Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your alternate history novel, Lake of Darkness! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Scott Kenemore: Lake of Darkness is about a police officer tasked with apprehending a mysterious decapitationist operating in Chicago’s African-American neighborhoods during World War One.
Between 2004 and 2009, I worked in community development on the South Side of Chicago, and for years I’ve wanted to write a novel set in those neighborhoods during the early 20th century. More specifically, I was interested in how law enforcement and crime-solving would function on the South Side during an era when there was not equality within the Chicago Police Department itself. At first glance, the CPD can appear to have been one of the more historically progressive police departments. It’s had African-American officers since right after the Civil War, it was a leader in recruiting “police matrons” – women who were sort of proto-female officers – and historians think Chicago probably recruited the first black female police officer anywhere in the United States in the early 1910s. So, a very progressive history, right? But you scratch that surface, and you see that in the early years, black CPD officers did not even get uniforms. As I put it in the book, it was just sort of: “Here’s a gun and a badge, and keep things quiet in your part of town.” When black officers were killed in the line of duty, they didn’t initially get the kind of pomp-and-circumstance funerals that white officers did. But there were also all these inflection points when things changed within the department—and then black officers did get uniforms, or got to be partnered with cops of other races, or got assigned patrols in white parts of city. So, I was also interested in doing a cosmic horror mystery set during one of these inflection points when times in Chicago were changing.
BD: The novel deftly weaves various genres together, including detective thriller, cosmic horror, and historical fiction. What can you share with us about your creative process in intertwining these genres into your narrative thread, and what have been some of your creative influences?
SK: In terms of process, I don’t think there was any particular innovation on my part; so many excellent novels and stories have already intertwined those elements. A lot of cosmic horror starts out as a mystery or whodunit, but the protagonist quickly discovers that more is at play than he or she had initially believed . . . and those further elements lead them to death or madness.
My creative influences are too numerous to name, but for this novel, I was certainly thinking of the terror and bewilderment I feel when I read writers like H.P. Lovecraft or Robert Aickman, and the American-British writer Charles Palliser has been extremely influential on this book when it comes to historical settings, mysteries, and narrative surprises. I would also be remiss if I failed to mention Timuel Black – who is a historian and not a fiction writer – because his Bridges of Memory books are, collectively, probably the finest historical account of The Great Migration in Chicago. I did a lot of research for Lake of Darkness, but Bridges of Memory influenced me more than anything. (As an aside, Timuel Black had a new book come out last year. . . when he was 100 years old. Talk about #WriterGoals! I’ll be proud if I can keep going for even close to that long.)
BD: Given your previous work in community development on the South Side of Chicago, how do you feel that this experience impacted you as a writer, as well as the stories that you tell?
SK: I moved to Chicago in 2004, the same time I started the job. I’d grown up in Indiana, had gone to college in Ohio, and had most recently been living in Iowa. Lots of people in their 20s make the move to Chicago from those locations, but I think a whole lot of them land in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park or Logan Square and then they never really explore the entire city. They certainly don’t explore south of the Museum of Science and Industry. My job introduced me to compelling parts of the city with rich and complicated histories (often steeped in interesting layers of corruption and vice). I would have missed all of that if I’d just lived along Milwaukee Avenue and commuted back and forth to the Loop.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Lake of Darkness’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
SK: On one level, I hope that readers of Lake of Darkness get the kind of bewildering buzz that I enjoy whenever I read good cosmic horror, but I also hope that they discover something new about Chicago that makes them want to learn more about the city and its neighborhoods. In terms of why I thought it was important to bring the story to life. . . that’s harder to articulate. A lot of creative writing runs on something I have heard academics call “non-propositional knowledge;” you know something is true, but it’s not something that can be easily passed along in sentence form. “The capital of Illinois is Springfield,” is propositional knowledge. Anyone who reads that proposition/sentence now has that knowledge. But when I “know” how to ride a motorcycle or play the violin, I cannot pass along that knowledge in a sentence. Likewise, when I “know” that this character needs to say X or reveal Y at Z juncture in the story, it’s hard to tell you how I know it. There were certainly feelings and inclinations that made me want to write Lake of Darkness, but it’s difficult to lay them out in a coherent way. I saw Joyce Carol Oates give a talk at Kenyon College in the late 1990s, and she spoke about the feeling of being “with story” in the same way someone with a womb can be “with child.” That’s the best articulation I’ve yet heard of how a writer feels when they “know” they need to tell a story.
BD: What makes Skyhorse Publishing/Talos Press the perfect home for Lake of Darkness?
SK: From humble beginnings in 2007, Skyhorse has really emerged as an important champion of 21st century horror. There’s the Talos imprint, and the work they do with Night Shade Books, and other stuff, too. Several solid publishers are doing horror right now—no question about it—but Skyhorse has made its commitment clear, and it’s a very exciting place to be.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
SK: I don’t like to talk too much about works in progress, but I have recently started what I think will be my next novel. It is “space horror” in the vein of Philip K. Dick’s A Maze of Death or films like Event Horizon and Alien.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Lake of Darkness and your other work?
SK: You can check me out at www.scottkenemore.com. Thanks!
Scott Kenemore is the nationally bestselling author of Lake of Darkenss (May 5, 2020; Skyhorse Publishing/Talos Press); The Grand Hotel; Zombie Ohio; Zombie, Illinois and numerous other works of horror, fiction, and satire. He spent his twenties and thirties working in community development on the South Side of Chicago—specifically for nonprofit entities that fought redlining and advocated for fair housing policies in some of the city's most segregated neighborhoods. As he and his colleagues worked with activists, the faith community, and nonprofits to try to roll back some of the damage done by de-facto housing segregation, he began learning how these communities had been shaped by the leaders who had built the city more than a century ago.