Today we’re joined by author Nick Roberts! He is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the Horror Authors Guild so I’m sure you can guess what direction today’s interview will be going. His latest release The Exorcist’s House is coming out from Crystal Lake Publishing on May 6th and you’re going to be thrilled with what Nick has put together.
Q: Nick, thanks for joining me today. Let’s get right to it, what can you tell my readers about ‘The Exorcist’s House’?
A couple of years ago, I was watching a documentary on the famous paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. There was a room in their house where they kept “haunted” items from previous cases. It was even a museum for a while where you could visit the infamous Annabelle doll, among other curiosities. When the show was over, I wondered what the next resident of that house would think if they moved in without knowing its history. What if those artifacts really were cursed?
This was the genesis of The Exorcist’s House. The basic premise is that a husband and wife and their teenage daughter move from Ohio to an old farmhouse in West Virginia. Their plans of renovating and flipping the property are sidelined when they are tormented by a demonic presence in the basement. After researching the history of the house, they discover that the previous owner was an exorcist, and they’ll have to face an ancient evil if they want to survive.
My goal with this book was to create loveable, realistic characters and then send them on a rollercoaster ride into Hell. I wanted the horror to begin on page one and keep that momentum throughout. If it wasn’t scary, entertaining, or moving the story forward, it got cut.
Q: I feel that a LOT of horror fiction has been set in the ’80s over the past decade. What made you decide to go with the ’90s in this tale?
There were two reasons for this time period. First, I was born in ’86, so the early ’90s is that nostalgic sweet spot for me. This was the time I was experiencing horror at an age when I could get truly scared by it. Goosebumps, Are Your Afraid of the Dark?, Tales from the Crypt, Stephen King books, and ’80s/’90s horror movies were formative experiences.
The other reason was that my cousin owned a farm in West Virginia in the ’90s. I visited it often, and the house, the countryside, and the animals all made an impression on me. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to use it as a setting, but I had to wait for the right story.
Plus, it’s convenient to write believable horror in a world with no cell phones.
Q: When starting this story, were you always planning on putting out an occult tale that deals with what appears to be a demonic presence?
There was always going to be a supernatural element in this book. I started with the idea of a family moving into an exorcist’s former home, so I knew whatever that exorcist was fighting would enter the narrative at some point. However, possession and exorcism stories are horror subgenres themselves by now. I didn’t want to rehash the same old tale. If I couldn’t add something fresh, I wasn’t going to pursue it.
What makes Stephen King Stephen King is that he doesn’t just write about a haunted hotel. He has that premise but adds elements like a family recovering from alcoholism and the “shining” ability and blends everything together to make a classic piece of American literature. That’s a high bar to set, but the idea of taking a horror trope and enhancing it with rich layers was the blueprint.
Q: Your last work was ‘Anathema.’ What can you tell us about that release?
Anathema was my first novel. My initial motivation for writing it was to depict a person in recovery from substance use disorder in a way that most stories had not. As a person in recovery myself, I got tired of seeing TV shows or movies about the recovering addict struggling to stay clean every day. In my experience, recovery is the opposite of that. I wanted to illustrate that a person with solid recovery can literally face absolute evil and not relapse back into their addiction. It’s a dark, dark—like Pet Sematary dark—book, but it had to be to truly showcase the importance of hope and faith.
I wrote it over the summer of 2019, and a small press picked it up that November. It was released in February 2020. I had several promotional engagements arranged—release party, speaking engagements, book signings—but COVID had other plans. Everything was canceled. I was limited to online sales and word-of-mouth promotion.
Despite all that, Anathema still received favorable reviews and sold relatively well. During that time, I became an active member of the Horror Writers Association and joined the Horror Authors Guild. I was pleased to find out that Anathema won Debut Novel of the Year at the 2020-2021 Horror Authors Guild Awards.
I have a limited amount of signed first editions for sale on my website, www.nickrobertsauthor.com, and the second edition is currently available on Amazon.
Q: You’ve released quite a few short stories over the years, which is your favorite to date?
