Last year, writer Nick Cutter freaked out scouts and well, their parents with his horror novel The Troop. But now he’s going after anyone who fears global pandemics, being trapped in a small space, or being trapped in a small space with a global pandemic with his new novel, The Deep (hardcover, digital). Though it talking to Cutter about the book, it’s clear he thinks it’s not just for hypochondriacs, agoraphobics, and the people who love them.
As you may remember from when I interviewed you about The Troop [which you can read here], I always like to start at the beginning. So, what is The Deep about and where did the original idea come from?
Well, I have always been creeped out by life as it must exist at the bottom of the ocean. I think it’s the perfect environment to kindle certain types of fear: fear of pressure, claustrophobia, isolation, the dark. All those things seem to be implicit to that depth. Eight miles under the surface of the Earth, where no sunlight has ever shone. What’s down there? What could be down there? So it was an attempt to look at those fears.
In The Deep, a plague called ’Gets makes people forget things. But while they start off forgetting things like where they parked their car at the mall, it ultimately causes their bodies to forget how to function. When you were coming up with the symptoms for the ’Gets plague, what were some of the things that influenced your choices?
I think I wanted what might be seen as a “soft” plague: it developed slowly, and the symptoms were kind of different than some other fictional plagues, which are usually fast spreading diseases typified by rampant societal collapse. This is more of a slow erosion. People kind of keep trying to do what they’re doing. There’s time, really. It’s not happening so fast that people in society can’t hope to find some kind of remedy.
As someone whose father is suffering from Alzheimer’s, it’s hard not to see a parallel between Alzheimer’s and ’Gets. Am I wrong?
I’m sorry to hear that, Paul, and no, you’re not wrong, though it was only really in retrospect when my editor mentioned the link that it really pinged for me. Yes, there’s definitely that same sense with the ’Gets — the Forgets, as it could be known — as with Alzheimer’s.
For me, though, the “plague” element to the novel is about instilling a sense of dread from the first page. I wanted readers to feel uneasy from the first page, the first line, and to escalate that sense from there. When you’re writing horror, that’s kind of your job.
So do you think that I, as someone with a personal connection to Alzheimer’s, will enjoy The Deep? Or even be able to get through it? Or will it be too emotionally taxing for me?
I’m really not sure, Paul. Tough to say. I think if we recognize it as being fiction, perhaps it would be easier? It’s hard answer that, except to say that everyone comes to any book or work of fiction — be it a movie, a song, what have you — from a place of personal experience, and that experience colors the way they perceive and receive the book or film or song.
On a different tack, did you ever consider a different kind of plague?
No, I think that was part of the book that came together with the other main ideas of the book. From an authorial perspective, the book is really me grappling with the birth of my son and the constant worry I’ve found myself in since that day: here’s this tiny, helpless creature whose life you’ve been entrusted with, and you spend your days wondering if you’re the right person for that task. It’s an existential fear, coupled with the very simple fears of raising a silly little creature who will happily topple down the basement stairs or stick his wet finger in an electrical socket it you’re not watching him every second. That, primarily, is the main theme of the book. The plague is really secondary. But as I said, it seemed a different kind of plague from some of those I’ve read about, so I wanted to try it out.
Which is why, I imagine, you didn’t want to make it about a zombie plague.
Yeah, I think if I wanted to tell a zombie story, I would just tell it. Not to say you couldn’t set a zombie novel eight miles under the sea — for all I know it would be awesome! — but I feel like people have told a lot of really great zombie stories lately. I wanted to try something else.
Right. Now the “eight miles under the sea” part comes from the fact that a cure for the ’Gets may have been discovered under the ocean, in the Marianas Trench, and a research vessel called The Trieste is deployed to study the substance. When you were figuring out how to depict life in the Trieste, what kinds of things were an influence on how it would work? Besides Sealab 2021 of course.
Well, I talked to some people who work with undersea subs and structures to see if it was feasible. Beyond that, I wanted The Trieste to have the feel of the vessels in the Alien movies: tight quarters, the characters having to stoop and duck down all the time, dark, damp, drippy, cramped, just basically uncomfortable at all times. Which is how it would probably be, I’d guess. Nothing well-lit, like Sealab or The Abyss. Just a bunch of connected tunnels, really, like a Habitrail system for hamsters, but darker and more inhospitable.
Oh, and should I read anything into the fact that the first five letters of Trieste is “tries”?
That’s an interesting way to look at it, but The Trieste was part of my research. Years ago, in 1950 or something, some researchers took a submarine — a kind of a bathysphere really — down to the bottom of the Marianas. Its name was The Trieste. So, a little shout-out.
Now, just as The Troop was compared to some movies, so too has The Deep. Specifically, The Abyss. Though, oddly, not the movie The Deep, the 1977 movie that was based on a book by Peter Benchley. Do you think your Deep was influenced in any way by that Deep?
Sadly, I haven’t read that book or seen the film. I was an infant when it came out, and for whatever reason I never watched it. Or not yet, anyway. I loved Jaws [which was also based on a Benchley book], of course, both book and film, and really enjoy Benchley’s writing, I just haven’t seen or read that particular work.
Of course, books or films set beneath the ocean are pretty commonplace, all the way back to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and even further back than that, I’m sure. There’s something elementally worrisome about whatever might exist that far down. And the isolation of it, too. You may as well be out in deep space, it’s just as inhospitable an element.
So if your Deep was made into a movie, would you want it to star Jacqueline Bisset or Nick Nolte?
Well, I’d be happy to have either of them!
Assuming they’re not available, who would you want for the movie? And has there been any talk of one yet?
Nope, no talk of one yet that I’m aware of. I’m pretty sure I’d be clued in on that, so yes, let’s say there are no developments on that end. But it would be a small cast, anyway. The book’s got four main characters down there in The Trieste, plus a dog. So the casting director wouldn’t have to wear out his or her fingers dialing up actor’s agents, at least.
Finally, since Stephen King seems to be a fan of yours — he called The Troop ”Old-school horror at its best” — I thought you might like to return the favor. So, if someone who liked The Deep was looking for a Stephen King novel to read next, what would you recommend and why?
Well, if they haven’t read It, then they should in my humble opinion. That’s my favorite King book. It’s tough to winnow it down, but I think that novel is emblematic of everything he does so well, and the tenderness that he exhibits towards his characters has never been more clear than in that book.