Sunday, June 15, 2008

Interview With Horror Novelist, Nate Kenyon

A Horror World Conversation with Nate Kenyon, by Steven E. Wedel.



There just must be something about the state of Maine. Something up there is helping to produce some mighty fine authors of dark fiction. One of the newest masters of the dark to emerge from the Pine Tree State is Nate Kenyon. Nate burst onto the scene in 2006 with his debut novel BLOODSTONE, which became a finalist for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for that year.

Just about a week ago, BLOODSTONE hit an even bigger audience as Leisure Books released the mass market paperback. Now, with Nate Kenyon set to become a household name (at least in houses inhabited by dark fiction addicts), it’s high time Horror World readers got to know the man behind the keyboard.

Horror World: Nate, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. I understand that you’ve always been an avid reader. Tell us a little about your early reading. What were some of your favorite books?

Nate Kenyon: Wow, how much time do you have? I devoured books of all kinds when I was a kid—mysteries (Hardy Boys), spy novels from Tom Clancy and others, classics like Robinson Crusoe and Huck Finn and Wind in the Willows, the Black Beauty series (I wrote a ripoff of that called The White Horse when I was eight, and sold copies of the 20-page typewritten masterpiece to relatives for a quarter), and many, many others. Of course there was a lot of horror mixed in there, both juvenile and adult. I remember discovering King’s stuff when I was around 12 or so, and it really opened my eyes to a new, more dangerous and exciting type of fiction: I knew right then I wanted to do that kind of writing.

HW: When did you move from being a reader of fiction to a writer of fiction? What made you want to write your own stories?

NK: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to write the same type of stuff I was reading—the two things just seemed to go hand-in-hand. I loved creating something of my own. I mentioned The White Horse already, but I wrote a ton of other stuff even back then, when I was seven, eight years old. I never finished many of my stories, but I started a hell of a lot of them!

HW: Now, sadly, you had not one, but two family tragedies early in your life, as you lost first your father in a car accident when you were eight, then your mother to cancer when you were 13. How did that affect your outlook on life, and how did it influence your writing?

NK: It had a tremendous affect on me, as you can imagine. My father’s death was sudden, and so that was a very different experience from my mother’s death, which was a pretty long process. She’d actually already been diagnosed with advanced cancer when my father had his accident, so she spent much of that time dealing with not one but two major tragedies. She tried to shield my sister and me from as much of that as she could, but we knew things were serious with her illness. She lived five more years with it, but a lot of that time, particularly near the end, was not pleasant.

I think going through that sort of thing as a child changes your outlook on life; you begin to see things through a darker filter. Every event seems more sinister, whether it really is or not, and it’s difficult to feel safe. I’m sure that’s one reason why I chose to explore these things in my fiction.

HW: Some of your early fiction found homes in magazines and journals like Nude Beach, Nocturnal Ecstasy, and Terminal Fright. Tell us a little bit about those stories. Are they available these days?

NK: God, no. I think pretty much every place I got published in the early days is belly up now (a connection, perhaps?). The real reason is that I had quite a long layoff between when I first started trying to break into the business and when I landed the contract for Bloodstone. I grew up, got married, started a family and found a “real” job. During those intervening years, I didn’t stop writing, but I did stop submitting. So there’s a gap of about ten years between publications.

HW: You had several near misses as you looked to sell some early novels prior to 1995. What do you think kept you from cracking the market back then?

NK: Immaturity, for one. And I don’t think my writing was quite good enough either. I didn’t know how to edit myself, and so I was submitting 140,000 word novels to agents and editors who kept saying, “gee, this is pretty good in places, but it’s too long” and then instead of hammering away and cutting things, down, I’d get discouraged and just try to write something else. I also had no idea how to make connections and use them to help my career. I didn’t go to workshops or conventions, I didn’t know anyone in the business, and the Internet wasn’t really around yet to help with that sort of stuff the way it does now.

HW: It was during this time that you took on the role of husband and father. As all of us playing that role know, it can take away a lot of the time that used to go toward writing. How did you stay focused on writing as your life changed?

NK: I tried to do a little bit of something every day, but it certainly did cut down on my output. I wouldn’t say I remained focused on writing, but I did keep at it when I could. In an odd way, I think the fact that I stopped submitting actually helped me—once again, the writing became a little more about the process and having fun with the story, rather than looking at it as a job, and that is always a good thing. My free time went to the writing, rather than the business side of things too, so I was able to get some more done than if I’d spent a couple of hours doing cover letters and getting envelopes in the mail.

HW: You’ve lived in at least three different states and had jobs in libraries and law firms. How much do your surroundings and the day job influence what you write?