This is a tough one because I’ve written in many different genres. The ones that get picked up by the literary magazines aren’t horror, but they still explore darker human themes: addiction, grief, and loss. Out of those, I’d say “The Deal” is my favorite. It was my first published story (The Blue Mountain Review), and it reeks of amateur hour, but it’s deeply personal and brings a smile to my face in the end. The main character is a young man who hires a hitman to kill him if he can’t quit his drug addiction.
The story that disturbs me the most is “Grandma Ruth” and was featured in an anthology called Know Your Enemy by J. Ellington Ashton Press. This one gives even me the willies. It’s not the scariest story I’ve ever written (that would be “Sally Under the Bed”), but it creeps me out on a deeper level. When a young woman receives a call from her cousin saying that their estranged grandmother is on her deathbed, she forces herself to go and say goodbye. On the way to the hospital, she tells her girlfriend about all the childhood horrors she secretly endured at the hands of Grandma Ruth, but she doesn’t know that the worst is yet to come.
Q: Do you have a favorite character from your novels or short stories that you plan on returning to?
Both of my novels, Anathema and The Exorcist’s House, exist in the same world. I don’t plan on revisiting any characters from either story, but I am interested in expanding the mythology of the area.
There is one character in a yet-to-be-published horror/western story called “The Noose” that I could see taking on a few more adventures though.
Q: Now that you have both short and longer stories in print, do you have a preference in length?
I don’t have a preference in length, although I do enjoy the quicker turnaround on cranking out a short story and getting reader feedback. (I suppose I’m still a sucker for instant gratification.) Another perk of writing shorts is that I can work on them on the weekends during the school year. I’m currently an English teacher and a doctoral student with a wife and two kids, so my plate is always full.
A major perk of being a teacher for me is having the summers to devote to my novels. When I start a new novel in the first week of break, I stay on a militant regiment: I wake up, exercise, sit in front of the computer screen by 10 AM, and don’t stop until I reach at least 1,000 words. After three months, I have my first draft.
Q: You’ve lived in were born, raised, and currently live in West Virginia. What aspects of your work are drawn from the area?
From the time I read Ruth Anne Musick’s, The Tell-Tale Lilac Bush, I was fascinated by Appalachian ghost stories. The geographic isolation in certain parts of West Virginia naturally lends itself to a rare breed of spookiness. This state is known for its scenic beauty, but it also has a dark side that hasn’t been properly explored in literature or film. Our current claim to horror fame is redneck hill people in movies like Wrong Turn or other gems from the Hicksploitation genre.
There’s a certain joy I get in setting horrendous events in beautiful places. There’s nothing like describing a pink sky with the sun setting behind rolling hills, or a steep gravel road that zigzags up a forested mountainside, and then following that up with palpable dread and depravity. Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant novel, Blood Meridian, is the gold standard for this approach.
Q: We’ve seen what you write, what genres do you enjoy reading? Who is your go-to author?
I enjoy horror of course. It would be disingenuous to say that anyone but Stephen King is my go-to author: I am a proud Constant Reader. I do love Clive Barker, Paul Tremblay, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen Graham Jones as well.
Stepping out of the horror arena, I would have to say that Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, and Cormac McCarthy are all at the top of the list. I am also quite fond of true crime stories as long as they are tastefully done and non-exploitative. I recently read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, and it’s now one of my all-time favorites.
Q: When not reading or writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love spending time with my wife and kids, weightlifting, playing video games, helping people with substance use disorder find recovery, and planting myself on the couch for quality movies and TV. On a perfect day, you’ll find me on the back porch with my MacBook and a Cuban cigar, typing away while puffing on an aged Cohiba.
Q: Thanks again, do you have any teases of what you’re working on next that you could hint at?
I am presently working on the final chapter of my doctoral dissertation which is researching how possible stigma associated with substance use disorder could affect the employment process for teacher-applicants in recovery.
There are two short stories kicking around in my head right now. One involves a romantic getaway to a luxurious cabin going horribly wrong, and all I can say about the other one is that we shouldn’t take gravity as we understand it for granted.
Q: Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
If you have read to this point, all I want to do is express my gratitude. Thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit about a new author. I am blessed to have a passion and a sense of purpose that is creative writing. The fact that anyone chooses to come along the journey with me is humbling and brings me great joy. Keep me on your radar. The best is yet to come.