Exclusive: Author Dave Zeltserman Talks The Boy Who Killed Demons

Author Dave Zeltserman Talks The Boy Who Killed DemonsNext week author Dave Zeltserman is heading to the New York Comic Con with The Overlook Press in support of his soon-to-be-released The Boy Who Killed Demons, but before he faces the masses in the Big Apple, he spent a few minutes chatting with Dread Central about the book.

Dread Central: The Boy Who Killed Demons has a teenage protagonist.  Would you say, then, that the book is geared toward teens or more so the adult crowd?  Or a bit of both?

Dave Zeltserman: I’d say both. Demons is a heroic and straightforward story of a 15-year-old boy who must find a way to stop demons from destroying the world and should appeal to all readers. It’s not as graphic and violent as some of my adult novels, but otherwise I didn’t make any other concessions to write this as a YA novel, and I think adult readers will enjoy this one every bit as much as my previous novels, if not more. My protagonist, Henry, is a smart, resourceful, and I believe honestly written character whom both teen and adult readers will identify with and root for.

DC: How are the adults treated in the tale?  Are they involved in Henry’s world or more on the sidelines?  Does he have anyone mentoring his demon hunting?

DZ: Henry is all alone in his fight against the demons, and he needs to keep this fight hidden from his parents and everyone else, including a neighbor down the street who’s one of the demons.

DC: The book’s synopsis mentions Henry’s alienation from his parents, friends, teachers, etc.  That seems to be a fairly common occurrence among teens, but no doubt in Henry’s case it’s even more extreme than usual.  Can you talk about how you incorporated this theme into the book?

DZ: Henry knows that if his parents find out he sees demons, they’ll have him loaded up on psychiatric drugs, and there will be no one left to stop the demons. There’s a lot of stress between him and his parents as they can’t understand how their well-adjusted, outgoing son has become a sullen loner. Henry also knows that if the demons ever discover he can see them, he’ll be dead soon afterwards. His having to fight them in secrecy takes a toll, and he has to sacrifice so much of not only a normal teen existence, but his life, including a budding romance, to save the world.

DC: As for the ancient texts that Henry studies in the course of his research on the supernatural, did you use actual, existing writings, or did you create your own for the book?

DZ: I created my own. There were really two texts—an eighteenth century German text that Henry has to translate (for a good part of the text he thinks the author was a quack) and a rumored seventeenth century text, L’Occulto Illuminato, which only a handful of people know about. Henry has to go to great lengths to get a copy of L’Occulto Illuminato, including betraying a close friend.

DC: Without spoiling too much, what can you tell us about the “demons” of the title?  Is there a variety of them, or are they mostly similar?  How detailed are the descriptions of them in the book?

DZ: A description of the demons is given on the first page of the novel so I’m not giving anything away. The demons are described in explicit detail, and they’re similar and with a singular purpose. Outside of Henry, and perhaps a handful of other people, everyone else is fooled into thinking these demons are normal, everyday people. The gift Henry has is sort of like the gift Roddy Piper has in They Live, except Henry doesn’t need special glasses to see the demons for what they are.

DC: The Boy Who Killed Demons was written in diary form.  What motivated you to select that format for this particular tale, and did it create any particular challenges for you, or did it perhaps make things easier since you could write more in the “train of thought” format?

DZ: The journal form seemed the most natural way to write this book, and it allowed me to mix standard first-person narrative with Henry’s musings and rants while being able to be more playful with it. It also allowed a more natural way to parcel out Henry’s journey. I don’t know if I’ll ever write another book in journal form, but the form worked nicely with Demons.

DC: You’ve written noir, mystery, and horror novels.  Do you have a preference, and is there a difference in how you approach each genre?

DZ: When I started out writing, I thought of myself as a noir writer, but the simple fact is most of the great classic noir writers, like Jim Thompson, Gil Brewer, Dan Marlowe, died broke. While I love reading the dark journeys that noir novels can take you on, most readers want someone somewhat likable to root for and don’t want to follow a vicious, borderline-sociopathic character on a one-way ticket to hell. And most publishers will not publish true noir. I feel very fortunate that the London publisher Serpent’s Tail published my first four noir novels, but after that it was time to move on and find other types of books that I wanted to write. Whether it’s noir, horror, or something else, I approach all my books the same way—getting into the heads of my characters and living the book in my mind as I write it.

DC: What are your horror influences?  Favorite authors, films, etc.?

DZ: When I was a kid, I was heavily into Lovecraft, and read everything of his I could find, and there’s some Lovecraft influence in Demons, although the writing style is very different. My favorite horror novel is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. An absolutely brilliant novel. Shelley’s Frankenstein is another favorite. It can be a tough go through the first half, but once you get to the monster’s story, it’s spellbinding. After I wrote Monster, I went on a kick of reading other Frankenstein retellings, and I thought Peter Ackroyd’s The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein was superb and found it fascinating the directions he took it.

My favorite horror films are two from John Carpenter: They Live and The Thing. Also George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead—it may be low budget, but it’s still one of the creepiest movies out there. Others are Psycho, The Birds, The Howling, Fright Night (original), The Exorcist, Child’s Play, 13 Tzameti, and the recent The Cabin in the Woods. Also, as a kid I could not get enough of “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”; quite a few of those episodes have stayed with me over the years.

DC: Lastly, now that The Boy Who Killed Demons is being released, what’s next for you?  Any upcoming projects you can share with us?

DZ: I’m in the process of putting together a Julius Katz Collection that I’ll be publishing as a paperback and ebook. This will be made up of the first six Julius Katz mystery stories that were originally published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine plus a new and previously unpublished long novella. These stories are the polar opposite of my noir novels—very lighthearted and charming—and have so far won a Shamus, Derringer, and two Ellery Queen Readers Choice Awards. I’ve also just finished a noirish PI in hell novel that I’m very fond of and will be looking to get that published. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one of my film deals goes into production next year.

Look for Dave Zeltserman’s The Boy Who Killed Demons on October 16th from The Overlook Press.  The 2014 New York Comic Con runs October 9th-12th. You can visit Dave in Booth #128 on Friday, October 10th, from 1:00-4:00 pm ET.

Our thanks to Dave for his time and to Kait Heacock at Overlook for setting up the interview.

Synopsis:
“My name’s Henry Dudlow. I’m fifteen and a half. And I’m cursed. Or damned. Take your pick. The reason? I see demons.”

The setting is quiet Newton, Massachussetts, where nothing ever happens. Nothing, that is, until two months after Henry Dudlow’s 13th birthday, when his neighbor, Mr. Hanley, suddenly starts to look… different. While everyone else sees a balding man with a beer belly, Henry suddenly sees a nasty, bilious, rage-filled demon.

Once Henry catches on to the real Mr. Hanley, he starts to see demons all around him, and his boring, adolescent life is transformed. There’s no more time for friends or sports or the lovely Sally Freeman; instead Henry must work his way through ancient texts and hunt down the demons before they steal any more innocent children. And if hunting demons is hard at any age, it’s borderline impossible when your parents are on your case, your grades are getting worse, and you can’t tell anyone about your chosen mission.

The Boy Who Killed Demons

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Debi Moore

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