OK, I’m jumping the gun here, bypassing Thanksgiving and diving right into Christmas. I have a very good reason. Author Matt Manochio’s new book, THE DARK SERVANT, has dropped just in time to savage the Christmas season. I sat down to talk with Matt (both at the bar at Chiller Theatre and back home) about his book, path to publication and lollipops. This is a book you definitely want to pick up. Anyone that introduces me to a new monster is one badass of a dude.
Ok, let’s set the table for this here sit-down. Your debut novel with Samhain, The Dark Servant, unleashes on the world on Novermber 4th. Tell us about the book.
Thanks Hunter! I’m guessing your readers have heard of Krampus, but for those who have not, Krampus, in European folklore, is a huge, hairy devil who serves as Saint Nicholas’s (yes, Santa Claus’s) dark half. Saint Nick rewards the good kids and farms out the bad ones to Krampus, who disciplines the brats in a myriad of horrible ways. I set my Krampus loose in northern New Jersey where he goes after a town’s hideous high school bullies—but there’s certainly more to it than that.
Where did you come up with the idea for the terrifying creature in The Dark Servant? The cover is absolutely amazing. Is it exactly how you pictured it in your mind?
I had never heard of Krampus until two years ago when my boss asked me if I knew of this monster. (He’d never heard of him either and knew I was into kooky pop culture stuff.) I was 37 at the time and couldn’t believe this thing slipped by me. It’s such a wonderful myth. And fortunately it’s been largely unexplored in American fiction. (Think about all the vampire, zombie and werewolf books that flood the market.) So while European storytelling created the legend of Krampus, I created my own walking, talking, irreverent version of the monster. And I couldn’t be happier with the results. As for the cover, I originally wanted the artist to show less of the monster. I wanted to give the creature its form or profile, if you will, but still allow for the reader to paint his or her own picture of Krampus—eyes, snout, fangs, etc. But don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled with the cover (Samhain has great artists working for them) and the staff absolutely took my input not just on what the monster looked like, but on background (spooky, wintery forest), and font style and color.
You and I had a very similar path to publishing. Let folks know the highs and lows you experienced and how perseverance and good storytelling wins in the end.
For those who don’t know, Hunter and I were victims of the Dorchester Publishing collapse. I wrote in depth about my struggle for Writer’s Digest. But in short, however fantastic you feel upon getting that first book deal, which I got (and saw vanish) in 2010, research the publisher. I had no idea Dorchester was on its last legs and doomed for bankruptcy. The company laid off my editor months after I signed the deal for a straight crime thriller. I stayed in touch with my editor, who landed at Samhain not long after Dorchester’s fall, and when I got the idea for The Dark Servant, he was the first person I contacted and he encouraged me to go for it. So if you make connections in this business, keep them! Remain on good terms. Also as important, I kept writing. I was literally down in the dumps for a day when I realized I wouldn’t be published with Dorchester, but that was it. One day in August 2010. After that I took the outlook that if my work could sell once, it could sell again. You must keep a positive attitude in this business.
What are some of your favorite horror books and movies?
- An American Werewolf in London
- John Carpentar’s The Thing
- ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
- Monster by Frank Perreti (not a favorite, but it heavily influenced me)
- Jurassic Park (ok, it’s not strictly horror, but it is among my favorites)
If you had to be chased down by Jason Voorhees or eaten by Jaws, which would you pick and why?
Jason Voorhees hands down. Jason could at least end my misery quickly. Did you see how much agony Quint was in when Jaws got ahold of him?
What’s your biggest fear? Have you tried to conquer it and failed, or do you just accept it for what it is?
This is a hard question to answer. If you’re talking phobias, I hate heights and don’t think I can ever conquer that fear. If you’re talking real-world every-day fears, it’s rather bland but important nonetheless: being able to provide for my family and hopefully putting my son through college. He’s 3 now, but they grow up quickly, and I’m terrified to think of what college tuition will cost in 15 years.
Do you have a favorite space to write? What’s the strangest place you’ve found yourself writing?
My favorite writing spot is sitting cross-legged on my bed. I don’t have a desk. Strangest place I’ve ever written something? I was a journalist once upon a time, and in 2008 I wrote an article for USA Today on my Blackberry about an AC/DC concert during the concert. (Go to my website if you’d like to read it. I linked to it.)
If you had to guess, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? (and you can’t say three, because that cartoon cheated!)
At least 100, especially if you work all angles of the pop. Just a guess.
Which do you think is better, the original The Thing from Another World, or John Carpenter’s The Thing?
John Carpenter’s The Thing, and not just because of the special effects, which were groundbreaking at the time. It was a well-cast movie, too. But the biggest reason I like it is because Carpenter’s version was more faithful to John Campbell’s short story, on which the movie is based.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m waiting to hear back from my editor on revisions I made to a second book. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can sign a deal. I don’t want to say too much about it other than it’s a supernatural Western set in South Carolina during Reconstruction. I’ve got an idea for another book that I intend to start after this publicity tour dies down in mid-December. I’m taking off the last two weeks of the year and cannot wait to dive into writing (which I’m finding less and less time to do—toddlers have a way of sapping up your time).
