What I mean is, if you’ve read the first book in his Monochrome series, you know what a life-yawn is — that all-consuming swell of MEH that rises from the depths of your dissatisfied soul. You know it because that’s what Keisling’s protagonist, Donovan Candle, is experiencing in the early pages of A Life Transparent. But then, slowly and tauntingly, the reality Donovan has come to know begins to flicker in and out, the “out” portions introducing a new, frightening – but exciting, at least – world: the Monochrome.
Todd is on a blog tour to promote the release of The Liminal Man, the second book in the series, and as a fan of A Life Transparent (I haven’t yet read his new one) I was more than excited to ask him a few questions about horror writing (I’m a former Dean R. Koontz addict – from way back when he used to use his middle initial) and the Monochrome series.
What is it that attracts you to the horror genre as a reader, and what attracts you to it as a writer?
TK: Oh, good question. I’ve always had a fascination with anything horror-related, and I suppose I owe a lot of it to my mother since she allowed me to watch horror movies at a very young age. As for putting my finger on what it is that attracts me to the genre as a reader, I guess it’s the escapism coupled with the feeling of dread. I remember the first piece of horror fiction that managed to give me nightmares was a short story called The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft.
Until that story, I’d always treated horror as a hobby or quirky interest of mine. I loved the absurdity of horror, which traces back to the sense of escapism. Once I discovered Lovecraft, I realized how powerful a well-told horror story can be. I was caught up in the world of that story every step of the way. I felt helpless, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes away.
I suppose that’s also what attracts me to horror as a writer. I want to ensnare readers in a web where their only way out is through the fiction. To paraphrase Christian Bale in Batman Begins: “I want them to share my dread.”
A Life Transparent, you’ve said, was inspired by your own frustration. You hated your job, you weren’t sure whether writing was going to work out for you, and imagining being in the same place in ten years was … unimaginable. The protagonist, Donovan Candle, embodies that frustration, and it’s something he can’t (or won’t) escape until he’s forced to enter the Monochrome, an alternate world with frightening, deadly creatures called “Yawnings.” What, if anything, in your personal experience influenced the second book in the Monochrome trilogy, The Liminal Man (released October 2012)?
TK: A couple of years ago, back when TLM was in between drafts, a friend asked me to sum up what the book’s about. I replied: “If ALT is about the danger of mediocrity, TLM is about the danger of fear.” Although the story changed a bit over its five drafts, I think that summation is still applicable. When I first had the idea for the book, it was the middle of 2008, I was just a month away from getting married, and I found myself in a weird place.
Was I ready to be a husband or a father? Was I ready for a family? Was I read to take such a big, defining step in my life? I didn’t know—and that terrified me. I’d already taken the year off from writing because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be writer anymore, and although I had an idea for a new book, I couldn’t decide if I really wanted to commit to another project. This indecision and fear is prevalent in Donovan’s mindset over the course of the novel, and a key scene in the book is focused on him confronting his flaws and coming to terms with what he needs to do in order to overcome them.
As I neared the end of the first draft, I found myself reflecting on the last year and a half of work and realizing how far I’d come on a personal level. I realized my actions had, in part, come to define who I am. Choosing to move forward with this second book—and committing to a third—was a leap of faith in many respects, and one which would contribute to defining my identity. These themes of fear, identity, definition, and taking a leap of faith all became a major part of TLM’s thematic structure.
How would you describe Donovan’s growth or metamorphosis between book one and book two?
TK: I would describe Donovan’s metamorphosis as both painful and introspective. He’s a flawed human being who’s living in a state of false comfort when we first meet him. He’s deluded himself into believing he is happy, and over the course of both novels, that carefully constructed world he’s built for himself is slowly stripped away to reveal the truth: he’s a coward governed by fear who isn’t happy with himself. In ALT, he is given an opportunity to change direction. In TLM, he discovers that changing direction isn’t enough; he must also “walk the walk.”
For those who have read and loved A Life Transparent but who haven’t yet read The Liminal Man, what can they look forward to?
TK: They can look forward to an expansion of the Monochrome’s mythos. They’ll learn a bit more about how that side of reality works, what happened to Dr. Albert Sparrow and the rest of the Missing following the events of ALT, and where the Cretins and Yawning come from. Oh, and no cats will meet their demise this time around.
What would you say is the unique stamp you put on the horror genre? That is, what do you most enjoy addressing or exploring in your fiction, whether it’s the Monochrome series or something entirely unrelated to the Monochrome?
TK: I like to explore the psyche of my characters. I like to get into their heads and show their motivations, internal conflicts, and methods behind their actions. I also like to bury a message underneath the fiction, an artifact that’s there for readers who want to dig between the lines and find something more than just the story. “Horror with a purpose,” maybe.
Where did Yawnings – their sound, their appearance – come from?
TK: In the early days of ALT’s first draft, I pictured the Monochrome as a single structure rather than an alternate reality. I saw it as an enormous gray labyrinth, with a giant creature stalking its halls much like the Minotaur from Greek mythology. This creature would be single-minded, forever hunting those who were damned to that place. However, as the story took shape and I discovered the Monochrome was something far bigger, I realized I needed not one creature, but many. The Yawning is the result.
The creature’s spindly, bipedal appearance was inspired by something I saw in a music video by TOOL (for the song “Prison Sex,” in case anyone’s curious). Its single-minded quality carried over into the final draft, but I thought it better if they could communicate with one another by uttering those low, melancholic cries that sort of sound like, well, a person yawning. This gave the creature a somewhat disarming appearance at first: it’s dumb, it’s slow, and it’s kind of sad. Then it opens its mouth, unhinges its jaw, and chomps a man in half. Perfect!
Thank you for stopping here on your tour, Todd.
Todd is giving away a grand prize package that includes:
- Signed hardcovers of A LIFE TRANSPARENT and THE LIMINAL MAN
- A TLM T-shirt sporting the “Leaping Man” design
- “I Am Donovan Candle” Coffee Mug
- An eBook package that includes books by R.J. Keller, Anthony J. Rapino, Moriah Jovan, and others