Like science fiction and fantasy, horror can sometimes incorporate elements of social commentary. See the end of the original Night Of The Living Dead. Or you can read Eric LaRocca’s supernatural horror thriller Everything The Darkness Eats (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, LaRocca discusses what inspired and influenced this scary story.
To start, what is Everything The Darkness Eats about?
Everything The Darkness Eats is shaped after the beloved 1980s and 1990s horror paperbacks that I grew up reading. I’m especially thinking of books written by literary powerhouses such as Michael McDowell or Bentley Little or Robert R. McCammon.
In fact, we were fortunate enough to receive a fabulous blurb from Bentley Little for this novel. Mr. Little’s stamp of approval means the world to me, especially considering I was so mindful of his work while writing this book.
Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, the novel takes place in a fictional town in the northwest corner of Connecticut called Henley’s Edge. There have been a series of strange disappearances in the community, and the book weaves together three separate storylines as we, the reader, come to comprehend how these random lives are intrinsically tethered to one another. I’m afraid of giving too much away, so I’m afraid I’ll leave it there. But I will say: this is a novel about trauma and suffering. These topics are covered quite brutally throughout the course of the book, so I really do encourage folks to check trigger warnings on Goodreads before reading the novel.
In the press materials it says this takes places in “a rural New England village when occult forces are conjured and when bigotry is left unrestrained…” Did you start out wanting to write something about “bigotry…left unrestrained” and Everything The Darkness Eats is what you came up with, or did you come up with the plot first and then realize it would work even better if it had some socio-political aspects?
To be totally truthful, the subplot about bigotry came after I initially outlined the book. I recall I delivered a copy of the synopsis to my Film and TV manager, Ryan Lewis, in early 2021. He was enthralled with the story, but he told me that the outline lacked the emotional depth of a traditional novel. He suggested adding another subplot to counterbalance the novel’s primary storyline between the characters of Ghost Everling and Heart Crowley. It was at that moment I decided to focus on bigotry running rampant in an insulated small Connecticut town. It seemed like a very organic addition to an already very dark and unsettling tale.
So, then what inspired the plot of Everything The Darkness Eats?
I suppose the plot stemmed from my fascination with religious trauma and, more specifically, religious horror. I’m a great admirer of books like William Peter Blatt’s The Exorcist and the sequel, Legion. I thought it was interesting how many religious horror books focus on the relationship between mankind and the Devil. I realized that very few books study the inherently complex relationship between humanity and a divine Creator. I suppose I really wanted to portray the horrors of an existence of a Creator. If a Creator exists, that is. What’s more frightening? To know that there is something responsible for our existence? Or rather, to come to the horrible realization that we are a crude mistake of nature and that our very being was unplanned? I, myself, come to the table with a lot of religious baggage. I was raised Catholic and never truly saw myself reflected in the teachings of the church. I’m not a huge fan of organized religion in general. In fact, I see most religious sects as being very hateful and critical. It seemed only natural to pair my misgivings about organized religion with the everyday traumas that queer people face, especially in smaller, more rural communities.
So, is there a reason you set Everything The Darkness Eats in a small town in Connecticut called Henley’s Edge, as opposed to a big city like Hartford or, conversely, a small town in another state, like West Orange, New Jersey?
I grew up in a village nestled in the quiet hills of the northwest corner of Connecticut. That particular area is very familiar to me, and I felt as though I could properly do it justice when writing about a small New England town. More to the point, I truly believe that New England inherently lends itself to the charm and the enchantment of traditional horror. There’s something otherworldly about towns settled in the wilds of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, etc. These communities are often so inaccessible and unmarred by the complexities of larger, more industrial and urban cities. I think true horror exists when we are isolated, when we are cut off from others. Much of the horror in Everything The Darkness Eats stems from feelings of existing in a state of disorder and pandemonium. These characters are trapped by their circumstances and feeling as though they are not in control of their fate. Unfortunately, that’s very similar to how I felt when growing up in a small New England town.
All of this makes me think Everything The Darkness Eats is a horror story; a supernatural occult horror story, to be specific. Is that how you’d describe it?
Yes, I would absolutely describe Everything The Darkness Eats as a supernatural occult story. Perhaps even a supernatural thriller, if I may be so bold. I would also describe the novel as including elements of “dark fantasy.” I feel as though this particular book is very difficult to categorize. Like one of my favorite debut novels of all time, Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game, Everything The Darkness Eats weaves together many different genres to create something wholly unique.
Now, Everything The Darkness Eats is your first novel, but you’ve also written three novellas (We Can Never Leave This Place, You’ve Lost A Lot Of Blood, and They Were Here Before Us: A Novella In Pieces), as well as two collections of stories (Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke And Other Misfortunes and The Trees Grew Because I Bled There: Collected Stories). Are there any writers who had a big influence on Everything but not anything else you’ve written?
