With The Big Reap set to hit store shelves in a few short weeks, Chris gave me a chance to ask him a few questions about his new novel, his short story collections and what’s on the horizon for one of Angry Robot’s best authors.
The third book in your Collector series, The Big Reap, hits store shelves (and digital outlets) on July 30th! Can you tell us about where we find Sam Thornton this time around?
This novel is grander in scope and ambition than either of the previous Collector novels. Its action spans several continents and thousands of years. It gives the audience a glimpse of the Brethren’s ritual to cast off the bonds of servitude to hell, and the horrid fallout that ensues. It brings you back to Sam’s first shaky days as a Collector – to his first encounter with his handler, Lilith, and to his first collection. And there’s at least one major last in this book as well…
I loved the idea of writing Sam’s first collection alongside his pursuit of The Brethren. Did you find it challenging to switch back and forth between the two tales?
Actually, I found the flashbacks in THE BIG REAP far easier to write than those of DEAD HARVEST. I think the reason why is that – unlike the ones in DEAD HARVEST, which were essentially a straight-up crime tale embedded in an urban fantasy – Sam’s first collection is of a piece with his hunting of the Brethren in the present.
This book is, in many ways, about the nature of evil. The Brethren were once Collectors like Sam, but the dark ritual that freed them from hell’s employ corrupted them as well, amplifying their darkest traits until each are little more than monsters.
But monsters, in fiction, are simply externalizations of humanity’s own shortcomings – they allow us to examine our species’ darker aspects from a safe remove. I didn’t want to let us off the hook so easily. So I made sure Sam’s first collection was of a human soul so black, not only could it hang with the Brethren in terms of evil, it may well dwarf them all. With that as my through-line, transitioning from one story to the other was a breeze.
There is some serious ass-kicking action this time around. What’s your process like when you’re crafting fight scenes? Do you take inspiration from any TV shows or movies?
Most of what I know about writing action, I learned by reading pulp. Short, sharp sentences. Direct language. Ample white space. And as many unexpected reversals as you can manage.
For THE BIG REAP in particular, though, I wanted to pay homage to the horror stories I fell in love with as a kid, so I incorporated elements of everything from Frankenstein and Dracula to Jaws and Alien, just to name a few. The eagle-eyed will spy no shortage of horror-movie Easter Eggs in this one.
Not only are your Collector books a solid series but the covers are jaw droppingly awesome. The Big Reap continues in the tradition of Dead Harvest and The Wrong Goodbye in presenting a pulp style of artwork. What were your initial thoughts on designer Amazing 15’s design?
Thanks! I really hit the cover lottery, didn’t I? I recall when my editor, Marc Gascoigne, first pitched the concept of a beat-up old Penguin-style pulp cover, I was nervous but excited. The idea was magnificent, but I knew it would live or die by the quality of its execution. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Amazing 15 delivered on the concept and then some.
THE BIG REAP’s cover was a bit of an odd case, because the book was so far from finished when it came time to design it, I just pitched an idea for an image – from a scene I’d yet to write! – and hoped for the best. Somehow, they managed to so thoroughly surpass my expectations, when it came time to finally write the scene the cover references, I kept the artwork open on my desktop for inspiration.
I’ve got to ask – are you planning more Collector books?
That’s a far more complicated question than it appears. The short answer is no. The longer, less scary answer is that I’m not currently contracted to write another Collector novel, but that could easily change. I’d be delighted to continue writing the series, provided there’s an audience for it. As far as I’m concerned, Sam’s story is far from over. Time will tell if the bottom line agrees.
I’ve recently read your two short story collections and very much enjoyed them. Do you have plans for a third?
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed them.
As for whether I plan to put out a third, I guess the answer is, I never even planned to put out the first two! Unlike a novel, I never sit down with the intent to write a short story collection – I simply accumulate enough short stories to bundle and release.
8 POUNDS was an experiment. When I put it out a few years back, ebooks were an emerging market, and there was a lot of debate about self-publishing as a viable option for writers. I had eight previously published short stories – many of which had appeared in publications that had since gone out of print – just gathering virtual dust on my hard drive. So I figured why not release a collection cheap enough that folks might take a chance on it and see what happens?
That collection went on to get nominated for a Spinetingler, and it’s sold something on the order of 20,000 copies. That’s about 19,900 more than I expected. A lot of that’s thanks to the $0.99 price-point, but still, there’s always the chance it’ll turn folks on to my other stuff.
DEAD LETTERS is a longer, more varied collection, and it features an original short as well – a creepy little Stephen King homage called “One Man’s Muse.” Unlike 8 POUNDS, it was mostly borne of restlessness. After I turned in the manuscript for THE BIG REAP, I was too fried to leap into another novel, but too accustomed to spending every waking moment working to take a break. So, after three or so excruciating days of doing nothing, I started working on a new collection almost by accident. Ten days later, it was out.
What’ve you been reading lately? Any recommendations?
One of the few downsides to being a writer is, it eats into your reading time something fierce. That said…
I think folks who like my stuff should check out Stephen Blackmoore’s latest, DEAD THINGS – it’s a perfect blend of West Coast noir and the fantastic.
I also recently got hooked on Mike Carey’s THE UNWRITTEN series for Vertigo – a story about stories any bibliophile would love.
And Megan Abbott’s DARE ME is probably my favorite read of the past year or so – a pitch-black novel about a high school cheer squad.
What’s on the horizon for Chris F. Holm?
As we speak, I’m shopping around two novels – one a mainstream thriller based on my Anthony-nominated short story “The Hitter,” and the other a creepy little small town murder/ghost story. With luck, they’ll see the light of day before too long.
And lately, this new story has started talking to me – an apocalyptic horror novel that, done right, could be the weirdest, most ambitious thing I’ve ever written. I hope I can find the time to tackle it.
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