Hunter Shea wrote one of my favorite haunted house stories of all time with Forest of Shadows so I almost lost my mind when I had the opportunity to sit down with him and chat. It is authors like Hunter, with his passion and talent, that made us start Dreadful Tales way back when. Hunter has a new book, Evil Eternal, out today so I encourage everyone to go here and pick up a copy after checking out the interview.
Pat Dreadful: Hunter, let me first start by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Forest of Shadows and it was the novel that sold me on Samhain as a publisher. The story was just so solid and genuinely frightening that I had to see what else this publisher was putting out there. I’m curious, how did your relationship with Samhain begin?
Hunter Shea: It was a looong road to publication, but it ended at a very happy destination. When I wrote Forest of Shadows, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write a book that would be just right for the Dorchester/Leisure horror line. I was a huge fan of all the Leisure Horror books and it was my dream to be one of them, no matter how slim the odds. So, when I finished with FOS, I sent it to the editor there, the legendary Don D’Auria, and waited. I sent that book to no one else. To me, it was Leisure and Don or bust.
I know that’s crazy and I don’t suggest anyone to follow that plan. The book miraculously made it out of the slush pile and after several years (that’s right, I said years) of back and forth, out of the blue, Don wrote me welcoming me to the fold. That day was literally the only time in my life I’ve been speechless.
Now here’s where timing is everything. As I was about to sign the contract. Dorchester imploded, so the deal never went through. I was crushed. I mean, I beat some insane odds only to have the published shut down. Thankfully, three people talked me down from the roof (Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum and my agent, Louise Fury). They all said if Don liked the book, he would remember it and make an offer again…if he was going to continue editing horror.
I sat tight for four months, and then got word that Don had joined Samhain and was going to start a new horror line, just like he did at Dorchester. And lo and behold, he wanted my book to be part of the initial launch! I was, and continue to be, honored. Don and Samhain have been wonderful to work with and there are great things on the horizon.
Pat Dreadful: Don really is fantastic. Without Don I would have never discovered authors like Keene, Laymon and Strand. He is a true treasure.
Let’s talk Forest of Shadows. The book tells a timeless haunted house story filtered through the lens of modern technology. What influenced you more when writing the book? Was it the classics like Hell House and The Haunting of Hill House or the contemporary, scientific slant?
Hunter Shea: Yeah, Don has an amazing eye for talent. And he’s the most humble guy you’d ever meet!
When I started writing FOS, there were no ghost hunting shows on TV, so I didn’t have that kind of information to draw upon. My all time favorite movie is The Haunting (and book as well) and I really wanted to write something that had that kind of vibe. To do that, I knew I had to come up with some strong characters that readers could emotionally invest themselves in, then start adding the creepiness, amping it up as they went along. You’ll notice that I really didn’t give the main character, John Backman, much in the way of high tech tools, even though he was rich. In reality, he was still, in regards to the paranormal, a kid watching In Search Of and trying to have his own ghostly experience.
Pat Dreadful: I think that is what I loved most about John. At his core, he was like a paranormal Bruce Wayne as he took his wealth and indulged in his own passion while still trying to help others.
Most of the story takes place in the Alaskan town of Shida in which I commented in my review, “Shea creates a spine numbing sense of isolation as he draws a vivid portrait of this wilderness town”. What made you choose Alaska?
Hunter Shea: John Backman as Bruce Wayne. I love that! I should have given him a utility belt.
Alaska has been one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit. Back in college, I even thought of going up there after graduating and working on the pipeline. So, it’s always had some kind of mystical attraction to me. Since I’ve yet to make the trek, I decided to live there, vicariously, through my book. Over the years, I’ve done a ton of research on Alaska, so it was easy to conjure up a self made town in my mind.
I also wanted to put John in physcial isolation. He’d been wrapped in his own world for so long, I wanted to see how he would react to a surrounding environment that was less than inviting. The fact that he found it liberating made it all the more interesting.
Pat Dreadful: I thought it was the perfect setting fo the story. Now, I have a questions about your style. I was wondering if you write to what scares you or you tend to write toward a subject that you know the masses will find frightening?
Hunter Shea: I think if I wrote more with the ‘masses’ in mind, my road to publication would have been a wee bit shorter. Hahaha. For me, if I have to live with a book for a year or years, it better be something that floats my boat, and for horror, it has to be a subject that gives me the chills. As an example, the very first full length novel I ever wrote was a romantic comedy, because at that time in my life, that’s the kind of world I needed to create and live within. With Forest of Shadows, my wife and I had had a very odd string of paranormal experiences in our home, so when I sat down to write, I wanted to express that sense of creeping dread that we had gone through. For my next book, Evil Eternal, I had always wanted to create a balls-to-the-wall character that had ties to the church so I could populate it with demons and portents and historical references to all sorts of events and characters. I grew up a huge comic book reader, and the characters in Evil Eternal are those kind of larger than life people in dangerous situations. I have no idea if that’s what readers are looking for, but damn, I sure had a hell of a time writing it.
Pat Dreadful: So you drew from personal experience for Forest of Shadows? Wow. What type of things were you experiencing?
