Author Interview: Matt Serafini

I’m a huge fan of Matt’s Under The Blade, so I was delighted to catch up with him to talk horror and about his latest book Devil’s Row. Thanks Matt!

matt_picCan you tell us about your new book, Devil’s Row?

I like to think of Devil’s Row as a western with monsters and gunfighters that also happens to take place in 18th century Europe. I know that technically disqualifies it as a western, but the mentality is very much cowboys and werewolves.

As for the story, it’s about the hunt for an infamous werewolf, and the aftermath of what happens once she’d been found.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s kind of a prequel to my first novel, Feral, in the sense that it uses some of the same characters. The story that unfolds in Devil’s Row was originally going to be a flashback chapter that I’d written for Feral, but wound up cutting it for pacing.

As I thought more about Devil’s Row and reviewed the history and notes I’d created for Feral, I realized I didn’t want to leave that universe behind completely. In hindsight, I probably went overboard in developing the werewolf history for Feral because only a fraction of it made it into the story. Some of that stuff became the basis for this book.

But Devil’s Row is very much a self-contained story. That’s not a marketing line to attract more readers, either. I want you to be able to pick it up and read it from cover-to-cover without feeling like you’re missing something. But those who’ve read Feral will appreciate some of the connective tissue that’s shared between them.

Devils-Row-cover-2Where did it all begin for you as a horror writer?

I had terrific parents who were always encouraging me to read. And since I was a horror geek from early on, my mother thought nothing of buying me Stephen King paperbacks whenever she encountered them at flea markets. As such, I was reading (and loving) stuff like IT in fourth grade. We had a terrific used bookstore down the street and she would take me there and let me pick out a paperback or two each time we went. I remember looking at rows and rows of horror novels, mouth watering and eager to read them all!

At the same time, I used to turn creative writing assignments into Friday the 13th fan fiction. This was the late 80s, and I remember writing a series of stories that found Jason picking off my classmates on a school trip. You definitely can’t do that now without raising eyebrows.

Thankfully, my teacher cultivated my creativity and encouraged me to keep writing, although she tried every trick under the sun to get me to stop writing about Jason. When I finally did, I switched over to Michael Myers!

Who are your favorite authors and which of their books mean the most to you?

I have to say ‘Salem’s Lot is still the most terrifying book to me. The way King describes the town being consumed bit-by-bit is really chilling, and none of its television adaptations have yet to nail its spirit correctly. It also taught me the importance of quality characters and while King is pretty much in a class of his own when it comes to working class horror, I always make a conscious effort to create people worth caring about. That comes from King.

I also read Michael Slade’s Headhunter when I was way too young. It’s one of the most underrated horror novels ever written. Absolutely gruesome, and complete with some of the most twisted psychology I’ve ever read. The killer’s flashbacks have haunted me for decades, and this book is home to literally the most surprising twist I’ve ever read. I’m happy to say I’ve lent it to many people over the years and the reaction to the ending is always the same. Pure shock.

Stepping outside the nostalgia to talk about something more recent, I finally got around to reading Laird Baron’s The Croning and couldn’t put it down! It’s stayed with me for the last six months and that’s impressive because almost nothing shakes me to my core these days. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of modern horror fiction that’s amazing, but The Croning touches upon everything I find frightening and I love it dearly for that.

I’m interested to hear about how you write. Do you lock yourself away? Burn the midnight oil?

I used to stay up until all hours, yeah. I’m a night person at heart and I hate wasting that time of night on sleep.

But I’ve been taking the writing time whenever I can find it. My wife is super understanding about me locking myself in my office for hours on end, and I’ll write either first thing in the morning or right after dinner. I’m happy to say it hasn’t impacted me too much. As long as I still have time to write, whenever that is, I’m happy.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

Writing is a bitch. There’s no doubt about it. I think the hardest thing is having the confidence to keep going. Every writer I’ve ever spoken to wrestles with doubt as they’re pulling a story into focus, and sometimes it seems easier to pull the plug on something you think isn’t working.

But it’s important to finish what you start, and sometimes that means recognizing that your story has problems that need to be fixed. The experience is never more rewarding then when it all clicks.

What is your favorite horror movie?

This is probably the hardest question to answer because I love so many of them, and even my favorite can fluctuate depending on the day.

Halloween is usually my go to response here. Not only is it flawlessly done, but I learned so much about the art of subtle and suspenseful filmmaking from John Carpenter. Like most horror fans my age, he’s both a massive influence and one of my favorite directors.

If I can cheat, I’ll also namedrop Suspiria. The colors, the music, the visuals. It’s a bona fide artistic achievement and it blows my mind each time I see it. You can definitely see some of Dario Argento’s influences in other directors, but Suspiria is such a stunningly original experience. There’s nothing else like it and I’m eternally grateful it exists.

What scares you?

Now that my wife and I have celebrated the birth of our son (our first child), I’m going to say any and all harm that might come to him.

What book are you reading now?

Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels. I know the reception has been mixed, but I’m loving the hell out of it. I started it this past weekend, but Pinhead’s reintroduction, and the grim fate of D’Amour’s partner are fantastically gruesome setpieces, spun in a way that only Clive can. I’m hoping to be able to put in some quality time with it tonight, but I also don’t want to rush through it.

Have you thought about your next book?

I have! I’m working on two at once, which I don’t recommend, and hopefully will never do again.

I’m about halfway through the first draft of a mystery/thriller. It’s my stamp on the Italian giallo, a modernized story, but with outrageous violence, a little sex and, hopefully, a plot that will keep the pages turning.

I’m also working on a sea creature story for Severed Press. I’m in the research and outline phase there, and hope to start writing it by the end of August. Knowing me that’s a very optimistic outlook and it’ll be more like November or December.

Thanks for the interview, Andrew. And thanks for continuing to cover horror fiction.

My pleasure, Matt!

Feral_Matt_Serafini_11_21_12 under-the-blade-cover

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