For my Friday the 13th festivities, I went to The Darkside Tour II: Highway of Horror V.I.P. Elle Canada Man Event to celebrated the latest works of two Canadian horror authors. It was an intimate affair where a small audience got to listen to a couple of guys talk about writing. You might pass them on the street, perhaps pushing strollers or carrying a six-pack of beer; two regular guys who happen to write the most disturbing things. Those regular guys are best-selling, award-winning authors Nick Cutter (a pseudonym for Craig Davidson) and Andrew Pyper, and they spent the evening talking about their latest books, inspirations, and horror. Hosted by Elle Canada’s Features Editor Aliyah Shamser, it proved to be a fun, insightful night.
Nick Cutter’s first book, The Troop, made me physically cringe as I read it. The story about a boy scout camping trip that goes horribly wrong after a man dies at their cabin was equally heart-wrenching and gruesome, in fact, I don’t think I’ve read such graphically described scenes in a long time. Cutter was modest but spoke with a heart-felt eloquence about horror to open the event, telling us that to him, “fears are like fingerprints”; unique to each person and that it is “profoundly un-grippable”, living invisibly behind the written word. He lauded the likes of Stephen King and Shirley Jackson as sources of inspiration, particularly King’s Salem’s Lot for creating an incredible sense of dread. Cutter described himself as a sort of mechanic, taking apart fears and building his own engine, but at the same time, not re-inventing the wheel because there are some things, like isolation, that will always scare us. Another key element for him is to make sure the reader ultimately cares about the characters in order to fully realize the horror in the story. His new novel, The Deep, broached the subject of loss-loss of memory and of loved ones- as characters battle a strange plague, and is essentially about the main character dealing with the loss of his son amidst the horror.
For Pyper, horror is deeply personal, and like an attraction, inexplicable and organic. He got my attention after I read and reviewed the Demonologist where a man races to save his daughter from a demon. I couldn’t put it down, because as Cutter mentioned before, I cared about those characters. I followed by reading The Killing Circle, a creeping, slow-build of a story about a would-be writer who ends up in a writing workshop leading to obsession, mystery and murder, so I was thrilled to hear of his next book, The Damned. In this latest horror read, a twin whose near-death experience resulted in hauntings by his dead sister for years, has to face her vengeful spirit when he finally finds love. Pyper’s inspiration came from books about the afterlife and near death experiences, but his interests lay in the “boiler room” instead of the “penthouse”, namely, Hell. He thought about what his underworld would look like, and wanted it to be based in realism, so he placed his characters in Detroit which to him, had many similarities to Dante’s Inferno. He also created a unique, character-driven way to illustrate Heaven and Hell. Add his fascination for the relationship between twins, and he found he had pieced together a patchwork of sorts that became the novel.
During the question and answer segment, they shared their thoughts about being called a horror writer, and whether they have had a lifelong love of horror. For Cutter, his parents were just happy he was reading, so he started reading mostly “inappropriate” things for kids, like Stephen King, but horror was his first love. He embraced being called a horror writer because he felt the genre has always been marginalized, and he would never run from that title because horror is a fundamental part of his life (Hear, hear! I resisted a “Whoot!” and a fist-pump when he said this). Pyper read a variety of fiction, but he was surprised by the amount of emotion involved with horror and how investing in the stories brought thrills. Pyper never really thought of the title “horror writer”, he just wrote. He too would embrace the title but really didn’t care about what category he fit into. I love this because Pyper, who earned an M.A. in English Literature and a Law degree, defied the status quo by ending up doing what he loved, and obviously what he was meant to do.
They also talked about how fear changes with age. Fear for one’s own well-being changes with the addition of children, and for both writers it became a fear of their kids and loved ones coming to any harm. When asked why horror seemed to become more shameful as we age, Pyper aptly described how he felt culture generated a social hierarchy in regards to what people read, and ultimately a fear of enjoying yourself; and Cutter added that there should be no shame for what you enjoy, that they as writers, and their audience, should never apologize for what they do.
I got a chance to ask Cutter about a particular scene in The Troop, where characters kill a turtle because they are starving. It is probably one of the most disturbing passages I have ever read, so much so that I had to hug my cat after reading it. My impression of Cutter after I read that scene was of pure admiration, so I asked him how he mustered up the courage to write it. He told me that he had actually gotten a lot of flack for it and was accused online of hating animals. As a horror writer, he wanted to explore what would break him, and as an animal lover and owner of 2 cats, this was it. He had to imagine what it would be like for two hungry kids on the brink. I applaud him for going to the darkest places and writing such memorable, gut-wrenching scenes.
Pyper was grateful for the support of his readers and meeting him was super exciting for me and a check off of my bucket list. For him this book launch seemed bittersweet as he mentioned in a tweet earlier that day and at the event, The Damned was the first book his parents weren’t there to see as they had passed before it was published. For those of us who have had to bury our parents, some before their time, it is a thought that will strike you during moments of accomplishment, and makes the things you do and strive for so much more important.
Both writers were engaging, down-to-earth, and so funny they had the audience in stitches with descriptions of the tour, their unique fans, the writing process and their surprise at success. They were lovely to meet and grateful for all their fans, colleagues, family and friends who came out, and I highly suggest you add them to your reading list. Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for my reviews on their latest books.
If you missed this event don’t fret! Check out the links below to see their next appearances and events, as well their bios!
The next event at the Toronto Public Library will be on April 2, 2015 and it’s free!!