Exclusive Interview: “The Killing Grounds” Author Joan Tierney
For some readers, the fun of a murder mystery is figuring out who did it. Sorry, whodunnit. But in the following email interview with writer Joan Tierney about her Northeastern Gothic murder mystery novella The Killing Grounds (paperback, Kindle), she admits to turning this whodunnit on its head…and does something similar with the setting.
To begin, what is The Killing Grounds about, and when and where is it set?
The Killing Grounds is a reverse murder mystery set in upstate New York, in an alternative America where everything from transportation to drinking water has been privatized.
And what is a “reverse murder mystery”? Is it like that movie Memento, where the story was told in reverse?
Basically, the story begins with the killer’s reveal. You know whodunnit, and furthermore, he’s dead. What you spend the next hundred pages trying to figure it out is who he did it to. The victim is the mystery, and the answer lies in the past.
So, where did you get the idea for The Killing Grounds?
The Killing Grounds was actually a dream I had, originally. The opening scene and mass grave discovery were all there. When the topmost body began to move is when I woke up, and promptly horrified my roommate by sharing it with him.
The Killing Grounds takes place in the Rust Belt. Is there a reason you set it there as opposed to the California desert or the English countryside or, conversely, something more populated, like mid-town Manhattan?
The Killing Grounds is, at its heart, about small towns and the relationships and environment they often sow. The people of Archer have been long forgotten by the more “civilized” cities, and take pride in self-sufficiency and solving their own problems…for better or worse.
Aside from being a murder mystery, are there any other genres that either help describe The Killing Grounds or are at work in this story? Like, say, noir?
Noir is definitely an apt descriptor. Northeastern Gothic, psychological thriller, and family drama can all be used to describe it as well.
Also, The Killing Grounds sounds like it’s a stand-alone novella…
Yes, it’s a stand-alone.
Cool. Now, The Killing Grounds is your first novella, though you’ve written some short stories that you collected in the book Letters From The End Of The World. Are there any writers, or stories, that you think had a big influence on The Killing Grounds but not on anything else you’ve written?
Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and the TV series Mindhunter were the media I was consuming while writing this book, so I think their mark is the largest.
You’ve also published three books of your poems: Pine Sap, September: A Map, and Tenderhooks. Do you think writing poetry — and, I assume, reading it — had any influence on how you wrote The Killing Grounds?
Poetry has always inspired my writing. My dad wrote and published a book of poems before I was born, so I like to joke it’s in my blood. When you read or write a lot of poetry, your relationship to words and the way that words can be combined and structured changes. I don’t think you have to be well-versed in poetry to write prose well, but I certainly think it helps make your prose more interesting.
And how about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? You mentioned Mindhunter…
Yes, that and the HBO adaptation of Sharp Objects are the ones that come to mind.
On the flipside of that, do you think The Killing Grounds could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it could definitely work as a movie or even a miniseries. Since The Killing Grounds started as a dream, it’s always been a very visual story in my head, and I tend to be cinematically-minded, anyway. Most of my stories run like films in my head.
If someone wanted to make that movie or miniseries, who would you want them to cast as the main characters?
I’m a big fan of casting new or unknown people. I think there are so many talented people just waiting for their chance.
That said, if I had to name actors I already know of, I think Molly Gordon [Booksmart] would make a good Bina; [Deadwood‘s] John Hawkes as The Strangler; and Logan Lerman [the Percy Jackson movies] as Zed.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Killing Grounds?
Come for the murder mystery, stay for the ruminations on healing from trauma.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Killing Grounds, what murder mystery novella or novel would you suggest they read next?
Of course, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, but also check out the novel A Dead Man’s Eyes by Lori Duffy Foster.