Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing: The Monarchs

If you're currently following any writers' blogs, you likely have noticed a game of tag in which a writer receives and answers a set of questions about his or her upcoming work and then tags five other writers to answer the same questions. Each of those writers tags five others, and so forth and so on, until the entire virtual world has been overwhelmed by hordes of rampant rabid writers revealing all anyone could ever hope to know in advance of their Next Big Thing. I was actually tagged several times — by David Niall Wilson, Scott Falkner, Elizabeth Massie, and John Peters — and how could I resist the doe-eyed pleading of such fine purveyors of letters to get involved in this plot to conquer all? So I said yeah, sure, why not? And thus... let us be off.

1. What is the working title of your next book?
The Monarchs.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Several years ago, following a visit with friend, writer, Crossroad Press founder, and chap who tagged me, David Niall Wilson, in Hertford, NC, I kind of got lost in the vicinity of the Great Dismal Swamp. It happened like this. Rather than leave Hertford and head home to Greensboro, I had intended to go to Martinsville, VA, to visit my mom. At the time, having no GPS, I studied Google Maps prior to leaving and wrote out some directions to get to U.S. Highway 58, just over the state line. Unfortunately, I had not zoomed in close enough on the maps to realize that not all the little back roads on my route were continuous — a couple of them had jogs in one direction or another before continuing northward. Needless to say, I missed a turn or two. This put me in some of the most desolate country I've ever encountered — mostly marshland, with only the occasional farmhouse or mobile home to suggest any human presence. I finally happened upon a little gas station and asked the attendants if they could tell me how to reach Highway 58, to which they answered, "Huh, what, where?" I purchased an honest-to-god map, finally figured out where I was, and proceeded to make only one more wrong turn before I finally reached my destination.

At the end of it all, I had just about all of The Monarchs plotted in my head. It was a maddening and frustrating experience, yet I'd certainly never take it back, for in many ways, I enjoyed visiting the desolate yet picturesque countryside, and, hey, I got a novel out of it.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
I'd have to call it horror, but the story is something of a hybrid — a southern gothic murder mystery with a touch of the Lovecraftian.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Heh... I love coming up with stunning casts for my various novels and stories. In my mind, the ideal cast for The Monarchs comprises both current, age-appropriate actors and some who would have been perfect for the roles in their younger days. For Courtney Edmiston, the protagonist, I'd go with Katie Parker, who starred in Absentia, a pretty nifty low-budget horror movie. For her friend, the somewhat anti-heroic Jan Blackburn, I actually used a 30-year-old Nancy Barrett, who played Carolyn Stoddard and others in Dark Shadows, as the character model. Similarly, a 25-year-old David Selby, who played Quentin Collins on Dark Shadows, would be ideal for Jan's sardonic and secretive brother, David Blackburn. For the mysterious and sinister Aunt Martha Blackburn, I'd have to go with Piper Laurie, who played Mrs. White in Carrie and Catherine Martell in Twin Peaks. The primary human antagonist, Ray Surber, has got to be Woody Harrelson; his more sympathetic but still potentially dangerous brother, Dwayne Surber, well, that's Michael Rooker, perhaps best known for his roles in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and, more recently, Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Courtney Edmiston, whose life has been turned upside-down by the deaths of her husband and daughter, goes to live with her old college friend, Jan Blackburn, on the outskirts of the Great Dismal Swamp, only to find herself drawn into a deadly feud between two families as well as menaced by an ancient, unearthly horror from the depths of the swamp.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

That's not really an either/or question. Crossroad Press is essentially a traditional publisher, and will release The Monarchs as an e-book, a paperback, a hardcover, and on audio. I worked directly with them, rather than via agent.

7. How long did it take you to write a first draft of the manuscript?
The first draft took about eight months; then I let it sit for quite some time while my agent submitted proposals for it. Then, about a year later, I went back in and did a pretty fair overhaul of the entire book. That is the draft that will actually see print.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If one must compare, I expect readers who enjoyed T.E.D. Klein's The Ceremonies would find The Monarchs satisfying. And fans of the movie Pumpkinhead would probably be all about this book.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See question 1.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I think the characters and setting, in particular, really come together to create a distinct atmosphere of dread, which is the effect I was shooting for. The setting is largely fictionalized but based very closely on the real-life community of Hertford, NC, and its environs. I've been out to that part of the state many times, but that one trip that took me much deeper into the countryside than I anticipated gave me an opportunity for my creative nerves to get a thorough and very welcome workout — despite the frustration that came with getting so turned around in unfamiliar and what my mind perceived to be unwelcoming territory.

You can keep up with news about The Monarchs here on this blog and at my website: The Realm of Stephen Mark Rainey

There you have it. Now, for my part, I shall tag these unsuspecting and likely hostile souls, who may or may not play along....

Kealan Patrick Burke
Bob Freeman
James Newman
Alexandra Sokoloff
Jeff VanderMeer

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