I’ve read the teaser for Evil Eternal that you have on your site and “balls -to-wall” may be an understatement. It is absolutely amazing! What can you tell us about the story?
Hunter Shea: I always had an open mind about the existence of ghosts, but it wasn’t until the mid 90s when I became a true believer. My wife at the time was very sick and on life support at home. She spent most of her time asleep in our bedroom. One night, I was in the kitchen doing dishes when I saw a small boy, about 8 years old, standing in our hallway. Naturally, I was startled. When I went to him, he ran, soundlessly, into our bedroom. By the time I got there, he was gone. At first, I thought it was either a neighbor or simply stress. I told no one about it because I didn’t want them thinking I was cracking up taking care of my wife. Over the nex year, I saw that same boy a half dozen more times, and always in the hallway headed towards our bedroom.
When my wife recovered, we were talking one day and she said to me, “You know, I was always comforted by this little boy that would come watch over me.” Every goosebump on my body came up! I asked her to describe him to me, and it was a complete match. That’s when I knew there’s more around us than we think.
Now, Evil Eternal is a completely different type of story. It’s about a man-creature named Father Michael who lives in the catacombs under the Vatiican. He’s been chosen by God to be a savage defender of the faith. This time around, he’s called to find and battle Cain, Adam and Eve’s wayward son who is in league with the devil. They end up in New York where Cain plans to unleash armageddon. I once had someone describe it as Grand Guignol at its craziest, and I think that fits. I grew up really into comics and it has that larger than life flair.
Pat Dreadful: First off, I’m happy to know that your wife recovered. I hope all is still well. That story is extremely creepy.
Based on that small description, I am super stoked for Evil Eternal and I know it will be high upon my TBR pile. What else is in store for Hunter Shea?
Hunter Shea: Thanks. We just celebrated our 20 anniversary, proof that nothing gets us down.
I have a lot of irons in the fire right now. It’s been a crazy year to say the least! Before I get into it, I just want to say publicly how much I love the cover to Evil Eternal. Those eyes! That face! Not sure if a mother could even love that.
I’m finishing follow up to Forest of Shadows which should come out next spring. It’s written as a stand alone book, but readers of FOS should be pleasantly surprised by the direction some of the characters take. I’m in talks and working on a novella that we’re shooting for a fall release this year. This one is going to be a ton of fun and I can guarantee no one has taken on this particular subject in this particular way before. Both books will be through Samhain, which is well on its way to being THE place for horror. Also later this year, a story of mine will be in the Cemetery Dance anthology, Shocklines : New Voices in Terror. I’ve been a huge fan of CD for almost 2 decades, and I’m thrilled to have something publised by them. Last but not least, I’ve written the start of a horror series for tweens and crossing my fingers that we find it a home soon. All in all, I’m busier than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest, and that’s fine by me!
Pat Dreadful: Congrats on the anniversary!
Just reading that made me dizzy! It is great to hear that you are keeping (almost too) busy. It is very well deserved, my friend. CD and Samhain must look very nice on the ol’ resume.Can you give us any teasers regarding the tween series? I’m intrigued!
Hunter Shea: Having Samhain and CD on the ol’ resume is a dream come true. I don’t want to give too much away about the tween series, but it does focus on a young girl who lives in a very, very strange house. The action and fun is non-stop and rife with zombies (both human and non human), strange bugs, voodoo spells and killer snakes. It’s a crazy, wild ride.
Pat Dreadful: Before I let you go I feel like I have to ask this because, as a young reader, I would always look to established authors for recommendations so….. what are you currently reading? Also is there a lesser known talent in the genre that you feel deserves a much wider audience?
Hunter Shea: I read every genre imagineable, but lately I’ve been working on my horror pile. Aside for some great new writers with Samhain like Kristopher Rufty, Brian Moreland, Frazer Lee, Ronald Malfi and Jonathan Janz, I’m totally hooked by everyting by J.F. Gonzalez. His books are pitch perfect! I don’t think he gets the recognition he truly deserves. I’ve also gotten snared by Mary SanGiovanni and Norman Prentiss. Any fan of horror should read their books. Really great stuff.
Pat Dreadful: That YA story has me very excited! I hope it finds a home.
All of those are fantastic authors. Personally, I have really been digging on SanGiovanni. I thought the first two Hollower books were amazing.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it. Any final words before I let you go?
Hunter Shea: I was just happy to finally write something my daughters could enjoy, and they are the stars of the book.
Mary’s got the goods and she’s just the sweetest person. When we met her last year at a con, she was so nice to my daughter who was a little starstruck by all the writers around us (Brian Keene, JF Gonzalez, Kelli Owen and Rio Youers were all hanging outside the hotel). Everyone needs to know that horror writers, for all the high strangeness that we write, are some of the nicest, most grounded folks in the writing orbit. Seriously. Haven’t met a devil worshippere in the lot yet.
I just want to finish by thanking everyone who has read Forest of Shadows and supported me and said so many encouraging words about Evil Eternal. I write to entertain and scare folks and appreciate the readers more than you can imagine. I promise, the the best is yet to come!