Meet author Andy Davidson @theandydavidson #HorrorLounge
Tell us about your latest book
In the Valley of the Sun is my first novel. It tells the story of Travis Stillwell, a killer of women haunting the honky-tonks of west Texas in the year 1980.
First memory of reading horror
My first memory of reading horror is a jumble of memories about the novel Watchers by Dean Koontz. My mom described the book to me in the car on the way to my grandmother’s house. She said the creature in the novel “disembowelled” its victims, and I remember I was fascinated by that word—such a tidy word for so horrible an act! I read a copy from the local library, and I can remember the way it smelled. I scenes from the book playing out in my head like a movie. I was nine or ten years old, and Watchers was the first adult novel I ever read. It pretty much became the standard, in my mind, for what a scary book should be. Also—and I’m just realizing this as I type it—the hero’s name is Travis.
For readers new to horror which 3 books would you recommend they start with?
Horror is so personal. How we respond to it really depends on what scares you. If you’re new to the genre, I’d say start with these three: Stephen King’s The Shining, Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Somewhere in there, you’ll find something you like.
Do you have a favourite horror sub-genre, and why?
Lately, I’m fascinated with weird fiction, mainly because it speaks to the terrors that lurk deep in our souls: fear of the void, the abyss, monsters in the dark. I’m a writer from the American south, so I’m also a fan of southern Gothic narratives and the grotesque.
Most terrifying book you’ve ever read.
Salem’s Lot. So many scenes in that book frighten me.
Your favourite Stephen King book.
Cycle of the Werewolf. The writing just sails along. Plus, it’s full of Berni Wrightson illustrations. What’s not to love.
New horror authors you’d recommend.
Philip Fracassi, Michael Wehunt, Stephen Graham Jones (he’s hardly new, but he’s getting broader press these days), Benjamin Percy. Also, Nick Cutter’s work is pretty cool.
Who do you consider the King and Queen of horror fiction?
That’s a loaded question, right? King is King, hands down. The Queen…I’d say the crown belongs to Shirley Jackson.
Your favourite horror film (adapted from a book) & why?
That’s a tough one. I could name a lot of great adaptations, but the movie I always return to, year after year, is Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. It’s a beautiful film, very cold, very austere, but the thing about it that really makes it remarkable, in my opinion, is Kubrick’s casting of Shelley Duvall. She is not the Wendy Torrance of the novel, but she’s amazing in the film. Her performance sells the terror for me.
Horror book that you’d like to see adapted to film & why?
In the Valley of the Sun. Naturally. J
Best horror TV?
I haven’t been watching a lot of horror TV lately. I’m partial to comedy and drama when it comes to TV, things like Fargo or Better Call Saul, but I do like Preacher, particularly the first season. But I am a big fan of Stranger Things, and I’m looking forward to Castle Rock.
Did you write in other genres or straight to horror?
Actually, In the Valley of the Sun wasn’t always a horror novel. It began as a thriller. The first draft had nothing supernatural in it. But it also lacked a strong arc for the main character. Amazingly, after I introduced literal monsters, the book grew a heart it didn’t have before. Before I wrote In the Valley of the Sun, I was dead-set on writing screenplays, and the scripts I was trying to write were crime scripts. I do read a lot across genres, everything from literary novels to pulp westerns. I like to mix them up in my fiction as much as possible, but I think my heart, as a writer, will always be in horror.
Tell us briefly about your route to being published
After I finished the manuscript for In the Valley of the Sun, I queried about a dozen agents, and all of them said no. I had written the book while working a full-time job, forty hours a week, so, the process of just getting it finished was a feat in itself. My wife, Crystal, told me about a writing conference in Nashville, Tennessee. She had discovered it through a friend. She said we should go. This is where I give my wife full credit for my having an agent, being published, everything. I’d never been to a conference before, and honestly, I didn’t have much faith in the usefulness of it—until I discovered you could sign up for a face-to-face critique with an agent. So, we took my query letter and my first twenty pages and went to Tennessee. I remember, on the drive up, feeling like something just had to give. I wasn’t happy with my job, at the time, and so I needed a win, creatively, emotionally. And by good fortune, that’s what I got: I met with an agent who liked my work and was well-versed in the horror genre. She asked for the full manuscript and, in about three months, sent me detailed requests for edits. I took three more months, made the changes she requested, and was taken on as a client about six months after that first meeting. It took about six more months to place the manuscript, but it landed with the right editor.
Tell us about your fans
There have been a few people who’ve said, in reviews of the book, they’re eager to read what I write next. That’s nice and gratifying, but at the same time, it’s a little terrifying. Each book I write is likely to be different than the one before it, so I hope I don’t disappoint people.