NK: When you’re writing horror fiction, life at a library or law school doesn’t normally contribute much in the way of inspiration. But little things creep in. For example, in my second novel, The Reach (coming in December), the action takes place in and around Boston, and my main character actually visits the Brookline Library where I worked for three years. In the novel I just finished the action centers around an abandoned hydroelectric power plant, and the law firm where I worked after graduating college had a hydropower firm as a major client. I was dealing with a lot of paperwork around their latest projects, and that stuff came back to me. And of course with Bloodstone, the town of White Falls, while not a perfect match for the little town of Dresden where I grew up, does share a few landmarks in common.

It took me a long time to understand what writers mean when they tell aspiring writers to “write what you know.” It doesn’t mean you have to write a novel where your main character works the same 9-5 job you do; it means you need to infuse your fiction with small pieces of your daily experiences and memories, to give your work an authenticity it might otherwise lack—even if the plot involves giant man-eating bugs. At least that’s the way I see it.

HW: OK, we’ve covered quite a bit of what you were up to between 1995 and 2005, when you sold BLOODSTONE to Five Star Press. Granted, you naturally gained in maturity during that time. What else do you think contributed to you finally breaking into the novel market?

NK: Honestly, I don’t think it was anything other than being in the right place at the right time. There I was, out of the game, hadn’t submitted anything to anyone in nearly ten years, when I decided I just didn’t want to let my dream die. I wanted to give it one more shot. So I reached out to Ed Gorman, someone I’d heard through another editor friend of mine had liked my work way back when. Remember, this was years ago, and I’d never spoken to him in person before. But I decided to email him and asked for his advice, he asked to see some sample chapters of my work, forwarded them on to Five Star, and a couple of months later I had a contract. It sounds ridiculously easy, until you consider the three or four years I spent out of college, working my butt off and not catching that break.

I really think email and the Internet have changed the game so dramatically for writers. I googled Ed Gorman, shot off an email, and had a response in less than an hour. A few minutes later he had my sample chapters. Ten years before I couldn’t have made that connection so easily. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t use this opportunity to point out what an incredible man Ed is. He really didn’t know me from a hole in the ground, and yet he was willing to read my work and recommend it to a publisher. He’s the reason I’m in this business today, and there are a lot of other writers out there who would say the same thing.

HW: Talk to us about BLOODSTONE. What’s it about, and what inspired it?

NK: This could take a while…for a longer piece about how the story all began, I’d point people to the Leisure website [], which has an article I wrote on that subject. But briefly, most stories begin for me with an image or scene in my head, and I just start writing about it. Bloodstone was the same way, but I very quickly got caught up in the idea of turning a particular horror cliché on its head, and trying to make someone who seemed like a villain into the hero of the novel. That interested me: what would it take to make readers identify with and root for someone who had done something terrible?

I also very purposely set out to write a horror novel. Up to that point, most of my work was certainly dark and intense. But I never intentionally tried to write “horror” or “sci fi” or “thrillers.” With Bloodstone, I wanted to write something that was a tribute to all the great horror I’d read through the years, something that would involve possession and demons and ghosts and zombies and haunted houses (a reviewer once called Bloodstone an “epic horror romp,” and I love that because that’s what I wanted to do, have some fun with the genre). I also wanted to explore the feeling of small New England towns like the one where I grew up.

Another thing that crept into the novel was the idea of the town being “sick,” and more than once reference to cancer—Billy Smith’s own mother dies of cancer, Angel’s brother dies of leukemia, and the very ground in White Falls is described as being rotten or cancerous. Both these characters are haunted by nightmares of their loved ones returning to them from the grave. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but looking back I can see that writing Bloodstone may well have been an exorcism of sorts for me in dealing with my mother’s death many years before. This wasn’t intentional, but it happened, all the same.

HW: How long did it take you to write it?

NK: The first draft took about three or four months, and clocked in at about 140,000 words. This was back in the late 1990s. I edited it a couple of times, then set it aside. When I got in touch with Ed Gorman and sent the rest of it to Five Star, I edited it down again and cut a lot of words—almost 40K. I just felt that to have a chance it needed to be tighter, a more appropriate length for a first novel. I think it did make the book stronger, but a lot was lost too—quite a bit more about the town and other characters in it. I’d love to do an “author’s version” someday where I try to restore some of that stuff.

HW: Are there any differences between the Five Star hardcover and the Leisure paperback?

NK: Yes, one in particular. I got a lot of comments and emails about a scene that was referenced only after the fact by one character relating it to another. People really seemed to want to see this scene play out on the page, and I didn’t blame them—it was one of the last scenes I cut when I was editing for length, and I regretted cutting it. It’s a pivotal point in the life of Pat Friedman, who is not a main character, but still plays an important role. So I asked Don if I could put it back in for the Leisure edition, and he agreed.

HW: You signed a two-book contract with Leisure. BLOODSTONE will be followed up by THE REACH in December of this year. What is that book about?

