September 16, 2015

Horror Is Where the Heart Is: an interview with Rio Youers, author of "Point Hollow"

Point Hollow, NY. A town with secrets. To the tourists that visit each summer, it is quintessential America. They stroll through its picturesque streets and hike its stunning trails. No one sees the cracks in the town's veneer. No one knows its terrible history . . . a secret that has been buried-forgotten. But Abraham's Faith, the mountain that overshadows Point Hollow, doesn't forget so easily. It is wicked and controlling. It is filled with the bones of children. Oliver Wray is Point Hollow's favorite son, its most generous benefactor, admired by all. But Oliver, like the town, has a secret: Abraham's Faith speaks to him, and he has spent a lifetime serving its cruel needs. He believes his secret is safe, but one person has glimpsed the darkness in his heart. . . . Matthew Bridge hasn't set foot in Point Hollow for twenty-six years. Something horrifying happened to him there. Memories of an ordeal that flicker and taunt, but cannot be recalled. Now, trying to find the answers to his failed marriage and failing life, Matthew is coming home. Back to Point Hollow. Back to Abraham's Faith. (source:

Rio Youers is a multi-platform writer, working in books and comics. He is the author of Mama Fish (Shroud Publishing) and Old Man Scratch (PS Publishing)—the latter earning him a British Fantasy Award nomination in 2010. His novelette, This is the Summer of Love, was the title story of PS Publishing’s first new-look Postscripts anthology, a publication in which Rio has appeared three times. His short fiction has also been published by, among others, St. Martin’s Griffin, Cemetery Dance, and IDW Publishing.

Rio lives in southwestern Ontario with his wife, Emily, and their daughter, Lily Maye. (source:

Gef: Would you say Point Hollow fits in with the notion of New England horror, or were you aiming for something further from the beaten path of American gothic tales?

Rio: Point Hollow is set in the Hudson Valley, in upstate New York, which isn’t too far from New England. I lived there for a couple of years. It’s a beautiful part of the country: mountains, lakes, rivers, punctuated with  towns, some creepy, some picturesque, but all diverse. Certainly the geography inspired the story. And in truth, I wasn’t aiming for anything when I wrote it, other than to deliver a character-rich dark thriller set in a picturesque (but sinister) town in the Hudson Valley. I was drawn by the idea of something being so beautiful, but so broken.

Gef: What was the impetus behind this book?

Rio: Again, that idea of something sinister lurking beneath the surface. This is explored in fiction frequently, usually in regard to character, but I really wanted to explore it with this town, Point Hollow, which has some very dark secrets. I imagine tourists taking photos and buying souvenirs, remarking on Point Hollow’s beauty, while all the time blissfully unaware of the terrible things that have happened there in the past—things that can shape a town, and the people living in it.

Also, I’ve moved around a lot in my life. Nowhere really feels like home to me, you know? I guess the closest I have to a hometown would be High Wycombe in the UK, where I lived until I was ten years old. I go back very rarely, but when I do its like connecting with ghosts. I see myself as a boy, I see my neighbors, and the kids I used to kick around with. The whole town is full of ghosts—of memories. It’s melancholic and powerful, and I was driven to tap into that in Point Hollow.

Gef: There seems to be a bit of the "you can never go home again" threaded through Point Hollow, with a character returning after being away for a quarter-century. Is that something you wanted to look at with this book, or is this character serve more as your in-road to this strange little town and its deep, dark secrets?

Rio: Touching on my previous answer, the “returning home” theme was one of the novel’s driving forces, but yeah, it was also the perfect in-road to Point Hollow and its terrible darkness. Writing this novel, I played with the idea that so much can change in a quarter of a century, and so much can stay the same. I find both concepts to be quite unsettling.

Gef: How influential has smalltown folklore played on your writing, particularly the horror-tinged works, whether it be American, Canadian, or even British? Does Canada have its own flavor of horror do you find, or are we more likely to look south of the border for our scares?

Rio: I’ve always enjoyed small town horror stories. Again, it’s the appeal of that sinister element existing beneath the surface, and this is certainly something that has inspired my work over the years. Point Hollow, obviously, but also stories like “Mama Fish” and “Outside Heavenly.” I guess I like the idea of visiting somewhere … just so long as leaving is always an option.

As for Canadian horror … this is a golden age, no doubt about it. Canada is blessed with so many fabulous horror writers: Michael Rowe, Gemma Files, David Nickle, Helen Marshall, Ian Rogers, Nick Cutter (Craig Davidson) to name but a few. I could go on. And they’re all incredible—comfortably among the best in the genre.

I’m not sure that the flavor of Canadian horror goes deeply beyond its nuances of region and dialect. At its core, horror is universal. A zombie by any other name is still a zombie.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Rio: I always answer this question by saying Graham Greene, Peter Straub, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson … and yeah, they’re all among my major influences. But on this occasion, I’d also like to point out some contemporary writers whose work I admire. I’ll begin with everybody I mentioned in the previous answer, and add Sarah Pinborough, Benjamin Percy, Kelly Braffet, Alison Littlewood, David Mitchell, Gillian Flynn, Lauren Beukes, Owen King. There are more, and of course my mind is drawing a classic blank right now, but yeah, these are great writers, and great writing will always inspire and influence me.

Gef: What do you consider to be the saving grace of the genre?

Rio: Outside of a host of wonderful writers doing outstanding work, and editors like Ellen Datlow, Stephen Jones, and Johnny Mains, there are a handful of amazing small presses that truly understand the genre, and do so much to shine a light on gifted writers who might not get the same attention with a bigger press.

Gef: Is there any kind of gear shift in your approach when writing a novel like this compared to your previous publication with Chizine, Westlake Soul?

Rio: Not really. I follow the story, the voice. A gear shift assumes I have some control, when really I have very little. Quite often I’m just along for the ride.

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?

Rio: You know, I honestly can’t think of any particularly bad advice I’ve received. The writers I surround myself with are good people, professional throughout. As for advice I wish would go away ... man, I don’t know. If it’s good advice, and it helps and inspires others, it can stick around as long as it wants to.

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

Rio: I don’t know if it would be considered a guilty pleasure, but videogames are a good way for me to wind down. Anything from mindless button mashing to involved, story-based games like The Last of Us (which is brilliant, by the way). And hey, I love the Texas Chainsaw movies, even the really bad ones. I can actually tolerate shitty horror movies quite well, but I won’t waste my time with bad fiction.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Rio: I just delivered my new novel for St. Martin’s Press. It’s a thriller, not a horror, and I’m exceptionally pleased with it. We’re still playing with titles at the moment, so I can’t even tell you what it’s called, but I expect it to be out in the early part of 2017. Other than that, I have a short story called “Separator” in Chris Golden’s upcoming vampire anthology SEIZE THE NIGHT, and there’s something potentially exciting in the works that I apple-solutely cannot talk about.  Gotta see how that shakes out. But right now, I’m going to take a week or so off after going flat-out on my novel for so long, then it’ll be on to the next book for St. Martin’s Press.

Folks can check out my website for details as they emerge: I can also be found on Twitter:

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