One thing I’ll say about everyone I’ve met in the horror community: they’re wonderful people, a talented and generous bunch of readers and writers. It’s a privilege getting to know people through your fiction.
Horror doesn’t seem to be as well respected as other genres of fiction. Why do you think that is?
There are a lot of reasons, and in the brief time that I’ve been promoting In the Valley of the Sun, I’ve stumbled across a few of them. On the one hand, you’ve got your establishment types—academics, critics, reviewers—who see themselves as gatekeepers, arbiters of taste and quality, though in the professional realm of publishing they’re not as prolific as you’d think; it seems most people are pretty broad-minded and generous. On the other hand, you’ve got your average, everyday readers, who read chiefly for pleasure, which isn’t something everyone finds in the elements of horror.
At a recent book club meeting in small-town Georgia, for example, where In the Valley of the Sun was the featured work, a woman told me she thought my book was “disgusting.” She said she couldn’t get past page 90. To be fair, around page 90, a baby gets eaten. So, there’s a visceral reaction that some readers have; they can’t stomach the violence that comes with the territory of horror. But it’s frustrating that these elements eclipse a good story for people. This same woman told me, later, she was surprised at how normal I look, that I was not possessed of a deranged mind. Sadly, horror writers get that a lot, so it’s important to be an ambassador for the genre, I think, to undercut expectations and defy stereotypes, both in person and on the page.
As for the arbiters and gatekeepers, I see it more in the academy than the publishing world these days. People like to be superior, and nowhere is this truer than academia. For the academic, if a thing is popular, as modern horror once was, it’s somehow less-than—which, of course, is bogus thinking. Edgar Allan Poe was hugely popular, one of the first American writer-celebrities, but he was also hugely literate, an essayist on the craft, and today no one really questions his place in the canon. Of course, in England you have Stoker and Shelley and the various Gothic writers who’ve found their way into classroom texts, too, but there’s something about modern horror that just rankles. My personal opinion is that American horror has seen no greater literary figure since Poe than Stephen King, yet teaching King as “literature” is still, surprisingly, frowned upon. Ultimately, the culprits here are hubris and ignorance.
Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance?
I think it’s happening right now. When I first queried an agent, I was told my book was a “supernatural thriller.” That was 2014. Less than three years later, it’s “literary horror.” And that’s the market that’s changing based on the demands of readers. My earnest hope is that the horrors of the real world don’t overcome the public’s appetite for scary stories; there’s a real danger of that. I don’t know if we’ll ever see the hey-day of mass market horror again, but there’s no doubt it’s in the forefront of our pop-cultural consciousness. Back to Stranger Things, horror writers—from unknown people like me all the way to Stephen King—owe the Duffer Brothers and Netflix a huge debt. That show has re-birthed horror in mainstream consciousness.
Tips for new writers of horror fiction.
Don’t be afraid to write about the things that scare you. The dark places are where we find ourselves. And don’t come lightly to horror.
More generally, if you want an agent, go to conferences; meet them. If you get an agent, do what she says. If you get a publishing contract, do what your editor says. Be professional. Admit mistakes when you make them and learn from them.
Do you believe in evil?
It’s hard not to believe in something you see every day on the news and the Internet. I’ve been a person of faith most of my life—though not always faithful in the execution of my beliefs—and part of my conception of the universe is the necessary co-existence of good and evil. I don’t know about Satan, devils, those sorts of things, but I have seen selfishness, cruelty, greed, vindictiveness at work. I believe in corporate evil, too, the idea that where people gather in the name of a cause or a common goal, things tend toward corruption. I try not to be cynical, but the world doesn’t make it easy.
What scares you?
Three-a.m. silences, open closet doors, the woods at night. Heights.
3 most scary words in English language?
Bearing in mind that “scary” is all about context, I’d say my top three are currently “fake,” “time,” and “God.”
Do you celebrate Halloween?
Absolutely—though we don’t make a big deal out of being home with the porch light on. It’s hard in a small southern town in the U.S. to get trick-or-treaters if you don’t live on a main street where all the kids are roaming. Usually, my wife and I either watch a scary movie, maybe carve a jack-o-lantern in the shape of a Star Wars character. We’re pretty low-key. This year, though, to celebrate In the Valley of the Sun’s release in the U.K., we’ll spend Halloween in an old haunted hotel on top of a mountain—the very one where Rue’s pale man abandoned her in the novel! We’re looking forward to that. Honestly, as long as I get a handful of mellowcreme pumpkins and a peanut butter cup or two, I’m happy.