Craig Davidson’s profile has exploded over the past few years. His first book, Rust and Bone, recently become an award-nominated feature film starring the wonderful Marion Cotillard. There’s also the brilliant novels The Fighter, Sarah Court, and the Giller Award-nominated Cataract City, a novel that has placed him firmly in the upper tier of Canadian literary awesomeness.
Now, he’s taken to hiding his work under the pseudonym Nick Cutter, releasing a horror novel that “scared the hell” out of Stephen King, if blurbs can be believed. And since I’ve read The Troop, I can well believe this one, because it’s a hell of a hellish decent into hell.
Damn this lack of a thesaurus.
Describe your latest novel in a tweet (@TheNickCutter).
Are you feeling safe inside your skin? Read this novel and maybe you won’t feel so safe anymore.
Now as a movie pitch.
A scout leader and his charges head to a remote island. A stranger arrives. Shit gets real.
Now as an issue of Asterix and Obelix.
Asterix and Obelix eat tainted meat at the Gaul’s banquet and embark on a dizzying weight loss journey. Obelix could stand to shed a few pounds anyway.
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: why the pseudonym of Nick Cutter, Giller Award-nominated author Craig Davidson? Is it a tax dodge? And how’d you come up with the nom de plume?
Tax dodge, pure and simple. It was my accountant’s idea. No, it was my agent’s. He just felt that readers wouldn’t have the elasticity of mind to embrace the idea of a writer working in such different genres—though to be honest, anyone who reads my work will see the similarity. But anyway, I trust my agent so I went with it. The name was fun, for sure. Nick’s my son’s name. We’ll see how he thinks about that sly little in-joke as he gets older.
I think it’s fine, I guess, though hardcore Palahniuk readers would be let down. Chuck is very much his own creature. There’s nobody who does what he does, not in my reading. So it’s kind of being compared to Cthulhu, y’know? In the sense that there’s only one Cthulhu, there’s only one Chuck Palahniuk, and there ain’t nobody else like either anywhere else in the universe.
While your past work often edges into the darkness, The Troop goes well beyond dark into…well, whatever’s beyond dark. What drove you to fully embrace flat-out horror?
Well, I started off as a horror writer under another pen name in my mid-twenties. And I grew up as a voracious and devoted horror reader. I still am. I read as much dark fiction, overtly horror and otherwise, as I do anything else. So it seemed a natural fit for me and for my…er, proclivities.
What was the impetus behind the plot? A fear of the body? Or a hatred of boy scouts?
It is very much a “body horror” novel. [David] Cronenberg kind of got me started down that path of obsessing over the sticky, icky, chilling changes a body can take. The idea of bodies mutating against the wishes of their owners. John Carpenter’s done that in his films, and Brian Yuzna and Clive Barker too—and while I’m not sure I was ever terrified of those films per se, I was definitely disturbed and fascinated and that’s the tone I was going for with The Troop. And I wanted to make it kind of pulpy, too, like the horror paperbacks I used to devour in the late 80s and early 90s. The Zebra paperback, the Dell Abyss line, Leisure stuff and etc. Those books were often fun and fast and shocking and they were best when you could tell the author had had a blast writing them.
I’m always interested in the concept of going “too far,” as in, “Oh my god, why did you write that? Too much!” Did you ever feel that you went too far in The Troop? Is that even possible?
Well, not really. Too far for a mainstream publisher, maybe—I could always have cut back had that been the case, or stood my ground in hopes a small press took it on but that would have been a financial concern I’m sure. But overall, no, I didn’t worry. You can’t guess what one reader will see as “too far” versus another. For lovers of quiet horror, the concept itself—the infancy of the idea—would be too far. Just as any of the movies made by the directors above would be considered the same way. So, what, that means we never get to see Hellraiser or From Beyond? Intolerable! You can’t please all tastes. I don’t bother trying to anymore.
Man-made viruses and infections seem to have become the modern-day versions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, parables on the dangers of science. Are you anti-science, or pro-any-idea-for-a-good-story?
I’m not anti-science, but I’m not into researching it overmuch and trying to get everything right. It’s impossible anyway, because we’re talking about hypothetical critters that could likely never exist in life. So story is paramount, yes, though I try to do my due diligence on the research side of it.
Some have labeled The Troop as “old-school horror.” Is this a fair comment, in your opinion? And what does that even mean, anyway?
Well, as I said above, I think that’s a fair comment. It makes me feel all warm and giddy, in fact, because that was my aim. Now some might see “old school” as Shirley Jackson, or Mary Shelley, or Bram Stoker or Poe or Lovecraft. Or some might see it as the Richard Matheson generation. To me old school is a very specific style of horror, the ethos of which gripped the genre in the 80s-90s. That was the boom, really. We’re unlikely to see its ilk again. King, Koontz, Barker, McCammon, Straub, a hundred other writers all putting forward some amazing, game-changing, genre-bending work.
But I think “old school” really means, to me, “unhinged.” Not quiet. Not conservative. Unafraid to really go for it, in whichever way a given writer construes “go for it.” Throwback horror to that day and age, when everything seemed aggressively…well, aggressive and overt and lewd and over-the-line. Books, films, art…so much of what was happening in horror during that 80s-90s boom was aesthetically wonderful to me. It suits my own sense of the genre and it made an impression on me at an impressionable age. That’s the best I can come to describing the term.
It’s a classic horror trope to strand people and then torment them (Evil Dead, Night of the Living Dead, etc). As you are the God of your literary universe, what were your feelings as you set about inflicting unspeakable horrors upon your innocent young men?
Oh, I love it! No, that’s cavalier. My aim, as would be the aim of most horror writers or any writer at all, is to conjure some kind of reaction in a reader. Hit certain buttons. So the point, in my case, was to hopefully make a reader feel something for these kids, their plight, and then to slowly twist the thumbscrews as things get worse and worse—this is a horror book after all, so readers should come to it with a certain expectation.
Next up: The Subconscious Interview of Craig Davidson