New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice sits down with author Blake Crouch, to discuss his new book, The Vines, and where his inspiration comes from.
Blake: I really loved The Vines. Your prose is so elegant and grounded, even while it’s building this world that lives between the lines of horror and fantasy. Obviously, the eponymous vines are your creation, but did you dig into the history of Louisiana’s plantation culture while you were researching the book? The character, Nova, mentions a database for slave narratives (The Lost Voices Project), and I wondered if that was a real thing?
Christopher: Well, for starters, thank you, Blake! I've never known a writer to turn down words of praise. But they mean more when they come from an author you truly admire. I read Run when you first released it and it knocked my socks off. As for The Vines and the tortured history of Louisiana's plantations, the Lost Voice Project does not exist at this time. The groundwork for it exists, however. Gwendolyn Hall, the scholar I mentioned on the acknowledgments page, is a real person, and she worked for years to assemble an exhausting database of slave names that had been lost to history.
B: I especially enjoyed the Louisiana backdrop. I grew up in the South (North Carolina) and you lived in New Orleans for years before relocating to Los Angeles. I think growing up in the South is like growing up in a massively dysfunctional family. You end up spending the rest of your life trying to figure out how you truly feel about it. Or maybe I’m just projecting! Do you find it easier or harder to write about the South considering you no longer live there?
C: You pretty much nailed it. I'd also use a junkie/addict metaphor in describing the South, because it offers things you can't find anywhere else in the country. Even if you reach a point in your life when you just can't live there anymore, you find yourself in other places searching for the things only the South can offer. (The food! I miss the food. Whenever I visit New Orleans, I give myself permission to eat pretty much everything in sight.) I have to say, it's easier for me to write about the South when I use a supernatural framework. Monsters and predatory plants allow me to portray my conflicted feelings about the place better than simple clashes between everyday people.
B: Who are your literary influences, passions, and guilty pleasures?
C: No lie, you're a big influence. Your ability to blend elements of thriller, horror and Sci-Fi without introducing so much jargon that you crowd out the souls of your characters – that's been a huge influence on me. James Lee Burke is another huge inspiration. I like to describe The Vines as a James Lee Burke novel with killer plants! But generally, I'm a fan of any book that can grab me by the lapels and not let me go until it's over. I love the sense of being transported through adrenaline-fueled genre fiction. Whether it's a crime thriller or an erotic romance, I want to be taken out of myself when I'm reading it.
B: How did this story originate for you? Was there a scene, a character, an image that served as the catalyst?
C: This was originally conceived as a California novel. I kept having these image flashes of Spanish soldiers coming across a ruined mission covered in these great tangles of vines, and I kept having this sense that a shaman of some sort had driven the vines to rise up and kill all the missionaries. But the idea wasn't growing legs and so I put it away. The reader response to The Heavens Rise, and the way I returned to New Orleans in that book for the first time in years, was so passionate I felt my next novel should be set in Louisiana as well. And then the whole thing just began to unfurl.
B: The Vines is your second supernatural thriller, following The Heavens Rise. How are you finding the genre of speculative fiction and what made you want to depart from your previous run of traditional thrillers?
C: I truly love it. It's an enormous freedom. It feels like I've been shot out of a canon.. I think for the most part people can be disappointingly cruel to one another, because they're afraid of silly, vaporous things. Supernatural fiction gives us an opportunity to present our characters with a bigger threat than their own self-centered fear. We can either go The Mist route, and posit that they'll destroy each other in response, or we can go the route that you go in the Wayward Pines Trilogy, where people band together and rise up against forces that seem overwhelming.
B: Without giving too much away, the “creature” in The Vines is an interesting amalgamation of classic monster archetypes. Did you grow up watching monster movies?
C: It was all about Pumpkinhead. My mother and I watched that movie dozens, if not hundreds, of times when I was growing up. It's so wonderfully atmospheric and scary, and Lance Henricksen gives a great performance in it. It’s a great Appalachian retelling of the golem legend, in which someone seeking revenge calls forth a powerful supernatural creature and then quickly loses control of it. I miss horror movies like Pumpkinhead.
B: I think one of the big-time achievements of this novel is the deft weaving into the story structure of all the classic social conversations the South has been wrestling with (badly) since, well, forever: race relations, gay rights, new money, old money, no money. Was that a conscious decision to tackle these issues, or do you find they just inevitably present themselves whenever you make “the South” a prominent character in a story?
C: For me, it gets back to the whole idea that a haunting or a monstrous infestation should be crafted in such a way that strikes at the community's exposed nerves, that it churns up most of what's unresolved about the community.
B: What are you working on next?
C: Universal Pictures has optioned my adaptation of The Tale of the Body Thief, the fourth novel in The Vampire Chronicles by you-know-who. And I'm also working on The Surrender Gate, which continues the world I introduce in my erotic romance novella, The Flame, which releases in early November. As for my next scary supernatural thriller, I've got tons of ideas. I'm confident the last scene in The Vines sets the stage for a great series, not necessarily a direct continuation of The Vines but a new world in which many books could be written..