It' is a great honour to welcome Nick Cutter author of the rather brilliant The Troop to Ginger Nuts of Horror . The Troop could very well be the big mainstream horror success of the year. A high octane horror novel with some exquisitely over the top gross out horror, The Troop could very well be the book that puts on horror back on the shelf.
Read on for a rather splendid in-depth interview where we discuss characterization verses plot, names and the state of the genre.
Nick Cutter :
Hello Nick could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Well, I can’t say too much as I’m sorta contractually obligated not to. But I can say that I’m a real stud, I bench-press a lot of weight, and I’m pretty easy on the eyes if you know what I mean. Also, I enjoy riding dirtbikes and breeding silky terriers.
There is a big elephant in the rom so let’s deal with that first. Why the pseudonym for this book? This is your second pseudonym isn’t it?
That was my agent’s idea. I wasn’t really gung-ho for it, but I bowed to his superior wisdom in these matters. I’ve written as many horror books as I have books in the “literary” sphere, however, so as you note this isn’t my first kick at the proverbial cat.
How do you go about selecting a pseudonym? Did you ever consider giving yourself a real cool name like Jason Blade?
I thought Nick Cutter was pretty cool. But Jason Blade is cooler, no doubt about that. I thought about many different names, yes. Cole Ramsbottom. Johnny Funt. Ricardo Rebello. So we kicked the tires on a lot of possibilities, my agent and I, before settling on ole Nick Cutter.
The Troop looks as though it is going to be a roaring success, would you consider republishing books like the The Preserve under Cutters name?
Hmm, likely not. I think the whole reason for Cutter’s existence was kind of to bury and kick the dirt over that other fella. Kinda just deep-six that ole nom de plume and install Nick in his place.
What’s your favourite food?
Pizza. If I had to eat one food the rest of my life, I guess that’d be it.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
Horror. Old school.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
In the genre, of course King and Barker and Herbert and Robert R. McCammon. I like the old Splatterpunk movement and a lot of the writers who associated with it. Joe Hill is dynamite. Michael Rowe. The list goes on.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
It probably takes the cake as far as a book goes. For film … The Exorcist or The Thing are both great and have fantastic rewatch value.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Hmmm … maybe the too-smart kid narrator/character? That’s a good question. Horror is a genre that kind of lives on clichés, I think—either working within them or trying to reinvent them.
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
Perfect neighbour? Maybe Jud Crandall from Pet Semetary. He’d keep me out of mischief. I suppose I wouldn’t want to live next door to Patrick Bateman. I picuter a lot of muffled screaming and chainsaws through the walls.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
I think it’s in pretty good shape. I think it’s something that people within the genre tend to worry about more than anything. I do think the state of the horror awards, especially the Stokers, seems to be a bit of a joke. From an external/outsider’s perspective, it seems way too clubby and you see names on these shortlists that really make your mind boggle. People who, from what I can tell, are actually part of the Stokers themselves. Like, administrators or whatever. I’m not saying the people involved aren’t working hard and I hate to rip on it too much, but I mean, these used to be awards that I, as a young writer, would’ve been overjoyed to receive any attention from. They were awards won by King, by Barker, by Straub and McCammon and my literary heroes. Now they seem to be won by people I’ve never heard of, whose candidacy seems flawed and compromised, and … yeah, not to be a total shit about it, but they’re a joke in my eyes. I suppose that cements my status as lifelong Stoker non-nominee, but I’m not too crestfallen about that considering the current state of things.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I was recently blown away by Geek Love. I read To The White Sea not long ago and was a little underwhelmed, but that was only because I loved Deliverance so fiercely.
How would you describe your writing style?
Kinetic, I guess. Cinematic in terms of scenes having a very visual element to them.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned about writing?
