Writer Mortimer Smith, Jr. once famously said that all writing is autobiographical, in his opinion. It’s a sentiment that might be echoed by Hunter Shea, who certainly tapped into his own life when writing his new horror novel, Creature (hardcover, paperback, Kindle).
To start, what is Creature about?
Creature centers around a couple that are at the end of their ropes. Kate is chronically ill and confined to the prison of her bed. Andrew has been her caretaker for years and is running on fumes. After Kate receives a radical procedure to address her failing health, her husband takes the summer off of work and rents her dream house on a Maine lake. It’s meant to be a time for them to recover and recharge for what may be worse days ahead. It’s possibly their last chance at peace and happiness. They quickly find out they are not alone, and their tranquil lake cottage is not what it seems to be.
Where did you get the idea for this story, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
This is the most autobiographical book I’ve ever written. My wife suffers from several autoimmune diseases that have nearly taken her life too many times to count. I thought it would be easy writing a book that was so close to home. When you are the source material, it should flow naturally. I even took the summer off to take my wife to Maine with the kids when things were at their darkest. Boy, was I wrong. Writing Creature was like twenty years of therapy crammed into several months.
The original book had more of a blow by blow of what Kate, a.k.a. my wife, goes through, but on reading it, I realized it was way too heavy. It would have been too much for readers to get through. The real pain in Creature is by no means light. It’s just that sometimes, truth is harder to believe and stomach than fiction.
Creature is a horror story. But are there elements of other genres, or maybe a combination of them, that also come up in the story?
You know, a lot of people have come to me and said, “Did you realize you wrote a romance?” I had never once considered that during the process. A recent reviewer said it was a love letter. Sure, at its core, the book is about the love between a husband and wife, but I never thought of it as a romance novel because of the darker underpinnings. Now, I totally get what they’re saying. You don’t need a cover with a shirtless Fabio for a book to be a romance. The fact that Creature is also a tearjerker only adds to it. So sure, I’ll happily say it’s a horror novel with a heart…and not a bloody one being held in some psycho killer’s hand.
Creature is not your first novel. But are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Creature but not on your previous books?
I don’t have any direct, conscious influences when I write. But, as an avid reader and lover of words, subconsciously all the books I’ve read, the good and the bad, play a part. I wanted to go for something very different for both me and the genre. I spent a lot of time building Kate and Andrew because I felt it was essential for people to feel their pain and fear and love. Without that, the rest wouldn’t have worked. So instead of a lot of the roller coaster horror thrillers that I’ve written where things go sideways on the first page, I carefully and methodically plotted how we’d get the couple from point A to Z. So I wasn’t just drawing on horror, but other genres as well. I will say that from time to time, and with Creature, I work exceedingly hard on that first sentence with a goal to make Hemingway proud. Once I get that very first sentence to be as true and direct as possible, the rest can flow from there. I think I rewrote the first line of Creatureseveral dozen times.
What about such non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a particularly big impact on Creature?
I could only imagine a video game based on the life my wife and I have lived. Halfway through the book, I had to come to a tough decision on the creature itself. It was only after the book was written that I realized the dark matter in my mind had drawn from a particular movie that I have loved since I was a child. I can’t say the movie because it could potentially spoil the last act of the book. It never ceases to amaze me how writing draws from wells that are unseen in my waking, everyday world, only discovered after I’ve had a chance to sit back and read what I’ve written.
Speaking of movies and whatnot that may have influenced Creature, has there been any interest in adapting Creatureinto a movie, TV show, or video game?
Naturally, I’d love to adapt Creature into a film. For studio execs looking for a movie with a small setting that is budget friendly, you can tick that box off. It’s a story that I feel a lot of people will relate to, and then you add in a heavy dashes of carnage and surprises, and hopefully you have a hit. If you ever saw the movie The Monster and loved it like I did, you’d see how easily Creature could flow to the silver screen. Or at least on demand. It has a pretty wide appeal, which is always a plus in the movie biz.
If Creaturewas being adapted into a movie, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
Brie Larson [Room] is my favorite actress, so to see her play Kate would be a dream come true. As for Andrew, you need someone with some real pathos. I know my wife would say Jake Gyllenhaal [Southpaw] because, well, for obvious reasons. There would be a lot of visits to the set. And that man can really bring it, so he’d be perfectly paired with Brie. You need people who can reach deep down and bring that pain and love and escalating fear to the big screen.
Finally, if someone enjoys Creature, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
A good pairing would be We Are Always Watching. Again, a bit of a slow burner that also deals with a broken family held together by the love they have for one another. This time, dad has been laid low with vertigo and they’re broke. So the family of three moves to his father’s crumbling Pennsylvania farm. It’s a book for horror fan boys, and girls, written by a fan boy. I loved writing West, the 14-year-old main character. I hope he’s out there somewhere and okay.