April 6, 2016

Die by the Sword: an interview with Hunter Shea, author of "I Kill in Peace"

Killing gets easier…with practice. 

Peter Blades is, in every sense of the word, an ordinary man. Hard worker, father, husband, a man content with small-town life. Except for one small fact—he’s slowly being turned into a ruthless killer.

Compelled by mysterious texts to murder, he’s provided a fiery red Mustang and an ancient sword to carry out an ever-growing hit list. His jerkoff boss is victim number one. You always remember your first.

By the time his sword sings through the air to dispatch a would-be school shooter, taking lives is as easy as breathing. And if the world is going to hell around him, all the better. No one wants to burn alone.

Gef: I Kill in Peace was something you cooked up in just a few weeks during the winter last year. Was this a story that just jumped out at you or something you had on the backburner for a while and was all set to bang it out once you had a chance?

Hunter: Some might call it divine inspiration! I mean, I was immersed in the Christmas spirit at the time. It literally just popped into my head one day. When I think about it, I can see all the little inspirations that worked behind the scenes to build the story in my subconscious. Once it came to the fore, I was compelled to get it all down as fast as possible. The beauty of the novella is that there’s no room for padding or filler. It’s down and dirty storytelling, and especially useful for moments like this.

Gef: What is it about Maine (New England, even) that lends itself so well to the horror genre?

Hunter: It would be nice to do some research and find out if Maine was such a horror hotspot before Stephen King. As someone who has been going up there every year of his life, I can tell you that there are parts of the state that just scream for a horror tale to be made. It’s not a heavily populated state. There are deep forests and mist enshrouded islands from top to bottom. Sometimes it feels like a state out of time. That’s why I love going there. It’s my way of escaping the insanity of life in New York. If there be real monsters, they’re definitely lurking on the outskirts of some small Maine town.

Gef: The last few titles I've seen from you have featured the cryptozoological sort, but this time you're venturing into the serial killer field. How much of a gear shift is that for you as far as your writing process goes?

Hunter: It was a big and welcome departure. Over the past 5 years, I’ve done monsters and cryptids, ghosts and the apocalypse. I hadn’t taken on the bloody killer tale, unless you count Evil Eternal where the killers were immortals with a penchant for extreme violence. I Kill in Peace was me shifting to another gear, and it was a hell of a ride. There were so many times I wanted to slow down, but it just wouldn’t let me.

Gef: Now the whole story kicks off with Peter Blade receiving a series of mysterious tweets from someone with not just familiarity with our guy, but some prescient knowledge of his life. What was it that drew you to feature this as our protagonist's driving force?

Hunter: All the little bloops and bleeps and blings that alert us to messages from people today, from Twitter to Instagram and IM, are the new voices in our heads. We’re so plugged into our electronics, I feel we’re starting to lose a part of our humanity. We think we’re so connected, but it’s all surface crap. Deep relationships come from face to face communication. In some ways, all of this pseudo communication can be seen as insidious, which I thought was a perfect vehicle to worm these thoughts and actions into Peter’s mind. I know too many people who are slaves to the chirping of their phones. The devices control them. Peter Blades is, as they chanted in Freaks, one of us!

Gef: Our guy is also using a sword as his murder weapon. Was this something you wanted to feature from the get-go, or did the weapon kind of come about later as you figured out what made this guy tick?

Hunter: Without giving anything away, I needed to blend the modern with the classical. Hence he has a shiny red Mustang, and an ancient sword. You don’t see many modern western killers wielding scimitars. I thought it would be fun to play around with that. Plus, using a scimitar on someone, or any blade for that matter, is so visceral. There’s very little detachment from the deed. It’s far easier to shoot someone from ten feet away. You have to be committed to hack someone up with a scimitar. That kind of commitment that bubbles up within Peter scares the hell out of him while also giving him great pleasure. All part of the high strangeness of the book.

Gef: How do you think serial killers stack up against the supernatural monsters? There've certainly been a few iconic ones in film and literature over the years? Do you have a favorite villain in that subset?

Hunter: I’m not a serial killer guy. Real serial killers creep me out. They disgust me to my core. So, I don’t spend a lot of time in that world. I’m not entertained by them. I don’t watch real crime shows and I’m certainly not going to tune into that show on Netflix. That being said, there are some classic books and movies based on them, like Psycho (I just read the Robert Bloch trilogy in January) or Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. Peter Blades is a typical family man who kills because he has to. I don’t want people to confuse him with a John Wayne Gacy or Richard Ramirez. Sure, what he does is deplorable, but there are deep reasons why he’s doing them that go beyond being a man with a diseased mind.

Gef: How would you gauge your progression as a writer over the last few years, even back to when you got started?

Hunter: I can sure write faster now! My first book took me 5 years. Now I can get the same thing done in 5 months. Writing consistently is like strengthening a muscle. I feel more confident in my writing now, though that’s not to say I don’t doubt myself about a hundred times during the progression in a manuscript. I’ve always written stories that I think are fun – the kinds of books I like to read. I’ve been blessed to work with amazing editors at multiple publishers who let me fly my freak flag. And I’ve come to realize that I absolutely love writing about cryptids and putting them in original situations. It’s gotten me to meet cryptozoologists and have my books on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum. I may be nuts, but I’d rather have that than a NY Times bestseller.

Gef: What's the key to pacing in writing a story like this?

Hunter: With I Kill in Peace, I had to balance a steady progression of violence with Peter’s struggle to understand why he was doing it while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy with his family. Does he have a brain tumor? Has he simple gone insane? If he tells his wife and daughter what he’s done, will he lose them? More than anything, the thought of them leaving him is what tortures him the most. And all along, there’s a deeper secret that I had to vaguely hint at so there was a huge twist in the last act. As with many of my stories, it’s a roller coaster – you start slow, working your way up that first incline, and once you crest it, hold on!

Gef: What else do you have up your sleeve in 2016?

Hunter: My next Pinnacle paperback comes out in August. And I’m right at home with The Jersey Devil. My first book with them, The Montauk Monster, was a huge success. I’m hoping lightning strikes twice. I’ll also have a new sea creature novella with Severed Press in the late fall. I think that’ll be enough Hunter Shea for people in one year.

Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weaned on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone and In Search Of. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.

Publishers Weekly named The Montauk Monster one of the best reads of the summer in 2014, and his follow up novel,Hell Hole, was named best horror novel of the year on several prestigious horror sites. Cemetery Dance had this to say about his apocalyptic thriller, Tortures of the Damned – “A terrifying read that left me wanting more. I absolutely devoured this book!”

Hunter is an amateur cryptozoologist, having written wild, fictional tales about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and many new creatures to come. Copies of his books, The Montauk Monster and The Dover Demon, are currently on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME.

He wrote his first novel with the express desire to work only with editor Don D’Auria at Dorchester (Leisure Horror). He submitted his novel to Don and only Don, unagented, placed on the slush pile. He is proof that dedicated writers can be rescued from no man’s land. He now works with Don, along with several other agents and publishers, having published over ten books in just four years.

Hunter is proud to be be one half of the Monster Men video podcast, along with his partner in crime, Jack Campisi. It is one of the most watched horror video podcasts in the world. Monster Men is a light-hearted approach to dark subjects. Hunter and Jack explore real life hauntings, monsters, movies, books and everything under the horror sun. They often interview authors, crytid and ghost hunters, directors and anyone else living in the horror lane.

Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray’s Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits. His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.

You can follow his travails at www.huntershea.com, sign-up for his newsletter, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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