July 23rd, 2012

John Little, Fatima Monteiro and I talk SCAVENGER HUNT

John R. Little is not only one of my favorite people, he's also one of my favorite authors. From the time I read his Bram Stoker Award-winning novella Miranda, his work has left me moved, shaken, and thinking about it long after the covers have been closed. His critically acclaimed novel The Memory Tree, his novellas Placeholders, Miranda, The Gray Zone, Dreams in Black and White, and Ursa Major, and his short story collection Little Things often show a preoccupation with time, but more importantly John is interested in richly observed and very human characters, and themes of love and regret.

At first glance, his new novel Scavenger Hunt might seem like a step away from his usual preoccupations - not only is it his first collaborative effort (with Fatima Monteiro), but it's also a thriller about a deadly reality television show - but John's usual attention to pacing and human interactions are still very much on display. Scavenger Hunt is a terrific novel, with enough suspenseful (and gruesome!) deaths to keep horror fans happy, and a page-turning plot that is impossibly compelling.

I thought it would be interesting to hear from John and Fatima about how Scavenger Hunt came about, so here's my interview with them.

John: After The Memory Tree, Miranda, Placeholders, and The Gray Zone, you were kind of known as the horror guy who wrote about time, but your last two long works - Ursa Major and now Scavenger Hunt - seem to have stepped back from temporal displacement into more down-to-earth concerns (a rampaging grizzly and a lethal reality television show, respectively). Are you done with time travel, or just taking a breather?

That’s tough to answer.  Whenever I’m ready to write, I always seem to have one story that grabs me more than any other, and that’s the one I write.  For a while it was all those stories about time, but now it seems other things are holding my attention more.  Who knows what might be there down the road?

John: Prior to Scavenger Hunt, you'd never collaborated before. Can you talk a little about how and why you ended up writing Scavenger Hunt with Fatima?

Working with Fatima was an accidental collaboration.  She was my best friend at the time I wanted to start the book and we talked about the plot a lot.  I knew she was very creative, so I asked her if she’d like to help by creating background sketches for the characters.  I expected to have her write 100-200 words about each character, so I had something to work with.  Instead, she wrote these amazing short stories, one per character, that really showcased their backgrounds (and presents).  She ended up with more than 30,000 words, and I loved it.  They really captured an amazing variety of characters and situations, which in turn changed the whole focus of the novel.  As I worked through the book, I ended up using all of those character studies.  The book ended up being a collaboration, even though that wasn’t originally planned.  Knowing that Fatima did half the work meant she deserved half the credit. 

Fatima: What had you written prior to Scavenger Hunt? And what was it like to collaborate with John Little?

When I was in my teens I’d attempted to write a novel about a girl that was being stalked by a secret admirer. I didn’t get far though, as I lost confidence. I didn’t try again until John asked me to help him with the character sketches for Scavenger Hunt. Having admired him so much over the years, it was a huge honour that he wanted my help. I jumped at the chance! Working with him was amazing. He gave me the confidence to write. At first I didn’t include too much detail, but I soon found I couldn’t help myself. The words just came pouring out, and when John read what I’d wrote, I was pleasantly surprised that he was actually enjoying what I was writing. He gave me the confidence to open up more and really get into these characters’ lives. I’d never written anything before and he was a wonderful teacher.

For both of you: Scavenger Hunt extends the notion of the reality television show to the ultimate extreme - the real possibility of death, and the ratings boost it would bring. Did you intend the book to play as a savage skewering of reality television shows? Are they dangerous to our society as a whole?

Both of us are huge reality TV show fans, so it was a huge kick for us to try to imagine the most extreme example of that type of show.  We wanted something that reality fans would love but that also would appeal to those people who’d never bothered with them.  So, the book wasn’t trying in particular to say that these shows are dangerous, but satirizing them was great fun.

For both: One of the things that made Scavenger Hunt work so well for me was the detailed background given to each character, and how that background determines their fates. How did you two split up the duties in creating the characters and the story?

All the characters were developed in great detail by Fatima.  John wrote the “present day” sections and stitched in Fatima’s work as flashbacks.  We wanted the book to have a structure similar to the television show Lost, and that seems to have worked well for readers.

For both: Scavenger Hunt straddles an interesting line between thriller and horror - even though it's non-supernatural, there was no question in my mind that the intent of many scenes in the book was to horrify. Were you aware of the genre-crossing as you were writing the book?

Absolutely. Although the book is a thriller, we wanted it to appeal to horror fans as well. The initial planning included quite a few gruesome scenes, and some of those were the most fun to write.

Fatima: Did collaborating on Scavenger Hunt and then seeing it released (to glowing reviews) leave you wanting to try writing something on your own?

It’s been amazing seeing the glowing reviews. I’m so happy everyone seems to be enjoying the book! As far as writing something on my own, I’m not sure I’m there yet. I still lack the confidence and experience to try something on my own. Maybe one day. Who knows? But right now I’m quite happy under John’s wing!  I still have so much to learn!

For John: Your first collection, Little Things, was released in 2010 by Bad Moon Books, and I see you now have a second collection, Little By Little, scheduled for a 2013 release. What will we find in the new collection?

Little Things was a collection of my shorter work, about 20 or so short stories.  In contrast, Little By Little will contain longer works, including most of the novellas that I’m best known for.  Some of them will be lesser known works though, published in smaller markets, so hopefully my fans will find some interesting works that may have slipped by earlier.

For both: Would you collaborate with anyone else?


For both: Can we look forward to more from you as a writing team in the future? Can you give us any sneak peeks?

We’re currently about 150 pages into the sequel to Scavenger Hunt.  This will be much longer than the first book, and the collaboration is much more organized this time.  After that, we have two more books planned.  One is a collection of new, linked short stories called The Miracle Man.  The other is another thriller called Soul Mate, about a stage magician who may or may not have murdered his wife on stage when one of his magic acts goes wrong.  After that, who knows?

Thanks to John and Fatima for jabbering with me!

You can order your copy of Scavenger Hunt from http://www.badmoonbooks.com/product.php?productid=3085&cat=0&page=1

For more about John and his works, visit http://www.johnrlittle.com