Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview with Husk author Matt Hults

Last week I reviewed a very unique and entertaining horror book, entitled Husk. If you have not yet, you can check out the review here and get accustomed to this fantastic literary horror novel. Husk is the story of a mysterious killer slaughtering the inhabitants a small town in Minneapolis, coinciding with the death of serial killer Kale Kane. The killer's identity remains anonymous for a majority of the book and it is not certain if he is of the flesh or a supernatural element. When his intentions become known and the full capacity of his abilities come to fruition, it will take the collective efforts of the book's many protagonists to even hope for a chance to take this seemingly indestructible murderer down.

Matt Hults is a new author on the scene who certainly makes his stake for notoriety with his first book release. The book might be an easy read, but that does not mean it is simple in plot and is very hard to out down. The story seems straight forward in the first act, but then the plot becomes extremely involved with each turn of the page afterward. One thing is certain, you will be engrossed until you reach the conclusion. Husk is also the recipient of the "It Award" for best book in The Man-Cave's annual It & S*** Awards for 2011. Hults is here today to talk to us more in depth about his work and the influences that surrounded its creation.


The Man-Cave:  Welcome to The Man-Cave, Matt! First thing first, what is the origin behind the concept for Husk?

Matt Hults:  Thank you, Geof. I've excited to be a part of The Man-Cave's 2012 opener! Husk came about as an accident. Years ago I had saved up money to take a summer off work and write my first novel, The Varanus Discovery, an action adventure story that was kind of part Indiana Jones, part Jurassic Park. I knew nothing about writing at the time, and the resulting story turned out to be a 232K behemoth of probably every beginner mistake possible. I learned this as I wrote the last third of the book, knowing I would need to go back and do extensive cuts and revisions. Instead, I decided to take what I'd learned writing that first story and start a whole new book. The day after I typed 'THE END' on Varanus, my wife and I took a day trip to the country, intending to go a state park, but we made a wrong turn and ended up in the small town of Loretto, Minnesota. I knew I wanted to do a horror book, and when I saw Loretto it seemed like the perfect setting. We drove around the area, and a few miles away we came across a small collection of luxurious looking houses built on a hillside, all by themselves. I thought, "How quaint ... but they're a long way from help". When we got home, I sat down and banged out what became chapter one of Husk without any other plot ideas other than that I wanted a villain that was incredibly powerful and versed in ancient knowledge, yet unable to achieve its goals without the help of others. I built the rest of the story around that idea and the town.

TMC:  This is your debut publication, so congratulations on your accomplishment. Did you go the horror route because you're a genre fan?

MH:  Absolutely! I grew up with Star Wars and Indiana Jones and the Hardy Boys, Scooby-Doo cartoons, Spider-Man comics, and The Twilight Zone. I love adventure, sci-fi, mystery, thrillers, but I'm particularly a sucker for a good horror story no matter what form it may take, and across the spectrum of sub-genres, as well, from the darkly serious to the comically cheesy. My favorite stories present a truly ominous threat for the characters to overcome, yet allow a glimmer of hope. We all know that real life horrors are no fun.

TMC:  I felt a little bit of awesome old school slasher/ghost flicks like Shocker, Ghost in the Machine and The Horror Show. Am I right in that assumption?

MH:  Oh, yes! As I've said, I'm a horror junkie, and it was inevitable that some of the cinematic influences from growing up in the 70's and 80's would find their way into my writing. I tend to write what I would like to read, if that doesn't come off as too narcissistic. But I also like to care about my characters. I've found with my recent slasher clones I'm rooting for the killer rather than the victims, and I didn't want that to be the case in Husk.

TMC:  Was Kale Kane inspired from a real life serial killer?

MH:  No. Although I suppose his handiwork could be comparable to that of Ed Gein (technically not a serial killer, but still really messed up!), Kane more or less just popped into my head. I knew I wanted him to be gaunt, almost skeletal, someone you might be repulsed by but not necessarily find physically threatening - so when he lets loose in the police raid you get the hint there's something else going on. His name then came from the need to link the killings in the story together. I wanted to have a mark the killer left on the victims, and after some contemplation as to what that mark should be, I settled on a set of initials. I didn't have a name at the time, so I hit the dry-erase board and started with some simple, single-letter combos. I got to K and created the overlapping symbol seen on the cover of the book. Next, I had to come up with a name to fit the letters. KK. Kale Kane. Some people thought the name was too trite, but 'Kenneth Knickerbottoms' didn't have the same ring to it.

TMC:  Without giving away any spoilers, the antagonist's endgame intentions are relative to events tied into theological history. Did you perform a lot of research to manifest this history or did you create these historical touches especially for Husk?