December 5 is Krampus Nacht — Night of the Krampus, a horned, cloven-hoofed monster who in pre-Christian European cultures serves as the dark companion to Saint Nicholas, America’s Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas rewards good children and leaves bad ones to Krampus, who kidnaps and tortures kids unless they repent.
The Dark Servant, Synopsis
Santa’s not the only one coming to town …
It’s older than Christ and has tormented European children for centuries. Now America faces its wrath. Unsuspecting kids vanish as a blizzard crushes New Jersey. All that remains are signs of destruction—and bloody hoof prints stomped in snow. Seventeen-year-old Billy Schweitzer awakes December 5 feeling depressed. Already feuding with his police chief father and golden boy older brother, Billy’s devastated when his dream girl rejects him. When an unrelenting creature infiltrates his town, imperiling his family and friends, Billy must overcome his own demons to understand why his supposedly innocent high school peers have been snatched, and how to rescue them from a famous saint’s ruthless companion—that cannot be stopped.
“The Dark Servant is everything a thriller should be—eerie, original and utterly engrossing!” — Wendy Corsi Staub, New York Times bestselling author
“Beautifully crafted and expertly plotted, Matt Manochio’s The Dark Servant has taken an esoteric fairy tale from before Christ and sets it in the modern world of media-saturated teenagers—creating a clockwork mechanism of terror that blends Freddy Krueger with the Brothers Grimm! Highly recommended!” — Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor
“Matt Manochio is a writer who’ll be thrilling us for many books to come.” — Jim DeFelice, New York Times bestselling co-author of American Sniper
“Matt Manochio has taken a very rare fairytale and turned it into a real page-turner. Matt has constructed a very real and believable force in Krampus and has given it a real journalistic twist, and he has gained a fan in me!” — David L. Golemon, New York Times bestselling author of the Event Group Series
“I scarcely know where to begin. Is this a twisted parental fantasy of reforming recalcitrant children? Is it Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets Nightmare on Elm Street? Is it a complex revision of the Medieval morality play? In The Dark Servant, Matt Manochio has taken the tantalizing roots of Middle Europe’s folklore and crafted a completely genuine modern American horror story. This is a winter’s tale, yes, but it is also a genuinely new one for our modern times. I fell for this story right away. Matt Manochio is a natural born storyteller.” — Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Savage Dead and Dog Days
“Just in time for the season of Good Will Toward Men, Matt Manochio’s debut delivers a fresh dose of Holiday Horror, breathing literary life into an overlooked figure of legend ready to step out of Santa’s shadow. Prepared to be thrilled in a new, old-fashioned way.” — Hank Schwaeble, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Damnable, Diabolical and The Angel of the Abyss
“In The Dark Servant, Manochio spins a riveting tale of a community under siege by a grotesque, chain-clanking monster with cloven-hooves, a dry sense of wit, and a sadistic predilection for torture. As Christmas nears and a snowstorm paralyzes the town, the terrifying Krampus doesn’t just leave switches for the local bullies, bitches, and badasses, he beats the living (editor’s note: rhymes with skit) out of them! Manochio balances a very dark theme with crackling dialogue, fast-paced action, and an engaging, small-town setting.” — Lucy Taylor, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Safety of Unknown Cities
“A fast-paced thrill-ride into an obscure but frightful Christmas legend. Could there be a dark side to Santa? And if so, what would he do to those kids who were naughty? Matt Manochio provides the nail-biting answer with The Dark Servant.” — John Everson, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Violet Eyes
“A high-octane blast of horror. A surefire hit for fans of monsters and gore.” — Mario Acevedo, author of Werewolf Smackdown
“Have yourself a scary, nightmare-y little Christmas with The Dark Servant. Matt Manochio’s holiday horror brings old world charm to rural New Jersey, Krampus-style.” — Jon McGoran, author of Drift
Matt Manochio, Biography
|Matt Manochio is the author of The Dark Servant (Samhain Publishing, November 4, 2014). He is a supporting member of the Horror Writers Association, and he hates writing about himself in the third person but he’ll do it anyway. He spent 12 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter at the Morris County, N.J., Daily Record, and worked for one year as an award-winning page designer at the Anderson, S.C., Independent-Mail. He currently works as a full-time editor and a freelance writer.The highlights of his journalism career involved chronicling AC/DC for USA Today: in 2008, when the band kicked off its Black Ice world tour, and in 2011 when lead singer Brian Johnson swung by New Jersey to promote his autobiography. For you hardcore AC/DC fans, check out the video on my YouTube channel.To get a better idea about my path toward publication, please read my Writer’s Digest guest post: How I Sold My Supernatural Thriller. Matt’s a dedicated fan of bullmastiffs, too. (He currently doesn’t own one because his house is too small. Bullmastiff owners understand this all too well.)
Matt doesn’t have a favorite author, per se, but owns almost every Dave Barry book ever published, and he loves blending humor into his thrillers when warranted. Some of his favorite books include Salem’s Lot, Jurassic Park, The Hobbit, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
When it comes to writing, the only advice he can give is to keep doing it, learn from mistakes, and regardless of the genre, read Chris Roerden’s Don’t Sabotage Your Submission (2008, Bella Rosa Books).
Matt grew up in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and son. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in history/journalism.
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