The following is an interview with Curtis Lawson regarding the release of his horror novel, Black Heart Boys’ Choir. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Lawson about the inspiration behind his latest novel, his creative process in bringing the story to life, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your horror novel, Black Heart Boys’ Choir! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Curtis Lawson: Black Heart Boys’ Choir is about Lucien Beaumont, a teenage misfit and musical prodigy who is haunted by the tragedy of his father’s suicide. When he discovers an unfinished song composed by his dead father – a song that holds terrible power – Lucien becomes obsessed. As he chases after the secret nature of his father’s music, the line between gruesome fantasy and real-life violence begins to blur.
To complete his father’s work, Lucien believes that he and his group of outcast friends must appease a demonic force trapped within the music with increasingly sadistic offerings. As things spiral out of control, Lucien finds that the cost of his art will be the lives of everyone around him, and perhaps his very soul.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in bringing this story to life, and who (or what) were some of your creative influences?
CL: This story took a long time brew in my mind before I set to work writing, and I took a lot of notes as I considered the themes I wanted to touch upon, the methods of storytelling I wanted to employ, and the tone I wanted to set. It required more preparation than much of my previous work.
The book is very autobiographical (albeit wildly exaggerated), and I drew a lot of the emotional energy from my own troubled teenage years and my experiences in the early US black metal scene. I was an intensely angry, willfully arrogant, and resentful young man, and I had to get back into that headspace, to some extent, to write Boys’ Choir. It wasn’t a pleasant experience delving back into so many of my own issues—stuff I thought I had put to bed. As I got further and further into the book, I realized that I had never fully worked through those issues—I’d only kind of buried them. Writing this novel helped me get past some of my residual anger and resentment by facing those emotions head-on.
It also had the unintended consequence of reminding me about certain wonderful aspects of my younger self that I had lost sight of as I grew up. Writing this novel helped me recapture a measure of youthful magic and shrug off some of the dust that had settled over me with the onset of middle age.
As for influences, I would cite American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club, and The Music of Erich Zann as the major ones for this piece. I knew going into it that I wanted the story to be told in first person, by an unreliable and irredeemable narrator. I got really nerdy with it and picked apart the above-mentioned stories, examining what worked about their protagonists, how they dealt with the unreliable aspects of the narrative, and how the characters and conflicts expressed the themes of each work.
A Clock Work Orange, in particular, influenced my decision to give the characters a rebellious, anachronistic kind of classical music sub-culture. Burgess created his iconic slang in that book in lieu of using the slang of the day so his book wouldn’t feel dated in twenty years. He also made Alex a huge Beethoven fan instead of burdening the character with whatever music was hot at the moment. Those decisions paid off. A Clockwork Orange is a timeless work as a result. I wanted to try and give Boys’ Choir that same feeling of timelessness by not tying the characters to a sub-culture that will be forgotten or seem overly tacky in a decade or two.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
CL: First and foremost, I hope they are entertained. That’s the main thing. Second to that, I hope it makes them think. I dislike clumsy, politically motivated fiction that tries to tell the reader what to think, but I adore fiction that raises questions which the reader must answer for themselves. With Black Heart Boys’ Choir, I chose to examine school shootings, mass violence, and teenage disenfranchisement in as apolitical a way as I could manage.
There are already a lot of voices arguing about gun control and various legislation in regards to mass violence. I’m happy to leave that to folks who are more suited for that kind of discussion. What I wanted to do was explore the social and psychological factors that drive young men to do these horrible things and hopefully get people thinking and talking about that aspect of the crisis. I firmly believe that these terrible acts will never stop until we try and find the root of the problem rather than addressing the symptom.
I hope that readers can find something thought-provoking in most of the stories I write if that’s what they are looking for. If they just need an escape, then I hope my writing can provide that as well.
BD: As a member of the Horror Writers Association, what draws you – as a creator – to the horror genre for both the long-form and sequential art mediums?
CL: Horror has been special to me going as far back as I can remember. I’ve just had a natural inclination toward it. As a kid, I wore out VHS tapes of Christine and all the Nightmare on Elm Street films. Every weekend, I’d be at the video store begging my parents to let me get some new B-Movie that I was nearly a decade too young to be watching.
When I seriously got into comics, then later when I started reading novels and short stories for fun, that love of horror followed me into those mediums. I would scour longboxes at comic shops for anything I could find—Tomb of Dracula, Deadworld, EC ripoffs. I was even crazy about the horror-adjacent stuff like Ghost Rider and all the Midnight Sons books in the ’90s.
That same thing that drew me to horror fiction also made me interested in dark music. As a teenager, I listened to a lot of death and black metal, as well as horror punk and any sort of minor-key classical music I could find.
When I started creating my own art, I just naturally gravitated toward horror and dark fiction. I don’t think I gave it much thought. I had surrounded myself with horror my whole childhood, so that was just the language that I spoke.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books or even into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
CL: Black Heart Boys’ Choir is very much self-contained. It’s a tragedy, in the classical sense, and there really isn’t anywhere else to go in regards to character or story.
As for expanding into other forms of media, I’m always open to adapting my work for other mediums or allowing others to do so. I worked mainly in comics for a long time before I began writing prose, so if the opportunity to do a graphic novel adaptation presented itself that could be cool.
Film, of course, would be incredible. I think it is a dream of most authors to see their work re-imagined for the screen.
I’ve even daydreamed about it in terms of a stage production. I have zero experience in that realm, but I have some cool thoughts on how certain aspects of the story could work visually, though I think it would be a challenge to stage the first and last scenes of the book.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CL: The big project I’m working on right now is a collection of loosely connected stories taking place over the course of a single Devil’s Night in Detroit. For those who are unfamiliar, Devil’s Night refers to the evening of October 30th in Detroit. It’s not really a big thing anymore, but back in the ’80s people would go wild and set hundreds of fires across the city.
Joe Morey at Weird House Press approached me about the idea of putting together a collection of Halloween stories and that discussion evolved into this Devil’s Night concept. Joe is a great editor and a veteran of the literary horror world, so it is an honor to work with him on this project and get his insight. It’s an incredibly valuable experience.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Black Heart Boys’ Choir?
CL: I would say just check it out on Amazon or Goodreads. There are some reviews up on both sites, so folks can get a good sense of what people liked about it and if it might be for them. The paperback, Kindle, and audiobook edition are all available on Amazon as well, so that makes it easy.
They can also swing over to curtismlawson.com if they want to learn more about me or my other books.