NK: It’s a much leaner, faster sort of read than Bloodstone, and it straddles the line between horror and thriller. A different type of novel in many ways, but I’m really proud of it. Here’s the plot synopsis I used when selling the book:

Over 98% of the human genome is considered ‘junk DNA,’ sequences for which no function has yet been identified. Some scientists believe these sequences were once functional copies of genes that have since lost their protein-coding ability.

But what if those genes were simply dormant, and could become active with the proper trigger? And what if one of them, once awakened, made the carrier capable of things previously considered the stuff of legend—literally, the power of mind over matter?

The vision has haunted graduate student Jess Chambers for years—her autistic brother lying bloodied in the road, one hand still reaching out for her help. She was supposed to have been watching after him. Now nothing she could do would bring him back.

When Jess is assigned to work with a young schizophrenic housed in a children’s psychiatric ward, it seems as if her chance at redemption might finally be at hand. But Sarah is no ordinary little girl, and this is no ordinary facility. A shadowy biotechnology company called Helix has been studying Sarah’s remarkable genetic gift for years, enhancing and manipulating its effect, twisting something miraculous into something evil. But their plans have gone terribly wrong, erupting in an inferno of fire and blood, and Sarah has withdrawn deep inside her mind to a place no one else can reach.

Now Helix is growing desperate, and Jess Chambers finds herself in the middle of a battle over one of the most explosive genetic discoveries in the history of mankind. Every move Jess makes draws her deeper into a complex web of deceit, making her question her own strength and resolve, until finally she must make a choice; walk away from yet another young child she has come to see as her responsibility, or fight overwhelming odds to stop those who see the girl as nothing more than a tool that must be kept and controlled no matter what the consequence.

But Sarah has a mind of her own. Nobody can predict what she will do when pushed to the breaking point. None of them truly understand the terrifying power of The Reach.

HW: What are your writing goals beyond publication of THE REACH? What else is in the works, or planned for release?

NK: I just turned in a third horror novel, and I’m finishing up a thriller right now that I’m pretty excited about. I also just agreed to do a science fiction novella for a great up-and-coming small press which I’ll announce soon, and have several short stories coming out in magazines and anthologies. I have ideas for sequels to both Bloodstone and The Reach, and I may dive into those this summer. But lately I’ve been interested in tackling another epic-style, standalone horror novel. We’ll see what happens. As long as I’m writing and getting more publishing contracts, I’ll be happy.

HW: Your wife is, or was, a newspaper reporter. Does she play a part in your writing, as first reader and/or editor?

NK: My wife is not a huge horror fan, but she does read my work. She’s a brutally honest editor, which (if your ego can stand it) is the best kind, I suppose. She’s a great writer herself, and really understands how to cut through to the meat of the story. That can be very helpful. And she’s brilliant with technology. Her skills came in handy when I was in need of a website and book trailer— is all her, and I think it’s been an important part of my success.

HW: All right, I alluded to it at the start of this piece, and you mentioned being influenced by him. As a horror writer originating in Maine, I’m sure you’re asked a lot about that Stephen King guy. Can you compare your style to his? Is there something about that region of the country that helps people see into the darkness?

NK: Absolutely. They give out pills when you cross the border. Seriously, I’ve written about this before, but I do think the state of Maine does something to you—the long, dark nights, the isolation, the cold winters. There’s something about those woods. Even if you have neighbors, chances are on the other side of their house is a stretch of wilderness where anything could sneak up on you!

As far as style is concerned, I’m flattered that anyone would think to compare me to him. I grew up reading his work, and I think he’s brilliant. If I could be half the writer, I’d be damned happy.

HW: How about book tours and promotion? Will fans be able to meet Nate Kenyon and get their books signed on a whirlwind tour this year?

NK: I’ll be doing some appearances, but I’m more focused on viral and online marketing right now than anything else. My day job and family life prevent me from touring up and down the coast. I do have a signing at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge on May 10, and others at Barnes and Noble in Framingham near the end of May and a few places in Maine this summer (details will be up on my website soon). I’ll be at ThrillerFest in New York in July, and Necon in Rhode Island. And I’ll probably hit Horrorfind in the fall. Other events are in the works (the Newton library system, for example), but nothing firm yet.

HW: Well Nate, I’m pretty much out of questions. Do you have anything you wanted to get off your chest but I was too dense to ask about?

NK: I want to thank Ed Gorman for all he has done for me, and Five Star Books for their support; also thanks to Don D’Auria and everyone at Leisure for bringing Bloodstone out in paperback and being so enthusiastic about my career. And I’d like to thank all those writers who read the book and offered blurbs and support. We have an incredibly supportive horror community. It’s pretty remarkable how friendly and receptive everyone has been to a relative newbie.

HW: Thanks again for your time, Nate. We wish you the best of luck with the new release of BLOODSTONE and the later release of THE REACH, and everything after that.


Brian M Logan

Never miss out on a great article or blog post by joining the 'Blog Up-Date Notification List' by sending an email with the word SUBSCRIBE in the 'comments' field!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home