September 1, 2015

Belief and the Badge: an interview with Nick Cutter, author of "The Acolyte"

Nick Cutter is the horror genre pen name for Craig Davidson whose previous works include The Troop and The Deep. Possibly the most terrifying detail is that he lives in Toronto.

About Nick Cutter's THE ACOLYTE: Jonah Murtag is an Acolyte on the New Bethlehem police force. His job: eradicate all heretical religious faiths, their practitioners, and artefacts. Murtag’s got problems—one of his partners is a zealot, and he’s in love with the other one. Trouble at work, trouble at home. Murtag realizes that you can rob a citizenry of almost anything, but you can’t take away its faith. When a string of bombings paralyzes the city, religious fanatics are initially suspected, but startling clues point to a far more ominous perpetrator. If Murtag doesn’t get things sorted out, the Divine Council will dispatch The Quints, aka: Heaven’s Own Bagmen. The clock is ticking towards doomsday for the Chosen of New Bethlehem. And Jonah Murtag’s got another problem. The biggest and most worrisome . . . Jonah isn’t a believer anymore.

The Acolyte can be bought from, other book retailers, or even direct from Chizine.

Gef: So as Nick Cutter you've managed to put out to viscerally charged horror novels, but now you have what probably fits more in line with a dystopian thriller. What was the impetus behind writing this book, and having it published under the Nick Cutter name?

Nick: I'd say it was a moral terror against religious fundamentalism and extremism. And yeah, you're right, it kind of sits outside the Cutter work to date. It's horrific, but maybe not straight-out horror. Still, it seemed perhaps a little more a Cutter book than a Davidson one, so we decided to draft on the Cutter name!

Gef: Was there anything in the process of writing this novel that you had to approach differently compared to your previous work?

Nick: I'm not sure if there was much a difference in this case. When you write as much as I've been doing lately, it'd probably be hard to bring a different process to each book. And when you've written a few books, perhaps there's just a commonality of process that you start to bring to each book. Whatever works for you. It's pretty much as simple as needing to be really behind an idea, engaged in it and the possibilities it holds, and in love to a degree with the characters populating that world---then it's off to the races!

Gef: How important was the setting in this novel? Do you see New Bethlehem as part of an alternate history or more of a near future backdrop?

Nick: Setting was key, for sure. I guess I see it as more a possible future backdrop if every conceivable thing that could go wrong, does go wrong. I don't really see it as a truly possible dystopia. To be honest, having written this book awhile ago, I feel the fears it conjures don't impact or worry me so much as the fear of ecological/environmental collapse. A situation like The Acolyte's could come about, I suppose, once we've killed all our animals and wrecked all of our food sources and are all living on cockroach mush----THEN the circumstances might arise where a totalitarian government based on religious extremism comes into power. But we'd all be screwed and unhappy anyway, so whatever.

Gef: With religion and faith and all that fun stuff being featured in this new novel, were you expecting more push back from critics, because thus far the reception seems to be overwhelmingly positive?

Nick: Oh, I suppose there was some hope of rattling a few of those easy-to-rattle cages, yes. But I think it's really hard to shock people, and, to their credit, the religious right seems to have figured out that blowing their tops and losing their cool over stuff like this just tends to paint them in a bad light. So they don't get riled. Beyond that, we're not talking a Dawkins book here. I wasn't on CNN, sparring over it. So it's probably as much that critics don't even know the book exists. Which is fine---the public doesn't know 98% of the books that get published exist! I've had a few pointed private emails, or on my FB page, but nothing in the mainstream press, which is just fine. I'm not exactly spoiling for a fight.

Gef: How has it been working with Chizine and its rather eclectic tastes in fiction? A good fit from the get-go or a relationship that took some time to become acclimated?

Nick: Yeah, Sandra and Brett are fantastic. We go way back. They published a story of mine years ago, over a decade now, at ChiZine. They published Sarah Court, my third (or fourth, depending on how you look at it) book. Brett comes over every Friday night and we make s'mores and have pillow fights. So yeah, they were the right press and people for this book.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Nick: Oh, all over the map. Stephen King would be the primary influence, for sure. Early in my career it was different people. Now others have joined that group. I respect writers who treat it as a job, aren't precious about "the muse" and "the process" and who get all hoity-toity, artsy-fartsy, airy fairy about what writing is. That's exhausting, and---apart from a few specialized cases, people who are actually talented enough to hold that annoying (to me) viewpoint and still make a career of it---not a viewpoint that leads to success, not that I've seen.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Nick: "Let the muse come to you. Don't force it." FOH with that. I'm not saying you have to always be working, but sometimes, yeah, you might have to force it. Sit in the chair and push at an idea until it coalesces for you. Then write it. And if it's not exactly what you want, write something else. Go back to that piece later, with new eyes, and work on it some more. A piece of writing can be shaped and re-shaped. Anyway, to be honest this isn't anything I'm truly advocating. You want to let the muse come to you, fill your boots. That's truly could be what's best for you and will help you produce your best work. I don't even give advice, because everyone approaches writing differently and I'd never want to be proscriptive or say what works for me should work for you. 

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Nick: Hmmm. I don't have any guilty pleasures, really. Some people would say I'm a purveyor of guilty pleasures. Personally, I'm omnivorous. I'll read and watch just about anything, no guilt attached to it. I think that's because I've been in and around academic circles too long, and in some of those circles anything that might be seen as "a fun, brisk read" or doesn't hie to a fairly narrow definition of literary worth has sensitized me to the fact that, to some people, almost everything is a guilty pleasure. Or not even a pleasure at all---there's only the guilt of having read or watched it, when you could/should have been reading experimental poetry instead. So yeah, I'm all about "All Pleasure, All the Time---No Guilt."

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future?

Nick: Got a few in the pipeline. Under my own name, a memoir called Precious Cargo and a story collection. Nick Cutter will drop Little Heaven next spring. Lately I haven't written one word of a book. The past 6 months it's been TV and film stuff. So we'll take a stab at that and if Hollywood says bugger off I'll scamper back to books, which are likely to remain my first love anyway.

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