Exclusive Interview: “The Seething” Author Ben Monroe


When people read a horror story, they often keep going, long into the night, because they want to know what happens next. But in the following email interview with author Ben Monroe about his horror novel The Seething (paperback, Kindle), he admits that he writes these kinds of scary stories because he wants to know what happens next, too.

Ben Monroe The Seething

To begin, what is The Seething about, and when and where is it set?

The Seething is a story set in the “now,” and in a small town in the mountains of Northern California. It’s about a family in transition, trying to wrap up some things, and figure out where they’re going next. But their vacation goes sour when they run afoul of something dark and awful recently released from the lake nearby. The thing begins to fixate its malevolence on the teenage daughter of the family, and things spiral out of control from there.

Where did you get the idea for The Seething? What inspired this story?

A few years ago, I was hiking around a lake in the hills near my house in the San Francisco Bay area. We were in the middle of one of our drought cycles, and the lake was getting extremely low. As I walked the path, I noticed that the fishing piers which normally float on the water’s surface were now completely on dry land. The lake had receded so far that the lakebed around the piers was part of the shore and they just rested on the desiccated silty mud.

I kept going, thinking about those piers, thinking about the lake, and the dwindling ecosystem therein. I began wondering what would become of all the critters who make their homes there. And then a thought sort of hit me that if there were a monster living in that lake, it’d be a lot closer to the surface now. And if it began to find the lake uninhabitable, how would it escape to find a new place to live?

As I started thinking more about that, the rest of the elements which eventually made up the story began falling into place.

And as it was a story I kept thinking about more and more, I realized it was the one I wanted to write next. That’s usually the way my writing goes: an idea hits me, and I can’t get it out of my head until I start writing it.

You kind of just answered this, but I’ll ask anyway: Is there a reason you set it in a small town in California as opposed to one in the South or the mid-West or outside the U.S.? Or, for that matter, a big city like L.A. or San Francisco?

I mean, probably the obvious answer is that Northern California is where I’ve spent almost my entire life, and the place I love and know best. The small town setting of Oro Lake seemed like the right choice for this story. I wanted the characters to be sort of out of their element (even though Gabe, the dad in the book grew up there), and also give them space to be isolated a bit.

And while the town of Oro Lake was wholly fabricated, it was inspired by small towns I’d visited over the years. There are elements of Tahoe City, and Lockford, as well as a lot of downtown Jackson, which I visited quite often when my in-laws lived there. My familiarity with those towns and that area gave me images to use, and places to set the story.

In thinking about it now, it sort of strikes me as funny that with all the work I did to set the story off in a small town, the lake that inspired the book is actually pretty much sandwiched between two large cities where I live (you could walk there from Oakland).

In a similar vein, is there a reason why you centered this story around Kimmie, the teenage daughter, as opposed to the dad or the mom or a kid who’s younger?

So, when I write, I rarely plan much ahead. When I start on a project, I’ll usually have some ideas of the characters, or a situation. Maybe something just strikes me as interesting, and I want to see what happens. I never outline because once I’ve gotten to the end of the outline, I feel like now I know what happens, and I lose interest.

The phrase I use often is “I write to find out what happens next.”

When I started on The Seething, I had an idea of who the characters were, and what the monster was going to be like. I had an idea of the setting of Oro Lake, and I wanted to explore that idea I mentioned earlier about a monster trying to get out of where it had been stuck. And then I just started writing to see where it all went. Pretty early on, I hit on the idea that Kimmie was vaguely psychic. Not in a really obvious way, but just someone who had weird hunches or intuitions which couldn’t always be explained.

There’s a scene about a quarter of the way into the book (hopefully I don’t spoil anything here) where a Bad Thing happens to Kimmie, and I was mulling over what would happen next. And that’s when it hit me that her abilities would be attractive to the monster. That the thing could use her in a certain way.

It was then that I really started to understand where the story was going, and how it all was linking together.

There’s another main character, local police officer Shawna Lasher, who’s investigating all the weirdness happening in town. She was originally a one scene, throw-away character. She shows up in the second chapter to break up a fight. I’d never intended for her to make more than another cursory appearance in the book. But once she was in there, I began to realize how important she was to the story, and how her storyline helped to move things forward.

So, like I said above, I usually write to find out what happens next.

It’s seems pretty obvious that The Seething is a horror story. But is that all it is, or are there other genres at work in this story as well?

