Tag Archives: Stephen King

Interview with Aric Davis, Author of The Fort

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Aric, for letting me ask you these questions.  The Fort is an electrifying coming-of-age thriller that grabbed me from the first page.  You are a professional body piercer and novelist.  How did you get into writing?

 

the fortAric Davis: Thanks for having me! I got into writing because of my lifelong love of reading. Being published was a dream, and it was wonderful to be able to see it through to fruition. I had a small kernel of hope that I might one day leave my day job behind to be able to write full time, and last year I was finally able to put the piercing needle down for good.

 

JB: How would you describe The Fort in ten words or less?

 

AD: A coming of age novel with realistic characters.

 

JB: What was different about writing The Fort, your third novel, than writing your first book, A Good and Useful Hurt?

 

AD: The Fort and Hurt share a few similar themes. They both allow entry into the mind of a delusional and dangerous killer, both have some very bittersweet moments, and both have a couple moments of stomach-churning violence. What makes The Fort different are the character perspectives of the children involved in the story. Their voices were a riot to bring to life, and it was a fun reminder of just how entertaining being young was.

 

JB: What inspired you to write The Fort?

 

AD: Much like Tim’s dad in the book, several years ago I installed a patio, and just like Tim, my daughter was lucky enough to get a fort from the leftover lumber. Staring at that day in and day out inspired the idea, and while I initially borrowed the idea to Will Daniels, the lead in Rough Men, I had to take it back.

 

JB: Whose character’s voice did you hear first?

 

AD: Tim, Luke, and Scott were the first characters brought to life in the first draft of The Fort, and they were the ones that led the charge. That said, Dick Van Endel, the cop in The Fort, is a character who has found his way into several books that I have written, most recently in Hurt, Rough Men, and in the Kindle Serial, Breaking Point. Van Endel has been featured in a few unpublished works as well, and hopefully I’ll be able to have more of my stories with him as a costar in the future.

 

JB: What prompted you to set the story in 1987?

 

AD: Some of my favorite books are the coming of age novels written by Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen King, both of whom have placed novels in the 1950’s. In that same way, I wanted the era that I grew up in to shine in The Fort. In pains me to say that the 1980’s are the same distance from today that the 1950’s were then, but somehow it happened.

 

JB: Are any of your characters based on real people?

 

AD: My neighbors have three sons that are finally on their way out of teenager-dom, and listening to them cussing at one another and bludgeoning their way through life was a wonderful reminder when writing younger male characters.

 

JB: Do you have a favorite character in your story?  If so, please share.

 

AD: I really enjoy Tracy, the wise-cracking and foul-mouthed medical examiner. He’s a riot to write, even if he’s only used sparingly.

 

JB: How were earlier versions of the story different from the final copy?

 

AD: They were actually very similar. The Fort went through the same number of edits as anything else that I’ve had published, but they were far and away the easiest edits that I’ve ever had to work with. That said, even the more daunting edits typically go pretty easily. My editors Terry and David are never short of good ideas, and I am typically not so stupid as to resist their thoughts.

 

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing The Fort?

 

AD: The hardest part of the book came about three quarters of the way through. My good friend and first reader Greg had a suggestion at that juncture, and all of a sudden the end of the book became clear. I may or may not still owe him a beer for that.

 

JB: Critics have compared The Fort to Stephen King’s Stand By Meand Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone.  How do such comparisons make you feel?

 

AD: As those are two of my all-time favorite authors, I couldn’t be much more complimented.  It’s a hell of a thing to have my name mentioned in the same breath as writers like that, and it’s incredible to me to think that I could achieve anywhere near to what they have with writing.

 

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Fort?

 

AD: Ideally a sense of longing for the story, in that way that any loved book grabs at the reader. As I certainly can’t hope for that from everyone, I’ll be a little more down to earth and say that I hope that readers don’t feel that they wasted their money and time by buying and reading my story.

 

JB: What’s next for you?  Are you working on anything new?

 

AD: What comes next remains a mystery, but I am always working on something new. I’m a prolific weirdo, and right now I’m workingaric_davis_200 on my fifth manuscript since completing work on The Fort last summer. Hopefully one of these goes through to publication; I’ve certainly had fun writing them.

 

JB: Thank you, Aric, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

Aric Davis’ novel The Fort is available now on Amazon.com. At turns heartbreaking and breathtakingly thrilling, The Fort perfectly renders a coming-of-age story in the 1980s, in those final days of childhood independence, discovery, and paradise lost.

 

 

 

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Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (A.A. Knopf; 256 pages; $24.95).

vampires in the lemon grove

            Karen Russell acts as a spirit guide to her readers as she takes them on an incredible journey through the bizarre, fabulous, chilling, and horrifying world of Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  There is nothing to fear, though, in Russell’s third book and her second short-story collection; this Pulitzer-Prize finalist is always in control of the macabre, holding our hands as she leads us down dark passages and through shadows.  The author of Swamplandia! takes us to places we’ve never been before and would not dare pass through alone.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove features eight extremely imaginative fables where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  In each one, Russell shows a depth and maturity that belie her thirty-one years.  From the seemingly innocuous “small, kindly Italian grandfather” of the titular story to the young masseuse with a healing touch in “The New Veterans,” each story is more intricate and multifaceted, more complex and multilayered, than the next.