MH:  Half and half, I guess. I wanted the story to be about Good vs. Evil, but without specifying that Good = Christian, or Evil = Satanic. Having grown up with a strong (aka 'forced') Christian background, I used those beliefs as a base. I did do some research into American Indian theologies after a title change. The original title for Husk was "Glade's Bend", named after the neighborhood where the character Mallory lives. That seemed too passive, though, and I later changed it to "Skinwalker". At the time, the word 'skinwalker' wasn't as much a part of popular culture as it is today, and the only other book I could find with that title was from the 80's. Because my story wasn't about actual skinwalkers, though, I felt it was different enough to go forward. At the same time, I wanted some backing for the title, and thus added the appropriate American Indian references and even got feedback from American Indian readers. When the book was done it became delayed at numerous times, and at one point I simply shelved it and quit writing entirely. In the interim, Skinwalkers began popping up everywhere, from movies to TV to comics. When Books of the Dead accepted the story, we made the hard choice to change the title to avoid confusion with the movie that had come out a few years prior. I chose Husk from a line of dialogue where one character, Frank, describes the villain as "a seed of evil in a husk of flesh." I thought it would be a cool tie-in. Ironically, the movie Husk came out days after the new title was announced *slaps hand to forehead*. Oh, well. It still works.

TMC:  Another skill I appreciate about your writing is that you do not waste too much time before diving into the action, while supplying the reader with enough background to catch them up to speed quickly. Is that due to keeping the page numbers down or is it for pacing purposes?

MH:  I never really worry about page numbers. Some people will try and tell you that a chapter should be a certain length, but I think that's bull. Lord knows I've agonized over it more than a few times during rewrites, but I've learned to just pace it in a way I hope others will find entertaining. I have to give credit to some of my best test readers, authors Mike Stone, Bret Jordan, Joel Sutherland, and Jerry Gordon who helped me spot where to remind the reader what was going on. Those guys were instrumental in helping polish the story to a shine.

TMC:  Speaking of pacing, your writing style is much like Steve Alten (of Meg fame), who offers cinematic experience on pages of a book. There is action among a slew of chaos, which is especially noticeable in the extended final act. Can you elaborate on your literary vision and intention to convert a high budget film into an exciting 300 page book?

MH:  I tend to write the story as I see it in my head. Sometimes I'll storyboard a scene on paper. I love to draw, and before delving into writing I often told people I wanted to be a comic book artist or movie director. As mentioned above, the inundation of numerous genre films has also geared my thought process toward the visual telling of the tale.

TMC:  Are any of the characters outside of Kane and the mystery killer based on any people you know in real life?

MH:  I guess the one character that has some real life roots would be Tim Fleming, he being a combination of myself and one of my best high school friends (whose name is Tim). The character's family's financial and marital issues are reminiscent of my teenage years. Likewise, his experiences with Mallory at the Valley Fair amusement park are an embellished version of an evening I had at the same park the night before leaving for the military. I had gone to the park with a group of friends, and among them was a girl I had a crush on. Unfortunately she was far more interested in one of my wealthier, better looking friends (who drove a Mercedes, just like in the story). He already had a girlfriend at the time, but that didn't stop him of making moves on this other girl. It was a rather bummer of a send-off if you ask me, but it translated perfectly into the story and allowed me to unload some of the emotional baggage leftover from that night. On the other hand, the events from chapter 8 are entirely fictional ... Honest. 

TMC:  Who are some of your writing influences?

MH:  Dean Koontz, hands down. I know that might seem like a cliche answer being that he's one of the biggest authors around, but I find he writes with that same sense of hope-among-chaos that I enjoy. I also learned that our childhoods were not so different. I once saw an interview where he discussed growing up with an alcoholic father, and talked about having prepped his bedroom for a quick escape if needed. My parents divorced when I was a 15, and my mother eventually began dating someone who later turned out to be a drug-abusing, bipolar, bank-robbing ex-con who had served 15 years for murder. When he moved in with us, life got ... scary. My brother and I took the screens off our third floor town-house window in case we needed to get out fast, and I always slept with a knife tucked between the mattress and the bed frame. I guess I should have added him to the answer from the last question about characters based off real people: I used his last name for the first person to die in the opening police raid. 

TMC:  If there is a message or moral for your readers to take away from Husk, what would it be?

MH:  I guess it is to just be true to yourself and not masquerade as someone you're not in order to fit in with others. This is the underlying struggle Mallory and Tim face throughout the story; Mallory with her friends and Tim with his own insecurities. I suppose it's a lesson that I leaned being an artistic guy who went to a jock high school. Oh, yeah, and don't dig up dead serial killers, either. 

TMC:  Any plans for a follow up to Husk or has the story ended from your perspective?

MH:  Thoughts of expanding on the story pop up now and again, but for now it's done.

TMC:  What is in the pipeline for you next, Matt? Any projects you want to discuss or is there anything you would like to promote?

MH:  I'm currently working on a zombie novella for a Books of the Dead multi-author story titled Living Death Race 2000, as well as plugging away at my next novel. I also invite everyone to check out my collection of horror short stories, Anything Can Be Dangerous, which is available to download for FREE from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and iTunes. Likewise, for those with children (or those who are just a kid at heart) I've published a adventure/horror children's book titled Dwellers of the Dark under my penname Lewis Hand. I'm also on Facebook and happy to meet new friends.

TMC:  Thanks again for stopping by and congrats again on your first book release. I just wanted to close this out by telling you and my readers that I am not a huge book reader and have never read a book from beginning to end, especially a 300+ pager, in one day...until I read Husk.

MH:  Thank you, Geof! Looking forward to another year of Man-Cave splendor!

Husk can be purchased as an e-book or hard copy by clicking on the widgets below...


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