Our interview for this week: Keith Ferrario!
Keith is the author of several books, but is probably best known for his book Monster, a novel that reinvents the ice station thriller.
I am a big fan of this book and was very happy to discover recently that he has now released an audio book version. I’m also looking forward to reading his other three books, Deadly Friend, Dark Carnival, and Messiah.
What gave you the idea for your book Monster?
The initial spark for the idea that led to Monster came during a forty-eight hour classic (pre-1960) monster movie binge. Watching those old classics, I couldn’t help noticing that the less humanoid the creatures were, the more they were just mindless killing machines. It occurred to me, what if those monsters weren’t mindless, but sentient, even intelligent. Later, as I thought about it more, I expanded the idea to include that, like their human counterparts, over time the creatures could learn the difference between right and wrong and that they could even develop a conscience.
So for my story I picked a form which would be the least humanoid—a shapeless mass. But, I wanted my creature to be from our natural world—not from outer space, not from another dimension, and not conjured up by science or magic. Then I thought: Antarctica—perfect—once tropical, now a frozen wasteland—the perfect place to have a creature exist and thrive in the past, but now trapped (under the ice) and isolated from modern man.
Monster has two parts, each with a very different feel to them. Was this your intention?
Absolutely! Monster turned out exactly as I hoped and planned. It was my view of the creature and how it interacted with the other characters that drove the feel of each part.
In part one, the creature is like a small child. It doesn’t understand much more than its own hunger. It doesn’t mean to harm others—it just does what it has to to survive. Basically, it’s frightened, hungry, and confused. It reacts to its surroundings on a more instinctual level as a child would. The creature comes in conflict with the human characters and it is this conflict that gives part one a more action feel.
Part two was designed to be more of a thriller with elements of mystery rather than action. It’s twelve years later and the creature has matured—it no longer sees the world as a child would—it has learned and gained knowledge. It still does what it has to to survive, but it makes some definite choices. Being forced into certain actions, it even reaches out for help.
Without giving spoilers, I can say that the two parts are connected by several key elements, but those connections are hidden until the end when all is revealed. However, I added clues throughout the story. In part one, the clues foreshadow people and events in part two. The clues in part two tie directly back to part one. So far, I know some readers definitely picked up on a few of the clues, while other readers did not. It was important to me that I play fair with the reader—the clues are there. I didn’t reveal a twist without setting it up first.
And in both parts, there’s an underlying theme. The creature isn’t the worst monster in the story. It’s not motivated by greed, ambition, or power—it’s just simply trying to survive.
How many books have you published?
Four, so far. Deadly Friend was my first, published by Leisure books. Then I tried my hand at self-publishing for my next two books, Dark Carnival and Messiah. And of course, there’s my current novel Monster published by Samhain.
What is the writing process like for you?
When developing a story, I’ll stub something out to make sure that there’s enough to the idea to make a novel. It’s not really an outline, but more of a proof of concept. When I’m convinced I’m on to something, I’ll move onto the “draft” phase and set goals for myself.
During the first draft, I turn off the editor in my head and just write. I don’t worry about word choice, grammar (to a certain extent), or descriptions. I write to get the story out. The one rule I have is to write 1000 words on the days I work my day job and 2500 words on days I have off (weekends, holidays, etc.). When the first draft is completed, I like to put it aside for a time and return to a previously written draft of another story or come up with a new idea to work on.
During the second draft, since words are being added, removed, or replaced, the word count method doesn’t work so well. Instead, I determine the date when I want the second draft to be completed, then divide the current page count by the number of days, and then that number of pages becomes my daily goal.
During the third draft and beyond, all bets are off. I just try to write everyday and go from there. During this phase I can be bouncing around the story—cleaning things up—making sure the foreshadowing is correct—making sure clues I want to have are there, but hidden. It’s hard to judge progress, but I enjoy this part the most.
What got you into writing horror?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always enjoyed the horror genre in all its forms—movies, TV shows, comic books, short stories, books. I especially loved a good monster story—there was nothing better then watching the old Universal monster movies (The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, etc.), though watching any monster movie was simply fantastic. I remember the exact event that started me on the writing path. It was a late night viewing of the movie The Brain That Wouldn’t Die when I was in the fourth grade. Unfortunately, I fell asleep on the couch and missed most of the movie. I was so disappointed in the morning that I began to write my own version of the story to see how it would turn out. From that point on I wanted to write my own stories about monsters and all that scary stuff.
You have an audio book. Tell us about your experience. Is it easy for a writer to get an audio book?
My publisher Samhain Publishing gets all the credit for the Audiobook. Back in September 2014, they signed a deal with Audio Realms to have Monster, as well as many other Samhain titles, released in the Audiobook format. It was quite a pleasant surprise. That’s definitely one advantage of being with a good publisher—Samhain took care of all the details, leaving me time to write.
What are you doing next?
I have a couple of things going on. I recently signed a contract with Samhain Publishing to reprint my very first Novel: Deadly Friend (originally published by Leisure Books). It’s something I had hoped would happen someday for many years. Though, it was a lot rougher than it sounds. When my book was first released back in 1994, all the editing was done on hard copies. To get a digital copy to my editor, Don D’Auria, I had to take the original MS Word document and compare it to the printed book—line-by-line, word-by-word—making the necessary adjustments. It took three weeks of very late nights and sometimes I thought maybe I bit off a little too much, but the thought of having Deadly Friend available again kept me going. It will be great to see Deadly Friend back in print and in digital for the first time. Who says, ghosts can’t come back to life. It will get a new cover—and that’s always fun to see. And I’m sure there will be another phase of proofing coming just around the corner.
In the meantime, I’m working on my next novel. With this story, I actually came up with the idea over ten years ago. I don’t want to give away any of the plot, but I can say it’s a different take on an old Legend. I finished a very rough first draft about a year and a half ago. I like to complete a draft and put it away for a time to be able to get a fresh perspective on the story. Of course, for good or bad, this method does have its consequences. Returning to the draft, I found a major plot flaw and ended up gutting about a third of what I had written.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
I don’t like giving advice. Advice from others is really what worked for them. Everyone is different and what works for one person may not work or be desirable for someone else. Instead of advice I will give you the secret of writing. If you follow it, you can’t fail. Ready? Here it is: Just do it! Writing doesn’t write itself. Simple huh? But it’s very true. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they have always wanted to write a novel. I always tell them, then do it! Just talking about it doesn’t put words on the page.