It won’t happen by thinking or dreaming about it. It only happens by plunking your ass down in that chair and getting to it.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Probably dealing with the opinions of others about it. I think that, were I writing 40-50 years ago, I’d’ve had to weather 10 major reviews, maybe. And unless I sought out the newspapers or had someone at the publisher send me a clipping, I wouldn’t even know. Nowadays writers get a barrage of opinion about their work from every conceivable angle, from all sort of review outlets. So I just generally avoid the Internet for awhile when a book comes out.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I don’t know, really. I think my interests have changed and have kept pace with the changes in my own life: being a husband, a father. Especially in terms of what scares you: one’s fears really do morph and change as you get older.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
I think an average intellect, nothing spectacular, and the willingness to take whatever thimbleful of talent you may have and drive it towards some kind of career. Stubbornness and a willingness to deal with rejection helps, too.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Probably a similar riff on what I said a few questions earlier: writing doesn’t happen through apathy or wishing it would happen. It happens by making it happen.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
From The Troop? I’d say Newt. He’s a lot like I was as a kid. I wasn’t so socially inept, but I was fat and a bit introspective.
How about your least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
I’d say Shelley would have to take that crown, though I had a helluva time writing him.
The Troop is one of those classic action packed gross out horror books that were once all the rage in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Was this a conscious move on your part to write a book that returns to those glory days?
Sure it was. It’s interesting—I’m not sure those were the glory days, but they were certainly the days when I came of age as a reader. So yes, an old-school kind of throwback novel that readers of a certain vintage could say, “Oh, this takes me back!” (for good or ill) and newer horror readers might find something interesting in it, providing their own education hadn’t drawn on the yellowed old paperbacks they might’ve found in a dusty used book store.
Why do you think this sort of novel had a decline in recent years?
Well, I think there’s a certain irony that has taken place in horror, especially amongst literary writers who sort of take a dip in the genre. It’s like they can only allow themselves to write a horror novel if they’re taking some kind of ironic distance on it, or using it as a commentary on present-day events, or basically taking a different outlook right from the infancy of the idea than I feel King or Barker or McCammon or Joe Lansdale or David Gerrold or James Herbert, etc, etc, would’ve taken. Those guys wanted to write you a horror book; I think some modern daytrippers who’ve slid in the backdoor from a literary background can only allow themselves to write it if they’re making some grand ironic gesture or incisive social commentary. I mean, that’s the real point. Whereas those other writers I mentioned, yeah, irony or social commentary might be in their work, but it’s not the impetus. So my sense was just to write this balls-out horror book whose main point was to entertain, to disturb, and yeah, to gross out. Hopefully it was a hell of a lot of fun. It was fun to write, that’s for sure.
The book sees a lot of nasty things happen to kids and animals, two subjects that have the power to really upset some readers. Did you at any point think I better tone this down a bit?
Not really. I think that’s what horror’s about. What scares and worries and disturbs me as a person? Well, if I can translate that sense of dread to a reader, I do that. If you start worrying too much about who you’ll offend, who will think you’re a sicko, etc, chances are your work’s not gonna be what you set out wanting it to be.
One of the things that I really loved about the book was how you broke up the narrative with “factual reports”, where did this idea come from?
I totally stole that from Carrie. Now for all I know King got the idea from somewhere else, and certainly I’ve seen the style used since, but I made sure it was known in the acknowledgements where that came from.
Whenever an author brings scientific procedures into a novel there is always a danger of getting the procedures and terminology wrong, how much research did you have to do for the book?
Eh, not too much. I looked into the “critters,” I guess you could say, and did what I felt to be due diligence, but that wasn’t really a big concern for me. The whole idea is sort of farcical to me (despite that fact some readers have felt it could happen, which, who knows, maybe they’re more clued in than I am) and to read a work of fiction, perhaps horror most especially, is to necessarily put yourself in an open frame of mind I think. I remember with my first book I had some guy write me about the specs of an M-16, and how the clip worked, and how many rounds it fired, and other really niggly points of order; I answered him pleasantly enough, but really, I’m not writing technical manuals or nonfiction. I’m writing horror fiction and while I’m gonna try to get as much right as I can, and if not try to make it sound believable, there has to be a little suspension of disbelief.
