In “Property Condemned,” you return to the haunted town of Pine Deep, the setting for your first trilogy of novels, Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song, and Bad Moon Rising, and also revisit some of the same characters. Did you always plan to return? What drew you back?
My fiction career began with Pine Deep, and I suppose in one way or another the goings-on in that sad little town have been brewing in my head for years–probably since high school, which was way back in the 1970s. I grew up in Philadelphia and as soon as I got my license (and a junker of a car), my buddies and I would drive out to the country, visiting small towns like Lambertville, NJ, and New Hope, in Pennsylvania. Back then, the towns were isolated, tucked away in remote corners of farm country. Now most of the farms are gone and there’s in-fill everywhere. But when I sat down to take a swing at writing my first novel, I knew I’d want to build it around the towns as they were back then. However, I didn’t launch into fiction right away. I spent the first twenty-five years of my career writing magazine feature articles, how-to manuals, plays, greeting cards, and college textbooks.
Finally, in 2004, I sat down to write Ghost Road Blues and its sequels, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising. I created the troubled town of Pine Deep, basing it on New Hope as it was back then. Pine Deep has the reputation of being the most haunted town in America. There are more things there than the monsters we meet in those three novels. So . . . yeah, I have plenty of Pine Deep stories I want to tell.
Malcolm is a fascinating, tragic character; a child who hopes to see ghosts in order to deal with his existential angst, and who wants to believe in a lucky stone though his life has been anything but lucky. At the end of the story he seems to embrace the destiny shown to him by the house, even though it’s not a happy one. Why is that?
Malcolm Crow is the protagonist of “Property Condemned” and the star of the Pine Deep trilogy. He is a tragic character, but ultimately a heroic one. He hits bottom several times, but ultimately he rises to become a good man—one who will risk anything to protect his family and his town.
In “Property Condemned,” we meet the boy who has yet to become the adult version of Crow. As a child, Crow is the victim of some pretty terrible abuse by a drunken father. In the story, Crow catches a glimpse of the damaged adult he’s going to become. He accepts that truth because in a twisted way it offers a thread of hope. Abused children often don’t believe they will ever have a future, so catching a glimpse of one—even a bad one—makes them believe that they will outlive and outlast their current abuse. It’s damaged thinking, but it’s common. When creating Crow I drew on my own childhood experiences with a violently abusive father. I didn’t think I’d ever grow up, and I would have grabbed at any vision of the future that proved I was still alive.
What are your thoughts on destiny?
I’m New Age-y enough to believe that there are forces at work in our lives, but I don’t pretend to know exactly how they work. I believe in the power of positive thinking and the power of intention. At the same time I believe in free will and random chance. I don’t believe that every second of our lives is already mapped out. With precognitive events such as those explored in “Property Condemned,” I view them as glimpses of possible futures. After all, not all of those predictions will come to pass.
The story seems to suggest that real-life horrors, and the psychological scars left behind, are scarier than any ghost could be. Would you agree, and is this an important theme for you?
Funny thing is, as much as I make a living writing about things that go bump in the dark, I don’t particularly fear them. Ghosts have very little track record for doing much harm, and I’m not afraid of a spirit that would slam a door or change the temperature in a room. Big yawn. Fictional spirits are different in that they are vehicles in which we can tell different kinds of stories. The vampiric house in “Property Condemned” is actually less frightening than the emotional/psychological harm people experience every day. Abused children, victims of rape, victims of terrorism, families living in abject poverty: those people truly understand terror. Given a choice, most victims of abuse would probably swap for being victims of a poltergeist-infested house.
Do you have any more Pine Deep stories or novels in mind?
Apart from “Property Condemned,” Pine Deep is the setting for “Material Witness,” a novelette tied to my Joe Ledger thriller series. And I have at least a dozen other Pine Deep short stories planned for the next few years. I also have several novels outlined, some prequels, and a few sequels, including a young adult spin-off that I’d like to write.
What are you working on now?
I’m busier than a two-headed cat in a dairy. I’m writing the fourth novel (Flesh & Bone) in my Rot & Ruin series of young adult, post-apocalyptic zombie thrillers. I just sold three more novels: the sixth in my Joe Ledger series; a sequel to last year’s adult zombie novel, Dead Of Night; and a standalone thriller. And I’m writing Marvel Universe Vs The Avengers, the third four-issue story in my Marvel Rage Virus series. That debuts at Halloween. And I have three novellas and nine short stories to write for various anthologies, ranging from steampunk to heroic fantasy to mystery to straight horror. That’ll keep me busy until the end of November, and then I start writing my fifteenth novel. I’m also in regular discussions with a couple of major movie studios about writing some original scripts, and we’re about to drop the word about the recently purchased film rights to one of my books. So . . . I’m in the fast lane, living on caffeine and adrenaline . . . and having a blast.
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