Q: So, briefly, can you say what makes for a good psychological horror book?
A: I think what makes such books successful is that they expose the eternal struggle that exists in our human consciousness between sanity and madness. I imagine more than a few of us have wavered in this shadowy space at one time or another. And that’s what makes such books both terrifying and appealing. I have given this space a name–the maddening.
Q: Well, you have certainly created a vivid character in Poe, this psychopathic serial killer. Where does he come from?
A: I must admit that friends and family do look at me strangely these days, wondering the same question. I’ve always held a fascination with Edgar Allan Poe and no doubt he has made a rather recent appearance in my imagination and, so, a book that essentially pays homage to the master of Gothic horror. I mean, what better way to honor Poe then with a killer that bears his name and is vividly inspired by his “mentor’s” murderous short stories. And, need I mention, a literary psychopath at that.
Q: Speaking of writing, the book has an interesting book-within-a book structure. Why did you make this choice?
A: This framework allowed me to bring in two aspects of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary legacy. There is, of course, his Gothic horror that is embodied through “Poe’s” own horrific story-telling — his disciple’s “masterwork.” Then there is the detective story featuring PJ Bones, and a nod to the celebrated author’s reputation as the father of the modern-day detective novel. It was Arthur Conan Doyle who said, “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”
Q: Why do you think that Edgar Allan Poe remains such a popular and intriguing writer for our times?
A: To state the obvious, Poe’s short stories and poetry continue to resonate from generation to generation drawing in legions of followers. But aside from his literary works, there is the man himself, a fascinating figure, his iconic image conveyed in photographs that convey the author’s inner sense of misery and mystery. I mean, who can turn away from Poe’s mournful visage and deep-set eyes without thinking what lies inside his mind?
Q: Poe’s personal life is also reflected in the book and lends to his peculiar nature.
A: Yes, peculiar is certainly an appropriate word to describe a 27-year-old man who marries his 13-year-old cousin and dies at age 40 after being found drunk on a Baltimore street in odd clothing. Of course, much has been written about his short life with its personal tragedies and, well, peculiarities.
Q: Getting back to The Maddening, the book is a rather complex story weaving threads among your three main characters in Poe, Clara Knox and PJ Bones. Can you tell us about your writing process?
A: I’m not sure I had “a process” or a strong organizing principle in writing the book. There are writers who outline their work and that sets up their roadmap. I am of the other school that let’s my characters take me where they will—so, in that respect, I am living through them with all their unexpected turns. Of course, my job is to keep these moving pieces in order. It took more than two years to get their stories straight – long patience is really key to this writing life. That, and a bit of luck.
Q: Luck? Where does that come in?
A: Well, first off, I had the good fortune to team up with Dark Ink. Michael Aloisi is an exceptionally responsive publisher, kindly bearing with an obsessive writer in search of the perfect manuscript. I also am thankful for having a talented writer as a son, as well as a patient wife. Matthew immeasurably helped me navigate the early pitfalls of the story and Amy generously sacrificed some restful sleep listening to my bedtime stories involving a psychotic killer on the loose. Yes, I know, that really wasn’t kind of me but at times it was just hard to escape the madness.