Three of Canada’s most talented horror authors visited Maxwell’s Bistro to read excerpts from their novels and later sat down to discuss their writing methods, influences and how the real world can create more terrifying monsters than anything imagined in their books.
The reading, which took place on Feb. 24, was a part of The Dark Side II: Highway of Horror tour. Bringing novelists Andrew Pyper, Nick Cutter and Robert Pobi on the road in a customized bus, the tour was organized by The Chiaroscuro Reading Series, a non-profit that is dedicated to promoting the work of Canadian science fiction and horror authors, with partnership from Simon & Shuster Canada.
While each of the author’s writing styles have a distinct feel and their villains can range from the supernatural to realistic criminals, all three explore the darkest aspects and deepest fears of the human species in their work.
“I could invent a story where the guys mattress is filled with eyelids of small children and it’s terrible but it’s not going to be half as bad as real stuff that has happened,” said Robert Pobi, author of Eye of the Storm and Harvest. “The truth is stranger than fiction.”
Pobi, when asked if he has ever crossed a line or gone too far, said that his work simply cannot compare to the atrocities committed in the Holocaust, by serial killers or by ISIS. Though he wondered whether he was going too far with his writing when he first started he now views it as his job to freak readers out.
“Ed Gein was a serial killer, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was kind of based on him,” said Pobi. “When they arrested Ed Gein he was wearing, under his clothes, a belt made of human nipples and he had a vagina that wasn’t his in his pants.
What the fuck can I do that’s going to top that?”
While Pobi may not be able to top a real world serial killer, he certainly succeeded in creeping out his audience at Maxwell’s by reading an excerpt from Harvest. The novel focuses on a detective that discovers she is pregnant while investigating a child murderer. The detective struggles with the idea of raising a child in a world tormented by the likes of the individual she is hunting down.
“This is a bit of a social experiment for me,” said Pobi, who usually doesn’t read his work publicly. “It’s not necessarily a happy place to go but it’s a necessary component of the stuff that we write.”
The excerpt that Pobi chose to read was from the perspective of the child murderer and members of the audience audibly gasped at certain sentences.
Nick Cutter, a horror persona of literary author Craig Davidson, drew a comparison between the nature of his work and that of his wife, a child services social worker.
“I make up monsters, she comes home and she needs to tell me things that I can’t share here,” said Cutter. “Things that make my toes curl and inform me into a deep vast gulf of cruelty that exists within the human genome.”
According to Cutter, if his wife is able to put these pressures away somewhere, he as a fiction writer should certainly be able to.
“I’m just sort of a boring guy, I don’t have a closet full of body parts,” said Cutter. “I think there’s this sense, from Edgar Allan Poe, to H.P. Lovecraft, to Stephen King, that these people must have something that they need to get out… But I’m just a boring normal dude.”
Both of Cutter’s horror novels, The Troop and The Deep, feature praise from King himself on their front covers. He compared having King compliment his books to Michael Jordan telling a basketball player they have an ok jump shot.
“I grew up reading and loving Stephen King,” said Cutter. “He is, and I’m sure will always be, my hugest idol.”
Cutter read an excerpt from The Deep. The novel, released last month, takes place at a research station in the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the ocean.
Andrew Pyper, the author of six international bestselling novels, read from his latest work The Damned. Released this month, The Damned made it on the Globe and Mail’s bestseller list in its first week.
“The Damned is about fraternal twins, Danny and Ashleigh Orchard,” explained Pyper. “They both die on their sixteenth birthday under mysterious circumstances. Danny returns to life, Ashleigh, his very not nice sister, does not.”
Ashleigh’s spirit haunts Danny well into his adult life and targets his wife and stepson 20 years after her death.
Pyper’s first novel Lost Girls was released in 1999. He says that the only villain he has created that continues to live in his world came from Lost Girls, a creature that would drown unsuspecting swimmers known as the Lady of the Lake.
“There are some moments when I’ll be swimming in a lake and there’s fear,” he said. “I’ll go closer to the shore and I’ll realize ‘I made that up’.”
Throughout the night many members of the audience purchased books and chatted with the authors. Simon & Shuster gave out gift bags and Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company offered free beer samples.
The Chiaroscuro Reading Series holds events in Ottawa quarterly and has branches in Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
The Highway of Horror tour is currently travelling through Ontario and Quebec and will eventually make its way to British Columbia.