I often struggle with the idea of horror being a genre. To me, horror is at its best when it’s layered over something else. I tend to enjoy horror stories where relatable people are dealing with relatable problems, and then elements of horror come along to throw everything into the meat grinder.

For example, I think of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which is not just a truly grueling horror story, but at its core, it’s a book about a family dealing with trauma. It takes maybe the worst thing a family can ever deal with — the loss of a child — and then the wendigo appears and makes it all even worse.

That’s what I was doing (hopefully well!) with The Seething. At the core, it’s a story about a family in transition. Trying to figure out what their next steps are going to be. And just when things are a little off-kilter then the monster shows up.

Now, The Seething is your second novel after In The Belly Of The Beast, though you’ve also written a number of short stories, some of which were collected with your first novel as In The Belly Of The Beast And Other Tales Of Cthulhu Wars. Are there any writers, or stories, that you think had a big influence on The Seething but not on anything else you’ve written?

Hadn’t really thought about that before, so thanks for asking this.

Around the time I started writing The Seething, I got the urge to branch out in my reading a little. I started reading a lot of Westerns (notably going through Louis L’Amour’s The Sacketts series) and a bunch of John Steinbeck’s stories set in the California central coast area (Monterey, etc.).

One thing I really liked about those books was the defined sense of place. I really got a feel for the landscape as described by L’Amour and Steinbeck. I think some of that rubbed off on The Seething. I did really get interested in describing the woods, the lake, all the physical elements of the locations of the story.

How about non-literary influences; was The Seething influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

Hmmm… Very possibly. I don’t play a lot of video games (honestly, they make me incredibly anxious), but am a player of board games, and played a ton of tabletop RPGs over the course of my life. And I love movies, too (indeed, my college degree was in Cinema).

There are definitely filmic inspirations I can see in the book. The movie The Blob freaked me out as a kid, and the creature in The Seething definitely shares some characteristics with that.

But it’s hard to pinpoint any specific influence. More likely it’s just been years of books, films, games and other influences in my life being churned around, and spat out in a new form.

Speaking of movies, Hollywood loves turning horror stories into movies, especially when they can put teenagers in danger. Do you think The Seething could work as a movie?

Sure, I think it’d work great. Like I mentioned above, my degree in college was in Cinema (with a focus on writing and directing), and I’m aware that I often write stories in a sort of cinematic style. I didn’t write The Seething with the intention that it would be filmed, but I think it could work well as a movie. I’d be excited to see the town and characters on screen, and what a good director could do with the story.

And if that was going to happen, who would you want them to cast as Kimmie and the rest of the family?

When I wrote the book, I kept little “character sheets” for each of the main characters, to keep notes about them for future use. I did actually put a photo of different actors for visual reference in those files. So, who I had in my head for those characters were:

Gabe Barnes: Jeremy Renner. Notably from the scenes in the Avengers movies where his character was interacting with his kids.

Laurie Barnes: Jessica Chastain. Loved her in It and Mama. She has a great way of remaining calm during chaos, but then taking charge of a situation when needed.

Kimmie Barnes: Not really sure here, as kid actors change all the time. Though I must admit when I saw Scream 5, Jenna Ortega’s character really reminded me a lot of Kimmie.

Charlie Gaines: Tony Todd [Candyman]. Every horror movie needs more Tony Todd. Also, he has a great stoic presence which I don’t think is shown enough.

Shawna Lasher: I could see her as someone like  [Battlestar Galactica‘s] Katee Sackhoff.

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

When I was originally pitching it, I described this book as “‘The Colour Out Of Space’ meets Jaws,” and I still think that’s a pretty good way to give folks an idea of what to expect. It’s about 350 pages of small town, creeping horror set in the mountains of Northern California.

Ben Monroe The Seething

Finally, if someone enjoys The Seething, what scary story that you read recently would you suggest they read next?

How can I pick just one?!? Here are a few I’ve read recently that I liked:

I’m currently reading an advance copy of Francesca Maria’s collection of short stories, They Hide and really enjoying it. Lots of different types of creepy critters in this book, and I think folks will like it.

I also recently read the four volumes of Charles Grant’s Greystone Bay anthologies from the early ’90s, and thought they were really good. A good mix of authors writing in the “quiet horror” style.

Lee Murray’s Grotesque: Monster Stories was also quite excellent, and interesting for being very non-Western horror (most of the stories are firmly set in New Zealand, and inspired by the myths and legends of that place).

Lastly, Gwendolyn Kiste’s Rust Maidens was subtle and disturbing, and is absolutely worth anyone’s time.



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