I’d shout out Edward Lee. There are some very graphic assault scenes in the third act of the novel, and I found myself very much inspired by the work of Edward Lee when crafting those particularly gruesome scenes.
Funnily enough, we also received a fabulous blurb from Edward Lee for this novel. I was astonished and enormously grateful when he blurbed the book.
How about non-literary influences; was Everything The Darkness Eats influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
There are actually several horror films that served as a wellspring of inspiration when writing Everything The Darkness Eats. I was especially mindful of a fairly obscure German film titled Laurin when working on the book. Laurin is a horror-fantasy set in a quiet Bavarian town and follows a series of child disappearances. I also thought of other moderately obscure films that explore dark magic like The Devil’s Backbone, Tigers Are Not Afraid, and A Dark Song.
It seems like Everything The Darkness Eats might be a stand-alone story…
Everything The Darkness Eats is most definitely a stand-alone story. I don’t see myself returning to these characters anytime soon. Though you never know. Inspiration could strike at any moment.
That said, I’m certain I will be further exploring the fictional town of Henley’s Edge, Connecticut. I’m really fascinated by small New England towns, and I’m smitten with the idea of inventing an insulated community where truly dark and vile things can occur.
Now, along with Everything The Darkness Eats, you also recently put out the aforementioned story collections Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke And Other Misfortunes and The Trees Grew Because I Bled There: Collected Stories. What is included in these collections?
So, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke And Other Misfortunes contains the titular novella that went viral on TikTok in 2021. The book also includes two never-before-published novelettes: “The Enchantment” and “You’ll Find it’s Like That All Over.”
The Trees Grew Because I Bled There is a separate collection that collects eight brand new short stories, including, “Bodies Are For Burning,” “You’re Not Supposed To Be Here,” “Please Leave Or I’m Going To Hurt You,” and “I’ll Be Gone By Then,” the latter of which was reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s annual anthology, The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Fourteen. That was quite an honor.
The Trees is also a reissue of a collection called The Strange Thing We Become, though the only major difference is that The Trees includes a fabulous foreword from one of my favorite authors, Chuck Wendig. Chuck was so kind to grace us with his introduction and we are eternally grateful for his support and encouragement. I’d like to take this time to encourage anyone reading this to preorder his upcoming novel, Black River Orchard. I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of the book and it is outstanding.
So, are any of the stories in Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke or The Trees Grew Because I Bled There connected to Everything The Darkness Eats?
There are actually quite a few short stories in The Trees Grew Because I Bled There that take place in the very same town: Henley’s Edge, Connecticut. Though other than the same location, the stories and characters are vastly different. Still, I think some readers might find it fascinating to read about the various locations of the fictional town by reading my debut novel as well as my short story collection. I always find it so rewarding when an author creates a unique world in their books that are tethered by similar locations. It makes you feel as though you are experiencing a strange, new universe only accessible when you open the book.
Going back to Everything The Darkness Eats, earlier I asked if it was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Everything could work as a movie, show, or game?
Of course, I think Everything The Darkness Eats would be a remarkable film. I can’t necessarily envision the book as a TV series or a game simply because it’s not as grand in scope as those specific mediums require. That said, I think it would make an exceptional 90-minute film and would offer some truly disturbing set pieces.
And if someone wanted to adapt Everything The Darkness Eats into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as the main characters, and why them?
I would be overjoyed to see Riz Ahmed [Rogue One] play the role of Malik in the film adaptation of Everything The Darkness Eats. I think he’s a mesmerizing actor who truly inhabits any role he’s cast in.
As for the character of Ghost, I would be delighted to see an actor as vulnerable and as artistically capable as Paapa Essiedu fill that role. I first encountered Paapa’s work in the 2022 Alex Garland film, Men, and I was so drawn to his character. Even though he’s not in the film for very long, he completely and utterly captured my attention with his charisma and his aching helplessness in the role of James. I think he’d be a phenomenal choice for the character of Ghost Everling.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Everything The Darkness Eats?
Everything The Darkness Eats is a story about trauma, pain, and suffering. Though there’s some hope at the end of the book, the novel is, naturally, incredibly dark. I encourage all readers to check content warnings on Goodreads before beginning this book and I heartily encourage readers to make certain they’re in the right headspace to properly enjoy this novel.
Finally, if someone enjoys Everything The Darkness Eats, which of your story collection would you suggest they read next?
If you’re looking for more reading material based in the world of Henley’s Edge, Connecticut, I would encourage readers to check out The Trees Grew Because I Bled There: Collected Stories. Those stories are very tender and heartfelt. Of course, they’re also very grim like some of the content covered in Everything The Darkness Eats. However, I reckon that if you enjoy disturbing horror fiction, you’ll find something to enjoy in that collection.
If you’re more smitten with the fantastical and mystical elements at play in Everything The Darkness Eats, though, I would certainly urge readers to check out my novella, We Can Never Leave This Place. I think both of the aforementioned books are fascinating works that will offer a more thorough glimpse into the mechanics of my creative process.