Nicholson, Scott (The Farm)


Author Scott Nicholson appeared in the literary world in the year 2000 with the short story collection Thank You for the Flowers, drawing critical acclaim and spurring him on. Now, four novels later, he has become quite a voice in the written tomes of horror. His books are regularly recommended for high honors and he shows no signs of either stopping or slowing down. His writing style has been compared to the likes of Stephen King and Peter Straub, drawing praise from such authors as Bentley Little and Sharyn McCrumb. And while calling him a “horror writer” does not come even close to encompassing his abilities, Nicholson continues to redefine the genre with his tales of Appalachian Gothic characters and extraordinarily macabre circumstances. No matter under what section it sits at the bookstore, his work still packs a literary punch.

Scott Johnson: You”ve had five books published (Thank You for the Flowers, The Red Church, The Harvest, The Manor, and The Home) since 2000. How has your process changed since book number one?

Scott Nicholson: Every book is different, and the writing process for each is different. They assume lives of their own, though the publisher”s production schedule is fairly predictable. I”ve never really had an outline, except for the new manuscript I just started, and it”s 10 pages. Takes some of the suspense out to know where it”s headed. For The Farm, all I had was a vague, one-page document—and that was all the editor had, too. I always wondered what he was telling the people at the weekly sales staff meetings.

SJ: Your newest novel, The Farm, is slated for a 2006 release. Give us a brief non-spoiler plot description.

SN: A 200-year-old Appalachian horseback preacher, carnivorous goats, a libertarian survivalist, a religion professor, a ghostly ex-wife, a 12-year-old stoner Goth, a little mountain town called Solom…

SJ: With your book The Manor, you drew inspiration from a real place. The Home was inspired by the death of a boy at a group home for troubled children? Where else do you look for inspiration?

SN: I keep my eyes open for local legends or anything really strange. Phrases work their way into my head, street names, place names, people names. They all stir around together and make ideas by themselves. I can’t really take credit for that part, but I do take credit for spending the time typing it up.

SJ: What writers influenced your writing style? Who do you consider the masters of the craft?

SN: Well, all your favorites become your style, and hopefully you don’t ever do it consciously. In the beginning, I was consciously emulating Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, and then Ray Bradbury, but I wasn’t much good at it. I became Scott pretty quickly, for better or for worse. Same way when I was a musician; I never had the patience to sit down and learn songs note for note. It was much more fun and interesting to make up my own.

SJ: Do you consider yourself a “horror” author? If so, why did you pick the genre over the others out there?

SN: I haven’t really picked a genre. The market did it for me. I’ve written nearly everything under the sun, including a few chapters of a porn novel, but the horror sold the best and seemed the most natural. It’s just what’s out there. I have three unpublished novels that are not horror; I would call one of them “weird fiction,” one “romantic suspense,” and one “literary thriller.” I’ve written some children’s books and I’m working on a young adult fantasy series. I’ve written poetry, song lyrics, science fiction, mystery, realism. Most of that stuff is packed away in boxes in the attic.

SJ: Many of your books are described as “Appalachian gothic thrillers.” What exactly does that phrase mean to you? Why have you centered much of your work around the Appalachian mountain region?

SN: Since I made the phrase up, then I get to decide what it means. My work has a strong regional element and it gives the books a connection and, to some degree, a marketing angle. But sense of place is important to many writers: Lansdale’s East Texas, James Lee Burke’s Louisiana bayou, Dean Koontz’s Southern California, Stephen King’s Maine, Bentley Little’s Southwest. Nobody’s really doing anything like this. There are “Appalachian writers” and “Southern writers,” and obviously a lot of horror authors do the small-town horror, but nobody else is combining those three elements.

SJ: You have a knack for creating characters that resonate with the readers. Where do they come from, and what do you think is the key to good characterization?

SN: Paying attention to real people. They are all endlessly fascinating. There are no stereotypes, there are no “normals,” there is no middle class. We are all walking bags of fear, hopes, dreams, prejudices, and desires. When I go into a character’s head, I feel like that character. That’s why I almost always use a third-person limited omniscient viewpoint, with the viewpoint shifting between different characters. Usually there are eight or ten viewpoint characters in my books, though obviously they vary in the amount of “stage time.”