Was there ever a point where you thought “sod it that’s close enough”?
Yes, absolutely. Or I was simply dealing with things that didn’t exist, so there was no real sense of “getting it absolutely right.” It would be like someone getting on me about the length of a unicorn’s horn--they’re not that long, man, and everyone knows that!
While I love the book, I was torn when writing the review for it, one of the factors that for me anyway that stopped it from being a true masterpiece was the level of characterisation in the book. Did you set out to make The Troop a novel that was narrative driven rather than character driven?
Good question. Readers will see this to their own tastes. I certainly realized that the characters were types—that was something I knew was going to be the case right off the bat, because I’m interested in the idea of fatal flaws in horror fiction. Any longtime horror reader knows that, well, if you’ve got a character with this peculiarity, it will affect him this way, and it will drive the narrative in this direction. So it’s a matter of getting the right types, you could say, whose personalities and fatal flaws all have interesting juxtapositions with each other, and those flaws drive the plot. And horror is also a very moral genre. If you’ve got a character like Kent, the jock, well, the moral universe of a horror novel dictates that he will get his in a way that is in keeping with that flaw. It’s like the 7 deadly sins, in a way. And each of these characters has their flaw, and you’ll see that flaw is directly related to where they end up in the novel. So some readers have noticed that, other readers haven’t. I’ve certainly written more complex characters, but in this case there was a particular reason why I went the way I did. And it also allowed me to write it quickly, because I knew how these characters would react, and I think that gave the book a certain momentum that I haven’t been able to achieve with my other work because I’m always worried about character-crafting. But again, there are great horror books that achieve that momentum and do a great many wonderful things and have characters who are a little less typecast, so I take your point.
You were a boy scout, did you use any of your experiences in the novel? I can’t imagine having a badge for setting trampolines on fire would me much use in the book.
I was a Scout, and a shitty one. I think I went back to the camaraderie of that time in terms of how I tried to have the boys relate to one another.
You’ve cited Scott Smiths The Ruins as an influence on the book, can you expand on this?
Well, I guess it’s very similar in setup. You’ve got a group isolated in a very dangerous position, threats all around, and slowly but surely their morality and basic humanity kind of erodes. It’s got that Lord of the Flies vibe, for sure.
How did you get into the mindset of a bunch of kids?
Really just casting my mind back to those days. They’re a ways behind me, but not so far in the rearview that I can’t recall them at all. That was probably the most fun part about writing it.
Is there a message in the book?
I’m not sure there is. I’m always wary about stuff like that. I just wrote it to entertain myself, really. If anything, I suppose there’s a sense that the adult world isn’t a very nice place, and sometimes kids suffer as a result of the machinations of grownups.
So would you try the “magic bullet” in the book?
Perhaps at one time in my life. Now I’d just go for a jog.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
All of them stick with you, probably. Some days you want to say fuck this noise, I quit, I don’t need this hassle. Other days you say, Hey, comes with the territory so buck up and deal with it.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which book do you think best represents your work and why?
I think my books are sort of different, but if you’re looking for a straight ahead horror book, you should try The Troop.
I’m intrigued by the title of your next book The Deep, can you tell us anything about the book?
Well, it’s set at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, in Challenger Deep. The deepest spot in the oceans, 8 miles underwater. So yeah, we’ll see what people think about it.
For more great interviews and reviews follow the links below
Once a year, scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a three-day camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story and a roaring bonfire. But when an unexpected intruder—shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—stumbles upon their campsite, Tim and the boys are exposed to something far more frightening than any tale of terror. The human carrier of a bioengineered nightmare. An inexplicable horror that spreads faster than fear. A harrowing struggle for survival that will pit the troop against the elements, the infected...and one another.
Part Lord of the Flies, part 28 Days Later—and all-consuming—this tightly written, edge-of-your-seat thriller takes you deep into the heart of darkness and close to the edge of sanity.