Author Kristopher Rufty graciously took time to answer questions about the inspiration behind his newest horror novel, ‘Desolation’. In this interview, Rufty also describes the challenges of writing a horror novel about escaping the past, what elements make for good horror and genre blending.
‘Desolation’ is a terrifying roller coaster ride into the depths of past miseries, and the unyielding path to forgiveness. Revenge is center stage in this chilling novel and it is taking no prisoners. There’s no escaping your past. Especially when it wants revenge. Grant Marlowe hoped taking his family to their mountain cabin for Christmas would reunite them after his alcoholic past had torn them apart, but it only puts them into a life and death struggle. On Christmas Eve, a stranger from Grant’s past invades the vacation home and takes his wife and children hostage. His agenda is simple—make Grant suffer the same torment that Grant’s drunken antics have caused him. Now Grant must confront his demons head on and fight for his family’s lives. Because this man has nothing left to lose. The only thing keeping him alive is misery—Grant’s misery.
‘Desolation’ is available NOW from Samhain Horror, Amazon, and major online booksellers.
Kristopher Rufty lives in North Carolina with his wife, three children, and the zoo they call their pets. He’s written various books, including The Vampire of Plainfield, Jagger, The Lurkers, The Lurking Season, The Skin Show, Pillowface, Proud Parents, and more, plus a slew of horror screenplays. He has also written and directed the independent horror films Psycho Holocaust, Rags, and Wicked Wood. If he goes more than two days without writing, he becomes very irritable and hard to be around, which is why he’s sent to his desk without supper often.
Francis Xavier: What is the first line from Desolation?
Kristopher Rufty: Dennis Hinshaw’s first thought when he awoke was he’d gone blind.
FX: Desolation takes on the Holidays and facing the past; what is it about the holiday season that invokes the need in some people to not only dredge up past traumas but also find forgiveness?
KR: That’s a good question, and there’s probably no one answer. I think it might involve Christmas being a season for hope, love, and kindness. We also look around us and see the results of our year as it’s winding down. Was it a good year? A bad one? Has it been several bad or good ones in a row? Did we succeed, fail? We’re kind of forced to look back on our traumas, whether we intentionally set out to do it, or not.
Finding forgiveness is something that’s hard for all of us. Giving forgiveness is even harder. I think we’re able to ignore our emotions for the most part throughout the year, but at Christmas, we can’t any longer. It’s in our faces from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas that we’re in the season that should be shared with loved ones. It reminds us that we have lost loved ones, whether through our actions or they are no longer with us. The first Christmas after my Dad’s passing was hard, but also wonderful. I spent it with my wife and children with a renewed sense of love and closeness, though I was aching inside that it was being spent without my father. Each time I smiled, I was also reminded that he was gone. Each good feeling was accompanied by a wave of loss and sadness.
I think we’re more willing to reach out to those we’ve wronged, and are easier to forgive those who’ve wronged us. I’ll go to family gatherings and see relatives I haven’t seen in years. They’ll make a big show of apologizing to all of us for the things they’ve done, then we’ll never see them again. Maybe we search for forgiveness because it seems to matter more at Christmas. But it also reminds of everything we don’t have, even though we try to forget it by any means necessary.
FX: Three words to describe your writing?
KR: Fun. Unforgiving. Unsafe.
FX: Which part of Desolation challenged you the most?
KR: Most of it. This was a hard book to write, which made it even more compelling to finish. There were times when certain situations began and I didn’t know how they would play out, if someone would survive it, or not. But the hardest, the absolute hardest part to write was the opening. I barely made it through it. I haven’t read it since I wrote it. Even after the editor’s suggestions, I went straight to the word or sentence and just agreed to whatever had been suggested. I didn’t want to read it again.
FX: Which of Desolation characters do you most identify with?
KR: I think I can identify with almost every character in some regard. Grant, Dennis, and Bobby I identify with the most. Like Bobby, I’m a musician and was a rebellious teen that drove my father crazy at times. Like Grant and Dennis, I’m a husband and father who loves his family very much. Would do anything for them. I found that while I was writing about all these people and putting them in situations where they were at war with each other, I couldn’t choose a side. I could agree with them all at some point. I understood where they were coming from. Made me like a neutral spectator, with no opinion on who was right or wrong.
FX: What did you learn about yourself as a writer while working on Desolation?
KR: I learned I can write suspense and drama better than I would have ever guessed. I also learned that I don’t have to incorporate inhuman monsters into the story to make it terrifying. What I learned most was that I trust myself so much more when I write than I ever have before. And that is a wonderful feeling. I allowed myself to go to places in the story that I would have tried to talk myself out of, had I written this book a couple years ago.
I also took my time, to some degree, getting to the meat of the story. For a long time, I felt if I slowed down even for one page, I’d lose the reader out of boredom. DESOLATION was a story that couldn’t be rushed, and when I admitted that to myself, it made writing it easier to do. Not easier to endure, but easier to see through to completion.
FX: What elements make for good horror fiction?
KR: That’s another question that could be asked to a room full of writers and readers and not get the same answer more than once. For me, as a reader, I enjoy having a bit of fun when I read the story. Whether it’s being creeped out by spooky houses and creaking sounds, or grossed out by splatter and gore. If I have fun while reading it, I’ll want to keep turning the page to learn what happens next. I also don’t want to know from the beginning that the main characters are going to be all right. There has to be a since of dread from the unknowing of what’s going to happen. I don’t need a twist, though they can be fun if executed in a unique way. I just need to know that all bets are off at every turn.
I think those elements carry over into my writing. I can’t say I had “fun” writing DESOLATION, but I did enjoy myself. I didn’t enjoy witnessing what happened to Grant and his family, or Dennis and his family. But I loved the experience and knew, even as I wrote it, that I had no idea who would make it through to the end, or if anybody would. There can’t be a safety net when I write. Sometimes that angers readers. Falling in love with a character, only to read their demise. But it has to be that way, to me. I can’t enjoy writing the story if I’ve already told myself: “Well, this guy can’t die, he’s funny.” It has to be more like this: “I HOPE this guy doesn’t die, he’s funny.”
Again, this is only my opinion, but I think horror is scarier when there is no guarantee. Life is scary at times, for that very reason.
FX: What are your thoughts on genre blending in works of fiction?
KR: I love it. It keeps things interesting and fun. I think it’s easier to blend horror with all genres. Horror is a part of life and any situation only takes one bad decision to go from jolly to terrifying. How many times have we been driving somewhere, stopped at a gas station and had strangers approach the car, knocking on the windows? Who knows what’s on their mind? Usually it’s innocent, but you just never know. Or if we’re on a desolate road and the car breaks down? You see headlights coming around the bend in the road, then the hear the hum of the engine dropping in volume as the car slows down to park behind you. What’s going to happen next?
It’s hard to add sci-fi to a drama, but adding horror to sci-fi, or horror to drama, or horror to comedy, or horror to action, can make for an unpredictable experience. I’ve blended a bit myself in stories. I added a vampire to the Ed Gein history, and I’m working on a horror-western. I like blurring the lines together, making one thing out of many.
FX: Where can we find you and your work online?
KR: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, anywhere books are sold. Or you can visit me on my blog. I love having visitors!