SJ: How long have you been writing? What was your first attempt at a novel?

SN: I’m in my ninth year of serious writing. It seems like I’m just now starting. I’d written a half-dozen short stories and jumped into a novel, deciding that would be the only way to really have a career. It was both harder and easier than I imagined. I did write a short novel in high school, but it was mostly just a way to kill time in class. I have it somewhere.

SJ: What attracts you to being a writer?

SN: Solitude and self-reliance. Unless you’re a celebrity, nobody else can do it for you, or will do it for you. As a writer, you really are the master of your own fate. Publishing mishaps aside, you control your career. If things go wrong, be inventive and work harder. Try another genre. Simply don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You get the fruits of your labor.

SJ: You”ve published more than forty stories in six countries, five books, and numerous newspaper articles. What was your favorite piece on which to work, and why?

SN: Well, they are each the favorite at the time. By the time a book comes out, it’s nearly two years from the time I wrote the opening
line, and so feels like the work and experience of a different person. The current project is always the most interesting. I don’t read my novels after they’re published. I would only say things to edit or improve. I do enough of that in rewrites.

SJ: Do you watch many horror movies? Name some of your favorites.

SN: I love good horror movies, but there aren’t that many good ones. I am too easily disappointed. I guess because I think like a creator, and I need the events to make sense. I can’t just watch with a dropped jaw. I still need engaging characters and a good story.

That said, I like The Devil’s Backbone, Dead Birds, Session 9, The Ring, Dead Ringers, Love Object, quirky films like that. And of course classics like Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Freaks, The Last Man on Earth. Movies that do more than just steal 90 minutes of your life, ones that give you a little something back.

SJ: What advice would you give to any aspiring young writer?

SN: Write in as many different genres and for as many different reasons as possible. It’s okay to write for money, it’s okay to write for love. Eventually, if you keep at it, the world and your heart will tell you what you should be doing.

SJ: I know you”re working on a project for 2007. Can you tell us anything about it?

SN: Right now it’s an outdoor adventure novel with some sort of vampire hybrid. Actually, I could leave the vampires out and it would probably be a better novel, but, hey, they say I’m a horror writer.

SJ: It”s been said that horror fans are the most passionate out there. Do you agree or disagree? What”s your experience been with fans?

SN: Well, it depends on which community you hang out with. Science fiction fans can get rather snarky over relatively meaningless issues. I’m sure every community has its talking points and flash points. I like the horror community because of the shared base of experience, but like any community, you have the same percentage of jerks and saints as in the population at large.

SJ: What”s your own personal cure for the dreaded “writer”s block?”

SN: Desperation. Fear of failure. Fear of always having a day job. Fear of getting dropped by the publisher. Fear of having nothing to say. Fear of boredom. Fear of being “normal.”

SJ: Many people imagine horror authors as unflappable, without a fearful bone in their bodies. What scares Scott Nicholson?

SN: Threats to loved ones. Not the sex pervert in the bushes; those are mostly fictional fears. The real ones are insidious: leukemia, car wrecks, experiencing cruelty or rejection at the hands of others, struggling with self-doubt. Those are things that leave you helpless for the most part. You can beat up the perverts, but you can’t live someone’s life for them or always take away their pain.

SJ: Let”s assume The Home sells a billion copies, and so do your next two. What then? What would you be doing if you never had to worry about money?

SN: I’d travel, continue to write, and maybe make a movie. I have done some screenwriting and would ike to do more. I also want to get back to playing music and painting. I’m a terrible artist, and it would be a great challenge.

SJ: Have you had any “surreal fan” moments?

SN: More like “surreal bookstore adventures.” I guess the strangest thing was this guy who talked to me at my signing table for 15 minutes, left without a book, then a few minutes later hustles in and nervously says, “Here.” He tosses a ten-dollar bill on the table and hurries out again, like he’s making a cocaine delivery. I guess he figured I was a “starving artist” and felt sorry for me. Hey, paid better than selling books!

SJ: What one thing would you like fans to know about Scott Nicholson, the person?

SN: I desperately need your money.

Scott Nicholson”s latest release, The Home, came out this year to rave reviews (get it via Evilshop here). His next book, The Farm, is set for release in 2006. To learn more about Nicholson and his works, visit his website at right here.

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