February 25, 2014

Boy Scouts, Body Horror, and Baby Names: an interview with Nick Cutter, author of "The Troop"

Yesterday, I posted my review of Nick Cutter's breathtakingly visceral horror novel, The Troop. To delve just a wee bit deeper into the subject matter, reactions to it, and what lies ahead, I had the good fortune to ask Nick a few questions as Simon & Schuster gears up the marketing machine on an honest-to-god horror novel. Good for them. Keep 'em coming, ladies and gents.

Gef: The Troop has the distinction of being the scariest novel since Anne of Green Gables to be set in Prince Edward Island. What was the initial attraction to that region for this story?

Nick: I’ve spent a lot of time in the Maritimes, over 5 years, so I love that part of the country. PEI has its own distinction within that: bucolic, lovely, quaint. So turning that on its head a little was fun. And I wanted to keep it Canadian, as a Canuck myself.

Gef: Body horror is one thing, but when it's backed up by some kind of science, the severity is amplified so much. It is in this novel, at any rate. I can imagine you need a pretty strong stomach to do the research necessary on this one. Am I right?

Nick: Yeah, there was the definite body horror aspect. I was actually at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and they had an exhibit on WATER. How we use it as a species, how it’s used around the world … and the things that live in it. There was a tiny little area set off one side of the sprawling exhibit, a dark little room with a video tape running on a loop. A doctor talking about the little creatures who take the villain role in this book … one of those roles, anyway. I was fascinated. That was where the research started. Totally accidental, which is how I imagine a lot of books get started.

Gef: Given the premise for the novel and the teenage characters, I've seen early reviews liken The Troop to stories like Lord of the Flies, The Ruins, and even the Eli Roth film, Cabin Fever. When writing, were you conscious of the potential to get those titles thrown your way, and if so is it something you want to embrace, avoid, or just ignore?

Nick: Oh, I think it’s unavoidable. I’ve always worn my influences on my sleeve, and the horror genre is one of conventions. It’s not that there aren’t books that stand outside of that, the odd HOUSE OF LEAVES, but to my reading there are tropes and character types that predominate. And I like that. It’s the comfy sweater aspect of it: you know what you’re slipping on. And The Troop is really meant to be just a straight-ahead, hard-charging, fireballing horror book. No pulled punches, no pretensions (not that I think other horror writers traffic in pretension). So yeah, if readers spot similarities to other books or films, that’s fair. But within that framework, I think there are aspects that are totally my own.

Gef: I haven't found all that many negative reviews of The Troop, but the couple I did see on Goodreads were based on a scene involving the death of an animal. I've always found that odd, how some object to imaginary animals suffering untimely fates in stories, while seemingly content with the imaginary people dropping like flies. Was that a reaction for which you were prepared? Conversely, is there anything you can't tolerate in the fiction you read?

Nick: Yeah, it was interesting. While writing it, my main concern, in all honesty, was: These are kids. They’re not toddlers, not first graders, but still essentially kids. Will readers put up with that? Well, the early returns indicate that yes, readers will put up with that. Animals getting hurt, however, they won’t abide. And I get that. The scenes are there, perhaps strangely in some reader’s eyes, because I love animals. I grew up around them and want my own son to grow up around them. And when my son, who is 18 months old, pulls our cat’s tail, he gets admonished. He will grow up with a love of animals, as I have. So, like most things I write, there was a distinct reason why those scenes unfold as they do. To candy-coat or fake the funk would be disingenuous to me, even within a work of fiction. But those scenes are going to test, or exceed, the tolerance of some readers. I guess what bugs me is the subsurface sense, in some of these reviews, that I as a writer must be some kind of sicko, an animal abuser, to have even come up with this. That’s a little absurd and insulting. But again, it comes with the territory. Certainly every horror writer has had to deal with that reaction from time to time.

Gef: Nick Cutter is a pretty good pen name, but the first name is a nod to your infant son, Nick. Um, you pinning some hopes of a successor to your burgeoning horror empire? Fixing on enrolling him in the Boy Scouts when he's older, by any chance?

Nick: Hah! Well, really, coming up with the pen name was fun. It’s a little honorific to my son, though we’ll see if he ends up feeling the same way when he’s a teenager—but by then he’ll think everything I do is lame, so it won’t make a difference.

Gef: Any idea what's next for Nick Cutter? Is there something already in the works, or must you wait in line while that Craig Davidson fella is writing?

Nick: Craig Davidson? Never heard of that scoundrel. Nick Cutter’s next book is set in Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in our world’s oceans, 8 miles down in the deeps.

And if you, by any chance, want to learn a little more about The Troop, you can head on over to Simon& Schuster's book section. Or even visit http://www.thetroopbook.com/

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