Some authors write as a way of dealing with what they see as their own failings. In the following email interview with writer Dathan Auerbach, his confesses that his new novel Bad Man (hardcover, Kindle) was prompted by the memory of when he didn’t do something that, well, a lot of us wouldn’t do either.
Photo Credit: Jamie Stephens
I always like to start with a plot summary. So, what is Bad Man about?
Most immediately, Bad Manis about a guy named Ben who should have stopped looking for his missing baby brother. We follow Ben five years after the disappearance as he continues searching; he finally grasps a thread that he can’t help but pull, something that gives him hope. I think that’s what the story is really about: whether Ben’s world, or any world, is compatible with something like hope.
Where did you get the idea for Bad Man and how different is the finished novel from what that original idea?
I used to work nights at a grocery store that had a Missing Persons board just outside the entrance. I’d sit outside eating “lunch” every night, and it took me weeks to finally notice the flyers. That’s probably a personal failing of mine, but I don’t think I’m alone in it.
When I finally started working on what would become Bad Man, I remembered that failing and tried to build from it. I wanted to explore what would happen to a family, to a man, in the late aftermath of a tragedy like a missing child. What would their lives look like? Their minds?
That was always the focus of the book, but Bad Man actually started as a short story. I was going to write a collection of them, but the deeper I got into Ben’s life, the clearer it became to me that there was more I wanted to say about it. I scrapped the short story framework and let ‘er rip.
Bad Man has been described as a thriller. How do you see it?
I always find genres to be a little slippery. I think it’s a horror story, built from a kind of gnawing dread and the madness of loss. Others might disagree, might see it more as a thriller. And that’s fair; there are definitely thriller elements to it. People have similar disagreements about Penpal [his first novel]. I don’t think too much about it. Horror or thriller or suspense or mystery. My stories are about desolation, I think. What you find on the underside of love and hope and family and friendship, the cracks in the buttresses of our lives.
In Booklist’s review of Bad Man, they said, “If you think The Shining set in a grocery store, you’re not far off.” Which is high praise indeed. But do you consider Stephen King or The Shining to be an influence on Bad Man?
I’ve actually never read The Shining, but I know enough about it to understand what some of the connections might be. Stephen King has influenced me in more general ways, though; I know that much. Whatever the machinery is in a King story, it always seems like the true terror is usually not the ghoul or creature or whatever thing, it’s the characters’ experiences of those things. How their minds begin to slip. How they are facing the irresistible end of all they had hoped for. That’s what horror is to me, and what has always drawn me — and so many others — to King’s work. It informs so much of what I’ve done and what I hope to do.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big influence on Bad Man?
Around the time I was really diving into Bad Man I found myself listening to a lot of true crime podcasts. Things like “Someone Knows Something,” “True Crime Garage,” “Sword And Scale.” I don’t think there were any episodes or stories that influenced me directly, but the eternal precipice of those kinds of things — always being on the verge of revelation — definitely got in my system, and I liked the way it felt.
Bad Man sounds rather cinematic. Has there been any interest in adapting Bad Man into a movie? Or, for that matter, a TV show or video game?
Right now I’m just trying to settle up after the release. This project was pretty consuming for me, so it’s a big relief to have it out in the world. I couldn’t mess with it anymore, even if I wanted to. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a clear plate.
Having said that, I think it would make a terrible game, and I can’t help but wish I could play it.
If Bad Man was to be adapted as a movie or TV show, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
Man, I’m so bad at stuff like this. I used to read those Wizard magazine Casting Call articles and argue back and forth with my friends. Thought I was pretty good and insightful. But then Heath Ledger got cast as the Joker, and I lost my mind, bitched to all my friends. I feltquite profoundly stupid later on.