J. Kent Messum’s brand new book, BAIT, is out today, and he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions! Please welcome him to the blog!
You have a background in both music and film, but have you always wanted to be a writer?
I can’t say I always wanted to be a writer, but I certainly always saw myself as a storyteller of some kind. Music and film got me started in that direction, but lyric/music writing and film work always felt incomplete to me. I’m completely in love with being an author. It’s a solo endeavor for the most part. It allows me to have control over the stories I want to tell, and tell them the way I envision them.
Your brand new novel, Bait, is out today! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
Bait is a story I wrote about six strangers who wake up on a deserted island in the Florida Keys with no idea how or why they came to be there. They soon realize their one commonality: heroin addiction. When their withdrawal symptoms kick in, the stranded learn that there is a cache of pure heroin awaiting them on the next island if they want it. Things only get uglier from there.
A shark-infested channel stands in their way and four mysterious men watch from a yacht anchored offshore, waiting for the game to begin, one that pits the addicts against each other as well as nature’s greatest predators.
Inspiration came from books (and subsequent movies) like Jaws and Requiem for a Dream. One question kept nagging me: What kind of terror would a person willingly go through in order to get what they wanted most? I know that when it comes to junkies, there is very little they won’t do in order to score their next hit.
Heroin addiction is explored in Bait, along with other dark themes, but what is something that you find truly terrifying?
Honestly, the things that terrify me all the stem from the idea of losing control. That, and things that go bump in the night.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Much of the deprivation I wrote about was what I experienced up close and personal while observing the behavior of addicts and drug dealers in Toronto. I live right next to one of the worst neighborhoods in the city, an area with more than its fair share of problems. Instead of shying away from the human and societal decay I saw every day, I decided to look more closely and take notes. While I was in the music and film business, I saw people succumb to the darker side of those lifestyles. As for the sharks in the book, I’ve always been incredibly interested in them, every since I was a kid.
Will you tell us a bit about your writing process?
I’m a binge writer. I adhere to no particular schedule. I’m a night owl too, so I often start writing around midnight and go until sunrise. Sometimes green tea or coffee fuels me, sometimes a bottle of scotch, sometimes a sense of fear and desperation. I’m a big believer that when stories are ready to be written they make contact. Once I’ve got the story settled in my head I’ve got to write it down, distill it before it ferments too much and makes me a little head-sick.
What did you enjoy most about writing Bait?
Bait actually started out as a short story a several years ago. It turned out to be too long to be a short, and too short to be a novella. I wasn’t very happy with the way I’d written it, but didn’t know what else to do, so I moved on to other things. Years later my wife suggested that I revisit the story and turn it into a full-length book. Writing Bait as a novel felt like taking care of unfinished business while at the same time doing it justice. That was very satisfying.
What authors or novels have influenced your writing the most?
My go-to guys are Cormac McCarthy and Raymond Carver. I’m a big Chuck Palahniuk fan too. I love his originality and willingness to go where other writers fear to tread. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ was one of the books that really lit the fire under my ass to pursue writing as a career. Todd Klinck’s novel ‘Tacones’ was another I found incredibly inspiring.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
City of Thieves by David Benioff. It’s a damn near perfect novel and a hard look at the best and worst of humanity, often hilarious and harrowing at the same time.
When you’re not working on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
Music is my first love, so I enjoy laying down funk and hiphop grooves on my drumkit whenever possible. I love haunting late-night record stores and searching out little known gems. I can’t say no to a cold beer on a patio. I’m an avid gamer too. Video games are always improving on the storytelling side, and I’m impressed with some of the depth these days.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on my next novel HUSK, which has been commissioned by Penguin UK.
No one is coming to your aid. We have ensured this.
Six strangers wake up on a remote island in the Florida Keys with no memory of their arrival. They soon discover their common bond: all of them are heroin addicts. As the first excruciating pangs of withdrawal make themselves felt, the six notice a yacht anchored across open water. On it lurk four shadowy figures, protected by the hungry sharks that patrol the waves. So begins a dangerous game. The six must undertake the impossible—swim to the next island where a cache of heroin awaits, or die trying. When alliances form, betrayal is inevitable. As the fight to survive intensifies, the stakes reach terrifying heights—and their captors’ motives finally begin to emerge.