Exclusive Interview: “The Handyman Method” Co-Authors Nick Cutter & Andrew F. Sullivan


Like any technology, YouTube can be a source of great joy or great evil; it depends on who’s wielding it. Which is why, like any technology, someone has written a horror story about it. Or, in this case, “someones,” since the story in question — a domestic drama / horror novel called The Handyman Method (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) — has two authors: Nick Cutter (The Deep, The Troop) and Andrew F. Sullivan (The Marigold). In the following email interview, Messrs. Cutter and Sullivan talk about what inspired and influenced this story, as well as how they came to write this together.

Nick Cutter Andrew F. Sullivan The Handyman Method

Nick Cutter (Photo Credit: Kevin Kelly), Andrew F. Sullivan (Photo Credit: Eden Boudreau)


To open, what is The Handyman Method about, and when and where is it set?

Andrew: The Handyman Method is a modern horror story about home improvement gone wrong and algorithmic possession.

A young family moves into a new home, the first to be constructed in a promised suburb. While trying to make minor repairs, the father, Trent, falls down the rabbit hole of a YouTube DIY instructor named Handyman Hank, while his son Milo ends up following his own path through the internet. Meanwhile, Rita, wife and mother, tries to juggle a life that is spinning out of control and a promise she made long, one that she may be called upon to fulfil sooner than she wants.

Nick, in the interview Andrew and I did about his novel The Marigold, he said this came about because you, “…wanted to write a fun horror story with me to try something new.” Why did you want to try something new, and why did you want to try that new thing with Andrew?

Nick: Beyond really admiring Andrew, his mind and his instincts and his writing? It just seemed like a cool opportunity. There aren’t a lot of chances to work with a friend on something you both are keen on. There’s really not a lot more to it than that. You both grab hold of an idea, bounce stuff off each other, feel that kinship on a narrative or aesthetic level and then start writing and hold on for dear life. In that way, it’s not much different than writing a novel by yourself, but there are certain differences unique to a collaboration, which are not all that common between novelists for whatever reason (though there are some well-known examples, most notably King and Straub in the horror sphere), so it’s nice to put ourselves in what feels like a fairly modest company.

And Andrew, why did you want to write a story with Nick?

Andrew: Nick’s a great writer, someone who is always pushing the limits of horror while still maintaining a connection to his characters and the heart of his story. He’s someone whose work has always resonated with me and someone who I respect as an author. The respect is essential to creating a great story together.

So then who came up with the idea for The Handyman Method?

Andrew: I brought the idea of a cursed YouTube channel to Nick after he initially proposed working together and we just ran with it.

And where did you get the idea for a cursed YouTube channel and the other aspects of The Handyman Method?

Andrew: The parasocial nature of modern media, the relationships people invent between themselves and the “selves” presented online. It felt like a rich vein to mine for horror and a lot of other folks have obviously seen that as well. The desperation to be known and to have someone tell you what you’re doing is right. And then where that misplaced trust can lead.

Nick, what was it about this idea that not only made you want to write it, but also made you think you’d be a good person to help write it, and, specifically, co-write it?

Nick: Yeah, again, I think it’s as simple as it felt like a good match. Now, of course, lots of divorced couples probably felt the same about their unions at the outset, too. For me and I’m sure Andrew, being buddies — remaining so — was more important than the book. It’s unlikely any book is worth sacrificing a friendship over. Outside the complexity of trying to marry our voices while still keeping what was unique and compelling about those voices, it was important to respect each other on the page.

And how was the work divided? Like, did one of you plan everything out and the other one wrote the dialog, did you alternate chapters, what?

Andrew: There’s no perfect science to this. We did not plan anything out, it was a natural evolution of our styles, working together, and developing the characters and story in unison. I don’t know if there is a best way to do any of this. It’s about working with each other and recognizing each other’s strengths and meeting deadlines you both believe in. Anything else is like someone trying to sell you a meal prep kit.

So how often, while figuring out this story, did one of you come up with an idea, to which the other one said, “I don’t think that would work for this book, but you need to write that down, that’s a good idea.”?

Nick: I think what ended up happening a few times is that an idea came up, a scene was written, that was discarded at some point in the process as not fitting the evolving state of the book (and this novel underwent a lot of iterations)…and then we’d come back to that scene and think, “Y’know, that really does belong, but it belongs here or to bring out this aspect of character that wasn’t fleshed out when that scene first was written.” So yeah, we ended up pulling aspects back in, ones we thought we’d jettisoned, because they ended up fitting nicely after all.

The Handyman Method is obviously a horror story, but are there any other genres at work in it?

