Please welcome John Mantooth to the blog! His new book, The Year of the Storm, just came out and he was kind enough to answer a few questions!
Your new book, The Year of the Storm, just came out! Will you tell us a bit about it?
I’ve been calling it a southern gothic mystery, but it has elements of horror, fantasy, and literary fiction as well. It’s about memory and loss and making sense of the world. And if that all sounds too deep, I would also add that has ghosts. Sort of.
What inspired you to write The Year of the Storm?
A couple of things. As strange as it may sound, the original idea got lost in the writing of the book as it evolved into something else. Originally I was inspired by an image I had of travelers walking into a gas station asking directions to a place that the attendant couldn’t find on the map. As I began drafting this scene, the gas station attendant began to take over, and when I couldn’t seem to make the idea work, the attendant stayed in my imagination, and he became Water Pike in the story I would eventually write. I was also inspired by a painting one of my great aunts did that ended up at our house when my grandmother died. For some reason, the simple scene in this painting captured my imagination. It was of a little cabin at dusk sitting in what looked like the deep swamp. I’d found my setting.
This is your debut novel, but you’re also the author of a book of short stories, Shoebox Train Wreck, published last year by ChiZine Publications. Will you tell us a little bit about your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I always thought I’d be a writer too, but I almost missed my chance because I was too lazy and immature. Luckily, I had sort of an identity crisis at thirty and realized there was really only one way to make it happen and that was to plant myself in front of the computer until I’d finished something. I also set a goal: publish a novel by the time I was 40. I’m 41, but I’m still counting it as a goal met.
Your short stories are often dark and brutal, but The Year of the Storm, while definitely a scary book in which bad things happen, feels gentler in tone. Which did you enjoy writing more, and why?
I enjoy both. It’s easier for me to write dark stuff. That’s how my imagination works best. The not so dark means I really have to stretch myself, but it may even be more satisfying when I finish because it reaches more readers.
Penguin also recently released an e-novella called Broken Branch. How is that related to The Year of the Storm?
Thanks for asking! Broken Branch has flown under the radar, which is disappointing because I’m quite proud of it. It’s a prequel of sorts to The Year of the Storm. It’s set about 50 years earlier in the same rural Alabama location and tells the story of one of the main character’s grandmother and how she first encountered something referred to in the novel as the “slip.” I’ll say nothing more because, you know… SPOILERS.
Who, or what, are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
As a kid of about 12, I began to read from my father’s bookshelf and discovered Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My tastes have changed over time, but those two authors were huge in making me want to write. Later, I discovered Bradbury and tried very hard to write a short story as good as “All Summer in a Day” (I failed). Currently, I’m a huge fan of Tom Franklin, Holly Goddard Jones, Dan Chaon, and Megan Abbott, just to name a few.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Maybe Salem’s Lot. I was so young when I read it, I’ve forgotten almost all of it, except that it’s the only thing that mattered to me for a few days.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I like to read (didn’t see that one coming did you?). But beyond that, I enjoy hiking with my kids, seeing movies (especially at the theater), playing on my iPad with my son, going on rare but wonderful dates with my wife, and watching basketball on the couch.
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to a struggling writer?
Finish your stories. Don’t be in such a hurry. Don’t quit. Unless you want to quit. Then, by all means, quit now.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the next book. Right now, it’s very dark and is probably more similar to my short stories than The Year of the Storm.
About THE YEAR OF THE STORM:
In this haunting, suspenseful debut novel, John Mantooth takes readers to a town in rural Alabama where secrets are buried deep, reality is relative, and salvation requires a desperate act of faith.
When Danny was fourteen, his mother and sister disappeared during a violent storm. The police were baffled. There were no clues, and most people figured they were dead. Only Danny still holds out hope that they’ll return.
Months later, a disheveled Vietnam vet named Walter Pike shows up at Danny’s front door, claiming to know their whereabouts. The story he tells is so incredible that Danny knows he shouldn’t believe him. Others warn him about Walter Pike’s dark past, his shameful flight from town years ago, and the suspicious timing of his return.
But he’s Danny’s last hope, and Danny needs to believe .