May 23, 2016

Grounded in the "It Could Happen to You" Camp: an interview with Brett McBean, author of 'The Invasion'

It was supposed to be a quiet end to a long day: five close-knit family and friends settling in for some much-needed sleep after coming together for an early Christmas party.

Instead, it’s the beginning of a shocking night of brutality when six intruders break into the sprawling residence of Debra Hillsboro, a middle-aged romance novelist with a fierce devotion to her loved ones and a strong kinship with her home of almost thirty years.

Armed with smartphones and a modern brand of madness, the intruders – an internet-age cult disconnected from humanity and addicted to causing fear and mayhem – have come to the secluded property for one purpose: to terrorize, and ultimately kill, everyone inside all while filming their heinous crimes.

Outnumbered and cut off from the outside world, the terrified occupants find themselves trapped in a fight for survival as a once place of safety is turned into a deadly maze of darkened rooms and forbidding hallways. On this sweltering summer night, they must somehow find a way to escape before the cult turns the beloved home into a house for the dead.

Gef: As far as finding a new twist on the sub-genre of home invasions, it sounds like you've got a doozy here. What was the impetus behind The Invasion?

Brett: I wanted to explore my fear and fascination of home invasion crimes and decided to write a series of horror/thriller novels based on three real life cases that have affected me and stuck with me ever since first reading about them. The Invasion is the first in my home invasion trilogy and is inspired by the horrific Tate-LaBianca murders committed by followers of Charles Manson. This is a case that I first read about as a teenager, and it has haunted me for over twenty years. However, when it came time to write my novel based on those murders, I didn’t want to simply do a recreation. I didn’t want to set in the 1960s or make it about hippies, as that was a well-tread path. So, I thought: what if Manson was around now, how would he gather his followers in this day and age? The answer, of course, was the internet. So, I updated the story. I moved it into the present and to my hometown of Melbourne, Australia. I used a lot of the details of the case, but made my cult one born from the age of Facebook and Instagram rather than Aquarius. The young people in my story come armed with smartphones as well as weapons.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous titles?

Brett: It’s by far my smallest novel, in terms of setting and time-frame. The whole novel takes place over a period of about five hours, and is almost completely contained within the walls of a single house. That was a challenge in of itself: how to create a novel full of suspense and surprise, one that still felt like a proper journey with well-rounded characters, with a story that takes place in a very short space of time and in an extremely limited location. I had to approach the story as if it was large in scope while still maintaining a claustrophobic atmosphere. I did this, in part, by sectioning off the house; making each chapter a separate room, almost like each room was a completely unique location in which the story takes place.

Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?

Brett: In a way, I’ve come back to where I started. My first few novels were non-supernatural horror/thriller stories that dealt with horror grounded in the everyday, and were influenced by real life crimes. I veered off that path of gritty, psychological horror for the next few books, trying my hand at stories with a supernatural element. Now, I’m back in the land of realism with The Invasion, which is very much grounded in the it-could-happen-to-you camp, and I plan on staying there for a while to come with future works. Stories dealing with real life horrors have always been my first love. I’m a true crime nut, and find delving into the dark side of the human condition fascinating. I only hope my writing is stronger now than at the beginning, that I’ve learnt some things along the way and that I only get better as I explore the darkness within us all.

Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?

Brett: Now that’s a long list! So many wonderful authors have influenced me for so many varied reasons. To name but a few: Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, J.G. Ballard, Charles Bukowski, Joe Lansdale, Brian Keene, John Steinbeck, Jim Thompson, Stephen King...

Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?

Brett: I place a great deal of emphasis on setting. To me, it’s a vital component of my writing. I’ve always loved stories that have a strong sense of place (including movies), with a penchant for ones taking place in a limited setting. I love it when the setting becomes another character, it helps define the tone and atmosphere. In The Invasion, setting is as important as any of the human characters; the house is a major part of the story, and I definitely saw it as another character (I even gave it a name and some back story).

Gef: Some folks turn their nose up at horror. What do you consider to be the saving grace of the genre?

Brett: There have been so many great stories written within the horror genre, from the quiet to the brutal, gothic to modern realism. I think the problem lies mostly with the perception of what constitutes a horror story. Sure there’s generic horror, badly written horror, and unfortunately it’s this kind of puerile, formulaic work of blood, gore and cardboard characters, that a lot people think is all that horror is about. But horror can be –and often is – as brilliant as anything outside the genre. Horror is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s John Fowles’s The Collector. It’s Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. It’s Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s Peter Straub’s Ghost Story. It’s Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The horror genre is as rich and varied as the fears they draw from. People who turn their nose up at horror need to open up their minds to the broader world of the genre.

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?

Brett: I honestly can’t recall any truly awful advice I’ve received. As far as writing advice I wish would go away? I’m going to be general here and say any that favour formula over experimentation and originality. That reduces writing to a literary version of paint-by-numbers. Of course novice writers need to hone their craft or, as Stephen King puts it, fill their writer’s toolbox. But inventiveness should always be encouraged. Daringness and a willingness to go against popular opinion should be rewarded. There’s too much generic material clogging up the bestseller lists and not enough books that shock or provoke or offer something utterly unique to the reader. So, any advice that helps to foster formulaic writing should be jettisoned.

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

Brett: I have a number of reprints of older work set to come out this year. Both my second novel, The Mother, as well as my Jungle novella trilogy, will be released soon as eBooks. Then, a little later in the year, my coming-of-age novel, The Awakening, will have its first US paperback and eBook release. As far as new work, I’ve completed the first draft of the second home invasion novel, and am currently hard at work on the first book in a crime-thriller series. Readers can find out more about me and my work at: or hit me up on Facebook:

Brett McBean is an award-winning horror and thriller author. His books, which include The Mother, The Last Motel and Wolf Creek: Desolation Game, have been published in Australia, the U.S., and Germany.

He’s been nominated for the Aurealis, Ditmar, and Ned Kelly awards, and he won the 2011 Australian Shadows Award for his collection, Tales of Sin and Madness.

He lives in Melbourne with his wife, daughter and German shepherd.

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