Andrew: It’s a domestic drama. It speaks to family life and the sacrifices we make for each other. It’s also a bit of a satire, which to me, is always inherent to horror. Comedy and horror are on the same axis, just different spins on the dial.

You’ve both written other novels. Are there any writers who you think had a big influence on The Handyman Method but not on anything else you’ve written?

Andrew: For me, one of the best modern horror writers is Brian Evenson. I don’t think this novel is similar to his work, but I did try to bring my own sense of the uncanny and the unknown to it. I don’t want everything to be neat. I want there to be some dread. His short story “Windeye” [included in a collection of the same name] was really important to my development as a horror writer.

Nick: Stephen King always manages to seep in there, even if at this point I try to actively avoid the influence. But it’s like a gosling imprinting: King was there at my earliest stage of development as a reader, stayed there while I was a writer, and seems knit to it forevermore. There are worse influences. The way I feel about it now is that since, say, Lovecraft, there has unlikely been a more influential writer in the horror / fear / suspense realm than King. I can’t think of anyone. And there’s now a whole spectrum of writers (including myself) who use Lovecraft’s core ideas and worldview and aesthetic; the term Lovecraftian gets fairly applied to all sorts of books, films, art. I suspect King will have a legacy of this sort, though his work is less narrowly-focused than Lovecraft’s and that may end up, in the long run, dampening his longevity. But I don’t think so. I think in future years King-ian (or some term) will be used the same way Lovecraftian is now, and that’s simply because his work, for some writers has been so influential, well-loved, and intensely read that a lot of books, films, and art will overtly reference King’s work in many future generations… I mean, listen, that’s already happening (with me!) but I think it will be even more overt, less couched, the way a lot of writers boldly reference Lovecraft now. That may sound like a mea culpa or even a rationale, and I can’t say to a certainty it isn’t.

Outside King (specifically The Shining), Handyman has elements of Rosemary’s Baby, Burnt Offerings, maybe Poltergeist, some Clive Barker, Pet Semetary…anyway, lots.

Well, you kind of jumped the gun; I was about to ask if The Handyman Method was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games.

Andrew: Adult Swim is an obvious one for this book. Videos like “Too Many Cooks” and “Unedited Footage Of A Bear” speak to that borderline between horror and comedy, the mania that sort of cascades over the page when you stretch a premise to its limit and then keep going.

Nick: Yeah, that whole vibe of “Too Many” and “Unedited” was a strong early influence.

Now, along with The Handyman Method, Andrew, you also, as I mentioned earlier, recently released another novel called The Marigold. We did a deep dive on it when it came out, but real quick, what is that book about?

Andrew: The Marigold is about a city eating itself. You follow four different characters through the city of Toronto as they each encounter a sentient mold that is speaking to people through the pipes in their buildings, asking them to join it. Most of the government and society at large want to ignore the mold, but it corrupts everything it touches. All of these threads are spun together in the novel exploring the fragile limits of what we call community.

In the aforementioned interview we did about it, you said you were editing The Marigold when you two started writing The Handyman Method in earnest. How, if at all, do you think editing The Marigold influenced your work on The Handyman Method?

Andrew: I’m usually juggling two or three different ideas at once, as is Nick. I’m also working full time, so I’m used to keeping different plates spinning. So there wasn’t much overlap. Editing brain and writing brain are very different states for me.

Going back to The Handyman Method, we talked a moment ago about the movies and TV shows that influenced it. But to turn things around, do you think The Handyman Method could work as a movie or TV show? Or a game?

Andrew: The Handyman Method is a story about the allure of the screen, how it beckons you forward, and the parasocial relationships we create with the stories we observe. It could easily become a film or miniseries–any story about a visual medium has that potential.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Handyman Method?

Andrew: They should log off YouTube, shut down their screens, burn every machine in their house. That’s a start.

Nick: And husbands, buy your wives flowers more often. Take them out to dinner. Don’t piss them off.

Nick Cutter Andrew F. Sullivan The Handyman Method

Finally, if someone enjoys The Handyman Method, which of each other’s books would you suggest they check out and why that one?

Nick: I love Andrew’s stories. Those were what I read first of his, so I think everyone ought to find a copy of All We Want Is Everything. His stuff is all dynamite and The Marigold‘s getting the love it richly deserves, but go seek out Sullivan’s deep cuts for god’s sakes.

Andrew: I would recommend checking out Nick’s book Little Heaven. It’s a complex, layered bit of horror with memorable characters and a real commitment to its world. It reminds me a lot of the best of Clive Barker and the way that Nick can make you feel for even the worst kinds of people. It’s a classic and more people need to read it.



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