Exclusive Interview: “The Marigold” Author Andrew F. Sullivan


Thanks to the massive popularity of The Last Of Us on HBO, it seems like mold is everywhere. But in the following email interview about his body horror, urban dystopia, and eco fiction novel The Marigold (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), in which a sentient mold is ruining Toronto, writer Andrew F. Sullivan explains why his story owes nothing to the video games that inspired HBO’s big hit.

Andrew F. Sullivan The Marigold

Photo Credit: Eden Boudreau


To begin, what is The Marigold about, and when and where does it take place?

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. Characters like public health inspector Cathy Jin, gig driver Soda, and 13 year old Henrietta Brakes all struggle to make sense of the monster they encounter, learning more about the dark history of the city and its hidden secrets. Meanwhile, the legendary developer Stanley Marigold is preparing to build yet another tower, one that requires a human cost to succeed. All of these threads are spun together in the novel exploring the fragile limits of what we call community.

Where did you get the idea for the plot of The Marigold?

Mildew, mainly. The black mold in your friend’s basement apartment. A dead dehumidifier choking on something soft and chunky. I drew a lot from noir, whether it’s films like Chinatown or books like James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. The layering of conspiracy, the interlocking, co-dependent parts of any society, that’s all part of the book. I’m interested in characters who are overmatched from the start, people still heavily embedded in their own struggles. Plot isn’t usually my first inspiration for the stories I want to tell. The plot only happens when the characters decide to make some choices, consciously or not.

So, is there a reason you set it in Toronto, as opposed to Vancouver, or say, a city outside of Canada?

I’ve lived almost my entire life under the sphere of Toronto’s influence. You can see the CN tower for miles and miles, always keeping tabs on you. Toronto is a city I lived in for over a decade, from Cabbagetown to Bathurst & Finch. I know the city and I knew how to bend it into the near-future I wanted for The Marigold. With that comfort in my setting, I could then push other parts of the story further, like my sentient mold the Wet, which is slowly infiltrating buildings throughout the city, or peppering in the raccoons gathering in the city streets. I want my stories to have a tactile, lived-in quality and it always benefits to know a place before you tear it apart.

The press materials for The Marigold mention “body horror, urban dystopia, and eco fiction.” Are there any other genres in the mix as well?

Those three descriptors sum it up well. Things do get sticky and then rotten in The Marigold. Death blooms. But as I said, I think noir is definitely an influence, as are conspiracy thrillers, and even modern folklore. I’m not super interested in realism for my fiction; horror and the strange give you an opportunity to do away with those restrictive obligations, to flex your imagination and unshackle your nightmares. Weird fiction has no need for fidelity with our world. It may be more like a funhouse mirror than a window.

And how scary is The Marigold? I know a lot of that is up to the reader, but is the book frightening or is it more freaky?

My interest in horror has always come from dread and the uncanny, though I do enjoy a good scare and the occasional gross-out. The Marigold is about that unease, the creeping dread, the feeling something is coming for you in the middle of the night. It should unnerve you, leave you unsettled, maybe make you think twice before you look down the bathroom drains in the middle of the night. There’s brutality and pain and sickness. You won’t always scream but you will walk away changed.

Now, The Marigold is your second novel after Waste, and you also wrote a short story collection called All We Want Is Everything. Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Marigold but not anything else you’ve written? You mentioned James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet

The Irish writer Kevin Barry was probably the biggest new influence on The Marigold. My favorite Barry book is called City Of Bohane, a story about ongoing gang warfare between different criminal factions in an alternate future Ireland. Barry’s imagination is powerful, but so is his language, depicting brutal acts of violence and the deranged fashions of the future with the same ease, creating dialogue that sounds as alien as it does familiar, a dangerous world that is plausible but nowhere close to real. I wanted to build something like that for The Marigold. When we’re writing books, we should be taking advantage of the language itself. It’s our instrument, our camera, our brush — our best bet at conveying the singularity of our vision.

And what about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things influence The Marigold?

Definitely, major influences include directors like David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven. Body horror and vicious satire walking hand in hand. As a director, Cronenberg has made so many of his films in Toronto — The Fly, Dead Ringers, The Brood, Videodrome — and made it work as a dripping canvas for his stories. A movie like Robocop feels like pure parody until you see the world around you starting to take on a Verhoeven tinge, a faint pink mist that could be blood or just the news with the volume cranked.

