Max Crawford isn’t a typical prison therapist. He uses his unusual psychic ability to walk with convicts through their dreams, reliving their unspeakable crimes alongside them to show them the error of their ways.
Max always has to be on his toes to keep himself grounded, but the FBI agent waiting for him in his private office immediately puts him on edge. The bureau wants Max to go way outside his comfort zone to enter the dreams of suspected serial killer William Knox.
To get a confession and secure the future of his prison program, Max must gain Knox’s trust by any means necessary—and survive the minefield of secrets waiting inside a murderer’s mind. Secrets that could turn Max’s reality into a living nightmare.
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Gef: What was the impetus behind The Monster Underneath?
Matthew: First of all, thanks for having me as a guest. The idea for The Monster Underneath came from a combination of sources. Thanks to movies like Dreamscape and A Nightmare on Elm Street, I’ve had a longtime interest in the concept of someone entering other people’s dreams and participating in them in some way. My background in psychology shaped the idea of a psychic therapist. Having Max provide rehabilitative treatment to inmates evolved from there.
The serial killer piece fell into place, because like many authors, I’ve always wanted to write a serial killer novel. Everything came together with the FBI seeking the protagonist’s help to get a confession from William Knox, the sole suspect in a series of unsolved murders.
Gef: How intensive did the research get for you with this book? Given the paranormal aspects did you find yourself having to do a bit of a balancing act between the real and the fantastical?
Matthew: Initially I researched the story’s geography. I’m from Louisiana and live in Texas so the narrative moves from Texas to Louisiana to Arkansas. The successive nature of the locations of the murders provides the map for Max’s journey that ultimately leads to White County, Arkansas, where his encounters with Knox take place. I also spoke with a criminal defense attorney about the legal aspects of the story and researched other details along the way.
There was definitely a balancing act between the real and fantastical but that’s part of what made writing the story enjoyable. Having Max know the facts but then throwing him into the potentially unreliable dream world of Knox only further developed the mystery for me. Hopefully readers will feel the same.
Gef: You managed to garner some favorable reactions to your debut novel from some notable authors in the field, like Rena Mason and Ronald Malfi. Must be gratifying, eh?
Matthew: Definitely. To have such talented and award-winning authors endorse your work is a great feeling. It’s even more gratifying given the broad range of horror that their stories represent. It’s nice to know that authors who write different but equally excellent types of horror enjoyed your work.
Generally speaking, I’ve also been impressed with the level of comradery in the genre as a whole. Everyone has been very helpful and receptive to me. As a new author, I find their insight and suggestions invaluable.
Gef: It seems pop culture has had a fascination with serial killers for decades now to the point where they've been fictionalized, sensationalized, and even romanticized. What is it that makes this topic so enduring?
Matthew: I think people will always be interested in what scares them. Murder is a frightening subject but when you have someone committing multiple murders that can’t be explained it’s even more so. Maybe the romanticism comes from wanting to make it more comfortable.To paraphrase Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now – “You must make a friend of horror. Otherwise it’s an enemy to be feared.” Or perhaps it comes from wanting to fictionalize it so it seems like less of a possibility in reality.Whatever the case, I don’t foresee the topic in literature and film going away any time soon.
Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?
Matthew: I have a wide range of writing influences. Charles Bukowski, Aldous Huxley, Tom Robbins, J.D. Salinger, Ken Kesey, William Burroughs. As for horror, Stephen King was my biggest influence growing up. I loved both his novels and short stories like “Survivor Type,” which taught me at a very young age to never find myself in an airplane filled with cocaine near a deserted island.
Gef: To the folks averse to horror fiction, what do you consider to be the saving grace of the horror genre?
Matthew: Great stories and compelling characters. Not to mention the fact that horror writers are taking the genre to new and exciting places. I think those that are averse to horror fiction might see it as one type of story, when in fact, there are many types of storiesin the genre and they might just find one they like.
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?
Matthew: To avoid first person. I realize that third person presents a more omniscient view of the story’s world, but first person allows for a type of intimacy with a character that third person doesn’t always capture.
Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?
Matthew: I’m a big fan of the Friday the 13th movies. I know they’re not every one’s cup of tea but, come on, there are like a dozen sequels. Now that’s staying power!
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?
Matthew: In addition to a sequel to The Monster Underneath, I’m also working on a middle grade science fiction novel. You can follow me at authormatthewfranks.com and on twitter @matthewfranks7.
Matthew Franks lives in Arlington, Texas with his beautiful wife and children. He studied psychology and creative writing at Louisiana State University then obtained a Master’s Degree in counseling from Texas State University. When he’s not working on his next story, he’s counseling adolescents or trying to keep up with his three highly energetic daughters. You can connect with Matthew at: authormatthewfranks.com.