Exclusive Interview: “From The Belly” Author Emmett Nahil


Taking care of someone in need, especially someone you don’t know, is a very noble act.

But in Emmett Nahil new horror novel From The Belly (paperback, Kindle), this act of kindness backfires on a man who takes care of someone who had been swallowed by a whale.

In the following email interview, Nahil discusses what things inspired and influenced this scary story, as well as why a certain famous fable about another man and the inside of a whale was not one of them.

Emmett Nahil From The Belly

To start, what is From The Belly about and when and where is it set?

From The Belly is set in a fictionalized version of the mid-1800s on a whaling vessel in the middle of a months-long voyage. It’s technically speculative, but there’s a lot of inspiration taken from that historical period.

The book follows a lowly whaler, Isaiah Chase, who is tasked with caring for a man who was “rescued” from the stomach lining of a whale. The man is revealed to be much stranger than he seems, and as their relationship deepens, things start to go horribly wrong onboard the ship.

Where did you get the idea for From The Belly?

As most books are, it was a confluence of a handful of things. I read a really wonderful nonfiction book about the history of whaling in the American Northeast, specifically in the area of Massachusetts where I’m from: Leviathan: The History Of Whaling In America by Eric Jay Dolin. It’s extraordinarily well written and inspired the backbone of the story, specifically the idea of literalizing sailor’s superstitions and traditions.

That being said, From The Belly is almost equally a response to the over-long shadow of Lovecraft in cosmic and nautical horror.

I’ve also always been into sea stories, though. I was a big Pirates Of The Caribbean, Master And Commander kid.

From The Belly sounds like…I’m not sure what it sounds like. Horror? A fable?

I think of it as horror because that’s the framework in which I work. But that’s up to readers and reviewers to litigate, I suppose. I’m not really precious with genre labels as a rule.

From The Belly is your first novel, though you did write the graphic novel Let Me Out, and had stories in such anthologies as The Book Of Queer Saints: Volume II and Gender Euphoria. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Belly but not on anything else you’ve written?

Unfortunately, I’m not very adept at parsing out influence in that way. It all sort of goes into a broad mélange of “Stuff I Like,” which isn’t really helpful but it’s the truth.

Overall, I’m very influenced by Priya Sharma, Victor LaValle, Stephen Graham Jones, P. Djeli Clark, T. Kingfisher, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Sarah Gailey, plus others I’ll probably kick myself for not naming.

What about the bible story about Jonah and the whale? How did that influence From The Belly?

I’m not Christian, so I don’t really have a lot of deep connection to or understanding of biblical stories. I think it’s important in a historical context, in that the majority of American whalers of that era didn’t separate religious allegory from their daily lives. I’m more inspired by people’s reception of that than by the biblical origins of those stories. Look, Melville is a better writer than God, anyway.

And what about non-literary influences? Was From The Belly influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

Totally. I love the show Black Sails, and the way that that show melds queer thematics with socio-political issues in a deeply character-focused way has been very influential. Same with the first season of AMC’s The Terror, and the Robert Eggers film The Lighthouse. True Detective is always a huge influence, in how the first season specifically tackles normal people trying to understand and cope with something far beyond their own limited way of dealing with the world. That show has a dreamlike quality that sticks.

It’s interesting that you didn’t mention any video games since, when not writing novels or graphic novels, you’re the narrative director and co-founder (and, apparently, bad pun-maker) of the video game studio Perfect Garbage Studios. Why did you decide to make From The Belly a novel as opposed to a game?

As much as I’d like to be able to wave a wand and get the whole studio on board with my very niche obsessions, we operate as a coalition of developers who have to move as one to a common goal. It’s a fulfilling, but highly collaborative endeavor, and my books are where I get to make something just for me.

Plus, novels are a lot cheaper to write than games are to make.

It also seems like From The Belly would work best as a movie.

I hope so, but I’m not totally sold on it. I think if the director was really on board with some of the more surreal or dream-like elements of the book, I could absolutely see it working as a movie or show. The way that David Lowery’s The Green Knight tackled a visual representation of myth is an approach that I really love, and could see working for an adaptation. Anything too literal might kill some of the vibe.

If someone did want to make that movie, and the way you described, who would you want them to cast as Isaiah and the other main characters?

I’m god-awful with casting, so I’m gonna plead the fifth on who should play which character. I’d hope for some unknowns, that’s always fun.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about From The Belly?

I think that people should come for the homoeroticism and stay for the queer terror! And don’t get too mad at me once the body horror hits. Don’t say I never warned you.

Emmett Nahil From The Belly

Finally, if someone enjoys From The Belly, what novel that you read recently, and liked, would you suggest they read next?

If you enjoy messy queer characters and unreliable narrators on doomed oceanic voyages, check out The Route Of Ice And Salt by José Luis Zárate. I read the English edition that was translated by David Bowles, and the prose just glows. It’s such a stunning, spooky novella, and criminally under-read. Even if you don’t care about vampires or Dracula retellings, pick it up after you finish my book.



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