So, when you write a book about a serial killer, you get some pretty interesting questions:
“Where do you come up with this stuff?”
“Do you think about killing people?”
“Do you worship the devil?”
“Did you torture animals as a kid?”
These are real questions people have asked me since my debut novel In The Arms of Nightmares has been in stores. No, I don’t drink chicken’s blood, or wear corpse paint when I go to the grocery store. I don’t obsess over murdering everyone in sight. I don’t even really like horror movies, or read horror anything. When I was peddling it, I would talk Nightmares up as a psychological thriller that happened to have a lot of killing in it. I still don’t think it’s a horror novel just as I don’t think The Silence of The Lambs or American Psycho are.
To me, it’s more Murkami than King. It’s the story of a guy so whacked out of his mind that his reality is completely skewed by every drop of a pin around him. As everyday problems unfold, a sense of chaos manifests even through the absurdly mundane. It’s a stark reminder that, even for the insane, life can get weird. Arthur just happens to kill as he’s locked away in a suburban casket; a lot of us feel that way when happy lawns and smiling neighbors just aren’t something you care to deal with any longer.
Something inside can just… snap.
I never saw myself as this Svengali of chilling bloodshed, but more like an Allen Ginsburg that likes to explain, in grisly detail, how someone’s head could be crudely severed off. When I wrote In the Arms of Nightmares, I wasn’t reading or watching anything “horror,” at all. That book has more Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka’s Metamorphosis then Jason Voorhees. In horror there’s not a lot of literary-based writing. In a lot of cases, horror is written like 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. This is fine, but it’s not too introspective.
My primary influence is Charles Bukowski, first and foremost. I owe everything to him, and how I see the world. I may not form prose like he does, but I sure as hell love betting on the ponies and day-drinking more than the average bear.
I’ve never read a zombie novel, but I do love Clive Barker. Burroughs and Thompson are my heroes; I’ve never read anything by Dean Koontz or Peter Straub. For some reason, I can only write about five topics:
In the Arms of Nightmares displays all of them in a very vivid way that plays out as an opening act into a bigger world that the pages cannot contain. Is that obtuse and self-serving of me? I’m not sure. It could be this little stupid book no one will read, but it could also be a statement about how one person can murder his way through life without ever recognizing the demonic proportions of his own pathology. No one wants to listen to another writer who thinks his book is going to change the world.
I certainly don’t.
I think the reason Nightmares is so violent – and in some moments even terrifying – is because I was going through a very transitional period at the time. I was bouncing from New Orleans to Chicago a lot and my mind was completely in New Orleans, so a lot of my personal feelings about coming back to Chicago were threaded throughout the book. I wanted to be in New Orleans desperately, and when I finally got here, a massive weight was lifted, and Arthur could move on.
There’s a lot of soul-searching for Arthur Reilly as he hacks and slices his way through life; he’s a serial killer with introspection. He’s riddled with guilt and doubt – even if he’s standing over someone and watching their jugular bleed out. The idea behind writing the book in the first place was to create a character so vile, so repulsive, that even though he’s a total sleaze and a deranged bastard, you never hate him. I wanted to see if I could create an utterly sickening person that kept you rooting for him, even when everything I’ve written thus far has boxed you into corner of disgust wherein you just think: F**K THIS GUY.
Music is another footnote in Nightmares that I hope people notice. Much like mine, Arthur’s world revolves around music. From Louis Armstrong acting as the voice of the Angels to Hank Williams as a moral barometer, music is Arthur’s deadly muse; the deadly rhythm. In the Arms of Nightmares is layered and exacting because I wanted to display a story that showed fear and uncertainty within someone whose mind is long lost within the narrows. It’s five years in the making and has definitely been through the slush pile, and all I can do now is hope a few people read it and tell their friends.
Keep reading, and listen to Black Sabbath.
~ Robert Dean