Having grown up in New Jersey, I know there’s some scary shit in my home state. Which makes it a good place to set a scary story…a scary story like Matthew Lyons’ supernatural horror thriller The Night Will Find Us (paperback, audiobook). In the following email interview, Lyons explains what inspired and influenced this tale, including why he set it in the Garden State.
Photo Credit: Lisa Siciliano / Dog Daze Photo
To start, what is The Night Will Find Us about, and when and where is it set?
Set in the present day, The Night Will Find Us is about six friends — Parker, Chloe, Nate, Adam, Nicky, and Josh — who go camping in the Pine Barrens, the million-acre forest in the heart of New Jersey, to celebrate the end of their junior year of high school. However, when an argument leaves one of the friends dead and another on the run, it’s up to those that are left to escape with their lives.
Of course, there are far older, crueler cosmic horrors buried in the Barrens, horrors that don’t want the friends to leave. As the survivors band together to escape their ghosts, both figurative and literal, they come to understand that their connection to the forest goes deeper than they’d previously thought, and that connection might be the only way they’ll survive.
Where did you get the idea for The Night Will Find Us, and how did the idea evolve as you wrote this story?
I’ve always been fascinated with scary stories that take place outdoors, in lost or remote locations. I think that isolation fuels horror stories better than almost anything — everybody’s got this primal fear of being lost and alone. That kind of abject helplessness puts people in the best possible place to be scared out of their damn minds. So when I learned the sheer scale of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, I knew I had to use it.
As for how the story evolved during the writing, there are definitely elements of the deeper mythology of the book that I didn’t expect to be as prevalent as they turned out to be, but I’m really happy with how they turned out nonetheless. I’d originally toyed with the idea of doing something with the Jersey Devil, but I ended up going in a way different direction, which I think works really well for the story I ended up telling. I’m never going to turn down a chance to really dig into writing some mind-melting cosmic horror.
The Night Will Find Us has been called a supernatural thriller. Is that how you’d describe it, or are there other genres that either describe it better or are at work in this story as well?
I think “supernatural thriller” is an apt way to describe it, though I’d definitely want to throw “horror” into the mix. I’ve never been super clear on the distinction between the two genres; it’s always seemed like splitting hairs to me. At the end of the day, I’m partial to writing stories about normal people dealing with very human problems in the face of the terrifying and the supernatural.
It’s also been called a young adult novel. Do you think it is?
Personally, I don’t think of The Night Will Find Us as a young adult novel at all. To tell you the truth, I’m just about the last person anyone would describe as being “in touch with the youths.” Honestly, I think that good horror is for everyone, regardless of age demographic, but then again, I started reading Stephen King when I was like, ten, so I might be a little bit biased.
So is it more for adults?
Truth be told, I didn’t write it with the intent of appealing to one specific age group; most of the characters are high schoolers, sure, but the things they deal with and go through in the woods would make any grownup think twice about going camping in the Pine Barrens.
While The Night Will Find Us is your first published novel, you’ve written a number of short stories, including “The Brothers Brujo,” which appeared in Best American Short Stories 2018. Are there any writers who had a particularly big influence on The Night Will Find Us but not on anything else you’ve written?
Oof, that’s a tough question. I’m not sure that there were any big literary influences on the creation of The Night Will Find Us that haven’t also had an effect on the rest of my work. I think as creatives, we’re all ongoing aggregates of our influences — that’s just sort of how art works, isn’t it? But the writers that influenced The Night Will Find Us most would probably be John Langan, Damien Angelica Walters, and Cherie Priest.
How about non-literary influences; was The Night Will Find Us influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because the plot reminds me of The Goonies, Friday The 13th, and The Cabin In The Woods.
So, the biggest non-literary influences on The Night Will Find Us came from a few different places: The Blair Witch Project, The Breakfast Club, and an episode of The Sopranos titled “Pine Barrens.” They’re all super different (obvious reasons), but the thing that connects them all in my mind is that they’re all expert studies of isolation and how people cope with it in increasingly dire and extreme circumstances. They’ve all got monsters and ghosts of their own, too, just in drastically different forms.
Supernatural horror thrillers are sometimes stand-alone stories, and other times they’re part of a series. What is The Night Will Find Us?
I’d always envisioned The Night Will Find Us as a stand-alone novel; just by virtue of the sheer lack of survivors by the novel’s end, I imagine it would be difficult to carry the narrative into a sequel. Not impossible, mind, just…difficult.
Earlier I asked if The Night Will Find Us had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Has there been any interest in adapting it into a movie, show, or game?
So, there’s nothing in terms of adaptations that I’m at liberty to talk about right now.
As for a preference between it being a movie or a TV show, I’m not really sure that I have one. They’ve both got their strengths. I just think it would just be cool seeing the story come to life in a different medium, seeing someone else’s take on the story. There’s something beautiful in seeing your work reinterpreted into a different art form. Not all adaptations are equal, but when they’re done right, they can be truly incredible.
If The Night Will Find Us is made into a movie or TV show, who should play Parker, Chloe, Adam, Nicky, Josh, and Nate?
I truly have no idea. I’m positive that there are some really fantastic teenage actors out there these days, I just don’t know their names. God, I’m old.
Sorry, sonny, you’re going to have to speak up. Anyway, to end this as I often do, if someone enjoys The Night Will Find Us, what similarly thrilling supernatural novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
For anyone looking for another human-tragedy-and-supernatural-horror-in-the-wilds tale, it’s hard to do better than Andy Davidson’s The Boatman’s Daughter. It’s beautiful and hideous and heart-wrenching and outright horrifying, and it stayed with me for weeks after I read it. Andy’s a killer at what he does, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.