Two years ago, when I sat down to read Nick Cutter’s second novel, The Deep, I thought it was going to be a weird little sci-fi tale. It ended up being one of my favorite books of that year, one that kept me awake deep into the night so I could read the last hundred pages and figure out what the hell was going on (that I was also really freaked out and couldn’t sleep had nothing to do with it, no, no, no). With Cutter now releasing his third book, Little Heaven (hardcover, digital), I had to ask him what it was all about so I could plan my sleep schedule accordingly.
So, what is Little Heaven about?
Well, it’s basically about a backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. A trio of bounty hunters are summoned there to check in on a young boy who may have been abducted and taken there against his will. From there, well, bad things start a-happening.
Where did you get the original idea for it, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
Hmmm. Tough to say where ideas come from. They kind of coalesce out of the atmosphere and fly in my ear like a terrible little insect. Once inside, they start festering away. But since that festering is part of the “process,” I guess you could say, I welcome it.
I’ve always had a healthy cynicism towards…I won’t say religion per se, but more towards people who learn how to exploit it, and those susceptible to that obvious exploitation. I originally wanted to do a true western. Set in the 1800s. But ultimately it’s more a neo-western. No Country For Old Men-style. You have black hats, white hats, there is an old sensibility to things, but it’s set in the 1960s and ’80s…which some readers will still find old-timey.
Much of Little Heaven is set at a titular settlement run by what some people in the novel call a cult. In deciding how you’d depict Little Heaven and the people who live there, did you base it on something real or something fictional?
People of a certain vintage will see some of the Jim Jones/People Temple history in Little Heaven. My preacher character, Amos Flesher, has more than a hint of Jones in him. I think even for me as a writer, it’s key to realize that certain plot points that may seem insane or even unbelievable can find echoes in real life, and what happened at Jonestown is about as insane as you can get.
Little Heaven is also centered around a weird black monolith called Black Rock. But you can’t call something a “weird black monolith” without making people think of the movie 2001, even if the monolith in question isn’t rectangular. Was that movie what prompted you to both include Black Rock in Little Heaven and have it be a centerpiece of the story, or was there something else?
I’m gonna be honest and say I’ve never seen that film. I mean, I know what the monolith is, I’ve seen YouTube clips or whatever, the soaring score, and the “It’s full of stars” line, but never the movie itself. So I’m not certain what the monolith in that film represents.
My monolith is kind of simple in nature. In New Mexico, most of the rock is red. A black rock sticks out. Obsidian black. And it’s just…eerie, I hope. The threat of danger. Sunlight crawls oddly along its contours, and very little natural light can seem to seep inside of it. So it’s like someplace carved out of the natural world. It exists apart, unnatural. In some ways, it’s like the uninhabited house in suburbia. It stands out against its surroundings in a negative and unnatural way.
One of the interesting things about Little Heaven is that it features illustrations by Adam Gorham. It kind of reminds me of the new, illustrated version of George R.R. Martin’s Game Of Thrones, where the illustration are more than just chapter breaks, but also don’t turn the book into an illustrated novel or comic book. Why did you decide to include illustrations in Little Heaven, and what purpose did you want them to serve?
I just thought it would be a cool little value-added bonus. Bernie Wrightson did some great illos for an updated version of The Stand that I read as a teen. I thought, Oh, this is cool. It didn’t really affect the story overly much, but it was cool, and it was cool to see what Wrightson thought, say, the Trash Can Man or The Walking Dude looked like. So I knew Adam, admired his work, and asked if he’d be willing. He’s busy as hell but he had some time and was able to indulge me.
How much influence did you have over his work, though? Like did you just give him a copy of Little Heaven and tell him to illustrate as much or as little as he wanted, did you have specific images in mind, what?
Well, there are limits imposed by both money and publisher’s concerns. It’s not usual to have illos in a book, so Simon & Schuster [the publisher of Little Heaven] was also willing to indulge me…to a point. Too many illos would’ve changed the price it would cost to print the book, and that would’ve been an issue. Plus, Adam charges, as artists do, per illustration. So we worked out a deal for, I think, ten.
But I didn’t have any real influence on them. I think I wanted to see how he would visually represent Eb and Minny and Micah, the three main characters — and Flesher, too — but ultimately, yes, the idea was to let him read the book and pick images or scenes that suited his talents. I think he did a bang-up job, and I think readers will feel the same.
Little Heaven has been compared to Stephen King’s It — no surprise there; you told me once it was your favorite King book — but it’s also been compared to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Do you see these as being apt comparisons?
Well, those are enormously high bars to clear, or even approach. In fact, I’d say they’re unclearable. Blood Meridian is, to me, McCarthy’s best book; ditto It for King. These are both titanic, Haley’s Comet-esque writers. So disappointment looms for any writer struggling under those comparisons, right?
The whole “It’s like book X and Y” game is something publishers do, because they have to. Part of the game. I’m not sure we writers are always overjoyed to have to exist under that kind of comparative ceiling. But Little Heaven is a bigger book; it’s one where I tried to stretch myself and do something a little different. I am proud of it, and happy with what it says and does, walks and talks. But readers are going to come to their own opinions, as readers do.
On a similar note, writer Paul Tremblay [Disappearance At Devil’s Rock] said that Little Heaven, “…can stand alongside the best of ’80s King, [Clive] Barker, and [Robert R.] McCammon. Do you think there is something especially ’80s about Little Heaven?
I think that’s apt. At least I hope so. I mean, to me — for me — the ’80s is when I came of age as a reader. At least as a horror writer. Or if not of age, it was where the fascination with the genre was kindled. With those writers Paul invokes. So, having been influenced by them, I suppose it’s unsurprising that I might write a book that is reflective of that time in my development. As I go on, as I read more deeply and am influenced down different paths, perhaps future books will be a little different. I don’t know. I do know that horror, and writing in general, tends to go through epochs. And my horror work might be a little more throwback-y than some of the other work out there right now, for good or ill. In any way, yes, maybe my stuff feels like it could’ve been written by someone back in the Miami-Vice-piano-key-tie-Rubik’s-Cube ’80s, and I’m perfectly happy with that comparative.
When we previously talked about The Deep and The Troop, I asked if there had been any interest in making either into movies or TV shows. At the time, there wasn’t. Has that changed at all, and has there been any interesting in adapting Little Heaven?
Oh, there’s lines fluttering in the water on those. Likely more The Troop at this point. Little Heaven‘s being shopped now, as the Hollywood types say, so we’ll see. If there is, great. If not, no worries. I’ll just keep plugging away.
Which do you think would work better for Little Heaven, a movie or a TV show?
Oh, y’know, blue-skying it I guess I’d lean towards TV. It’s a bigger book, a bigger narrative, dual time frames, characters who could be adapted beyond the bounds of the story that currently exists in the book. But whatever. TV, film, anything would be kind of cool. But you can’t get too tied up with that stuff; most writers who’ve been around as long as me have had some Hollywood dalliances, and they’re almost always brutal and end badly. So just take the money and get outta Dodge.
Finally, as many people know, Nick Cutter is not your real name; your real name is Craig Davidson, under which you’ve written a different bunch of novels that include Cataract City and last year’s memoir, Precious Cargo. So my question is, if someone really enjoys Little Heaven, which of your Nick Cutter books would you suggest they read next and why, and which of your Craig Davidson novels would you recommend and why?
Oh, I’d say read them all! Pop them like papery Tic-Tacs, as many as you can, one after the other! They’re different in a lot of ways, so I’d let a reader guide him or herself according to the content of the books themselves, and which might appeal to their interests.