All the media I experience ends up influencing me on some level. While editing, I ended up playing a lot of the video games made by FromSoftware: Bloodborne, Demon Souls, and Elden Ring. There are some great parallels to explore there beyond finding the biggest possible sword to smash your enemies. Endless cycles of rebirth, overwhelming challenges with various unknown solutions, and a world that is almost always out to kill you on sight — it’s an environment familiar to anyone writing a book.

It’s funny that you mention Bloodborne, Demon Souls, and Elden Ring, but not The Last Of Us or its sequel, which, unlike those games, is actually about a malicious fungal infection. Were those games not an influence on The Marigold?

Back when The Last Of Us came out, I didn’t have a PlayStation, and I never really bothered to go back. It’s exciting to see fungal horror getting some attention now, but the overlap is coincidental. The fungal element in my novel is much more about black mold in the walls than cordyceps.

Now, along with The Marigold, you have a second novel coming out August 8th called The Handyman Method, which you co-wrote with Nick Cutter. What is that book about, and when and where does it take place?

The Handyman Method is a horror story about a cursed home improvement YouTube channel that begins to ruin a man’s life. It gets crazier from there, but that’s where we start, in a brand-new development, the family having just moved into their new home and started to find mistakes that need fixing. It’s a layered story about self-destruction, possession-via-algorithm, and the downward spiral of obsession. Handyman goes to a lot of dark places; it’s drawing from stuff like The Amityville Horror and Black Mirror. It’s a haunted house story for the new century, one that is wired up and way too online.

How did you come to write The Handyman Method with Nick?

Nick and I have been friends for about a decade. He wanted to write a fun horror story with me to try something new, and we ended up pulling that off, then expanding it into a novella, and then a novel. We have a similar work ethic and outlook on getting the work done. I think that is the biggest thing beyond style or tone for writing a novel together: true collaboration requires understanding each other’s strengths and respecting each other’s time.

So did you write The Marigold and The Handyman Method either concurrently or consecutively? I ask because I’m curious if writing Handyman influenced Marigold, and vice versa.

The Marigold came first. I was undertaking a line edit of it when we started writing The Handyman Method seriously. My projects are usually pretty separate from one another, I don’t have a lot of overlap with my books or the stories I want to tell. There’s always so many more books I want to write.

In a similar vein, how do you think co-writing The Handyman Method with Nick may have influenced The Marigold?

There’s definitely themes I return to: the past is never the past, you can’t outrun what you’ve done, in the end you will be found wanting. And the idea that the greatest mysteries in the universe may not be out there in space but under our feet on this very earth instead, worlds we haven’t even explored underneath our civilizations, the kind of stuff that defies explanation and inspires true eldritch terror.

Earlier I asked if The Marigold was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script, as you kids don’t say anymore, do you think The Marigold would work as a movie, show, or game?

The Marigold is most suited to be a TV show, probably in the vein of something like Station Eleven with a little bit of High Maintenance and The Shield to round it out. It’s a story made out of smaller stories that all intersect with each other. Each week, viewers might encounter new residents of the tower or other people living in the city who are struggling with the Wet. Each week, the Wet might claim a new victim, another body disappearing under a building somewhere. The Marigold is a story that would benefit from that slow, relentless drip. Like Chernobyl, it could be one season about a single disaster unraveling until only the buildings are left standing.

And if someone wanted to make that show, who would you want them to cast as Cathy, Stanley, Henrietta, and the other main characters?

The Marigold is a story about people overmatched by a new form of life, one they cannot understand. It’s about people trapped in corrupt systems that they can’t escape, ways of life that have become engrained. I’d want unknown actors to play most of the cast. I want their struggles to resonate with the viewers.

The only exception to this would be Kurt Russell [Escape From New York] playing the rich developer Stanley Marigold. I want someone who can play a friendly, smiling monster without a conscience and Kurt has accrued some all-time credibility after hanging out with John Carpenter all these years. And yes, we would get John Carpenter to create the score.

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

Do not come to my books looking for heroes or someone to root for. We are here to have a bad time.

Andrew F. Sullivan The Marigold

Finally, if someone enjoys The Marigold, what novel of someone else’s that has a similar mix of multiple genres would you suggest they check out?

I think Lincoln Michel’s The Body Scout is the best bet here, a cyberpunk noir about a baseball scout investigating his friend’s murder. It’s funny and brutal and drenched in atmosphere. Lincoln is an expert at weaving different genres together; he’s someone who understands every source and influence that contributes to the story he wants to tell. Nothing is out of bounds; everything is on the table if it works.



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