They say you should write what you know. Which is why someone might want to check on writer Naben Ruthnum, since his new novel, The Grimmer (paperback, Kindle), is a horror story about a “…demonic resurrectionist body-snatcher.” But as Ruthnum explains in the following email interview, the parts of this story that he knows are not the scary parts.
Photo Credit: © Rudrapriya Rathore
To begin, what is The Grimmer about, and when and where does it take place?
The Grimmer takes place in a small city called Kelowna in Western Canada, in 1996. It’s about Vish, a fifteen-year-old into literature and heavy metal, who finds himself involved in the supernatural plottings of a demonic resurrectionist body-snatcher. There are cats, witches, and plenty of psychedelic horror.
Where did you get the idea for The Grimmer? What inspired it?
I started re-reading the kid horror books I loved as a child — John Bellairs, Robert Westall, Phillipa Pearce — and thought about how much I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the warm and familiar with otherworldly terror, and that I’d like to do that myself.
And is there a significance to Vish being a metalhead as opposed to a jazzbo or a K-Pop stan?
That would be one of the autobiographical elements of the book. While Vish and his family aren’t based on me or mine, a lot of the things he’s into are, and I was a teenage metalhead.
It sounds like The Grimmer is a horror story….
Definitely horror. The “something else” that my favorite horror for young readers all has is a fair amount of realist writing about family life and a certain place and time, and I concentrated on making my evocation of the place where I grew up a vivid one.
The Grimmer has also been classified a young adult novel. But YA stories take many different forms: stuff written specifically for young adults; stuff that’s appropriate for young adults, etc. Which is my longwinded way of asking, will old adults like The Grimmer, too?
I do think this would work well for readers both younger and quite a bit older than that YA-target zone. Though it may not work well for fans of the kind of YA where the protagonist is a Chosen One who gets cool powers and the narrative is consistently action packed. There’s excitement to be found in The Grimmer, but it balances high moments and terror with a gentle pace.
The Grimmer is your fourth novel after Find You In The Dark, Your Life Is Mine (both written under the name Nathan Ripley), and A Hero Of Our Time, though you’ve also written a novella called Helpmeet, and a collection of non-fiction essays called Curry: Reading, Eating And Race. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Grimmer but not on anything else you’ve written?
Definitely those three I mentioned above — Westall, Bellairs, Pearce — and I’d add Joan Aiken. I don’t see their influence turning up in any of my other work, but it’s very strong in The Grimmer.
What about non-literary influences? Was The Grimmer influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because people have likened it to Stranger Things.
Probably the horror films that Disney made ages ago — Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Watcher In The Woods — turned up in the process. But I’m definitely primarily influenced by books.
And what about your cat, Moberly? How did he influence The Grimmer?
He and my former cat Buddy are both written into the book. It’s another kid lit tradition I always liked, the inclusion of real pets in a fictional world, and in this case was a tribute to the animals who made the last several years of my life better.
Hollywood loves horror stories and young adult stories, so a YA horror story would seem like a no-brainer. Do you think The Grimmer could work as a movie or TV show?
I could see this working as a show, but it would be a matter of capturing the feel, the villain, and the magic superstructure of the book while putting more plot beats in there. The action of the book takes place over only a couple of days, and that would have to change.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Grimmer, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
My only other horror work is Helpmeet, but it is a very gory novella, miles away from The Grimmer. If you really liked The Grimmer just make everyone else buy it and I’ll write a sequel.