For Clyde, the main character in Russell’s first story, “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” lemons can be tantalizing if you are a bloodsucker.  Clyde and Magreb have settled in the small Italian village of Santa Francesca, where tourists flock to see the famous bat caves.  The caves are not what drew the vampire couple to the village and nor was it the promise of vacationers.  Clyde and Magreb have given up drinking blood; instead, they stanch their cravings through lemons.  They’ve traveled everywhere and tried everything—“fangs in apples, fangs in rubber balls”—but only the lemons give them any reprieve.  It’s a nice life living in the bat caves until Clyde finds he can no longer change form.  “I can’t shudder myself out of this old man’s body.  I can’t fly anymore,” Russell writes.  Clyde has forgotten how to fly.  She may be writing about vampires, but this story expresses so much about aging.

In “Reeling for the Empire,” Russell invents a group of Japanese girls, “silkworm-workers,” who eventually rebel.  Using textured precision, she invents an insular world in which reeling for the empire is a revered calling yet painful beyond measure.  Russell is like the silk spinners in her story except she weaves together a beautiful tapestry of transcendent tales.

Nowhere is that ability more powerful than in the story titled “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” perhaps her best in the collection.  Carrying pieces of fruit, a little girl walks into a barn and approaches a horse.  “Hi horsies,” she calls to him and to the other horses in the stalls around him.  These are no ordinary steeds, however; they are dead presidents.  The horse “licks the girl’s palm according to a code that he’s worked out – – – -, which means that he is Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the nineteenth president of the United States of America, and that she should alert the local officials.”  Hayes cannot decide if he and eleven other deceased presidents are in heaven or hell and spends his days longing for his wife, Lucy, the “first First Lady,” and sugar cubes.  One day, James Garfield bolts.  Because they are ex-presidents, the horses yearn to escape their confined lives just as Garfield did.  John Adams takes the lead in their plan to flee: “But we can’t live out our afterlives as common beasts,” Adams proclaims.  “There must be some way back to Washington!  I am still alive, and I am certainly no horse.”  A revolution is thus born.

Two of Russell’s stories symbolize our faith in forces larger than ourselves, universal influences we do not nor cannot understand.   Nal, a boy with a crush on his brother’s girlfriend, finds a seagull’s nest in “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979.”  Nothing is mundane about this discovery.  The nest contains artifacts that have shaped Nal’s life and the lives of those around him.  In “The New Veterans,” my favorite of Russell’s fables, Beverly, a masseuse, works on the back of an Iraq War veteran.  A large tattoo covers the vet’s back.  This pageant of ink is like a map of all he experienced in warfare.  When Beverly puts her hands on the soldier’s skin to alleviate his pain, she somehow alters the tattoo’s landscape.  It is if her hands cannot only heal but can change and even erase her client’s past.  Both Nal and Beverly commune with the universe in their own unique ways, just as Russell herself connects with readers through her pitch-perfect prose.  Her words alter us.

Menacing, even chilling and horrifying, undercurrents run through two of Russell’s tales: “Proving Up” and “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis.”  Evil lurks just over the shoulder or at least just over the next hill in “Proving Up,” set during Homestead-era Nebraska.  Young Miles Zegner mounts his horse and rides over to a neighboring farm.  As Russell illustrates, life is difficult for the Zegner family.  Drought, hail, and locus mean most families barely survive, much less thrive. Miles carries something special with him: a glass window.  The Homestead of 1862 required “every claim shanty or dugout must have a real glass window”; only then would the land rightfully belong to the homesteader.  The Zegners share the window with their neighbors so they can “prove up” when the Homestead inspector comes to call.  Miles learns that windows sometimes show us things we do not want to see, like trees made of bone, dead sisters who “rise out of the sod, as tall as the ten-foot wheat,” and a man whose “eyes are bottomless.”  A group of boys get much more than they bargained for when they bully a fellow student in “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis.”  This tale is Russell’s homage to the master of horror, Stephen King, and it shows.  The boys find a “scarecrow boy,” part wax doll and part scarecrow with “glass eyes and sculpted features” in the local park.  The boys are terrified by the doll’s uncanny resemblance to an epileptic boy who has vanished.  Russell’s story is definitely a didactic one in this instance.

Of the eight tales, only one, “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating,” was not to my liking.  This story is less a narrative and more a set of rules expounded upon as Douglas Shackleton prepares to watch as “Team Krill” takes on “Team Whale,” complete with recipes.  “Rule Five-A: If your wife leaves you for a millionaire motel-chain-owning douchebag fan of Team Whale, make sure you get your beloved mock-bioluminescent Team Krill eyestalks out of the trunk of her Civil before she takes off.”  So different in tone and structure, it does not seem to fit with the rest of Russell’s collection and lacks the effect of the other tales.

Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove proves that the imagination of Karen Russell knows no bounds.  Russell is wild, fierce, wise, assured, and, most of all, uninhibited.  She just keeps getting better and better with everything she writes, whether it’s a sharp coming-of-age tale or a fabulous collection of fables.  Russell is at her peak and will certainly take home a Pulitzer one day.  What will this literary Wonder Woman do next?  With Russell’s almost super-human creativity and talent, nothing is impossible.

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