean." The other winners mostly had some interesting derivation of the word "fuck" along with suggestions for things to do with one's cousins.
What is your favorite expletive?
I credit my friend Amy from introducing me to "Holy Jesus Fuckstick." That kills at cocktail parties.
What do you do when you have writer's block?
I'm usually trying to find a block of time to actually write, so I'm fortunate not to have suffered writer's block. Not that there's anything wrong with writer's block. It's common and happens to lots of guys. Sometimes it's okay just to cuddle.
For those of who haven't read The Boy in the Woods yet, can you give a quick rundown of the story?
Of course. In 1981, three fourteen-year-old boys witness a horrific murder in the Oregon woods near their homes. Sucked into becoming accomplices to the subsequent cover-up, they swear never to talk about what happened. Thirty years later, Tommy Devereaux has become a bestselling author, using writing as his therapy. Finally, he is ready to tell the world what happened, even if he disguises the killing as fiction. But his life is set to unravel when he is approached by a woman who asks for his autograph, leaving behind a note which reads: 'You didn't even change my name.' Tommy's worst nightmare has come true. A figure from his past has returned, threatening to divulge his darkest secret unless he agrees to do everything she asks of him. Thus begins a deadly cat-and-mouse game that can only end with one or both of their destructions.