The following is an interview with C.J. Weiss regarding the upcoming release of the horror novel, Secrets Gnaw at the Flesh. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Weiss about the creative process of bringing the story and characters to life, how the story may connect with and impact readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Secrets Gnaw at the Flesh! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the story’s premise?
C.J. Weiss: Thank you! Secrets Gnaw at the Flesh merges haunted house horror with dark family drama, topped with a layer of worldbuilding. After proposing to his girlfriend, the protagonist (Garrett) enters a world where supernatural forces are real, and the family of his girlfriend (Marie) are foremost experts in the field. Every several years, the grounds of her family’s estate—located in the fictional town of Ajaccio, Louisiana—open to the world of the dead, what they call a Breach. The only things keeping the ghosts from escaping into the world at large are the beating hearts of Marie’s family. This puts the living and the dead in direct contention with one another.
On a personal level, Garrett must also bind himself to that house and lifestyle if he wants to marry Marie. Despite the family’s expertise, signs soon point to a historically malevolent haunting. Worse still, secrets start spilling out about the family, threatening to tear them apart when they need each other the most.
BD: This story weaves together haunted house horror with dark family drama. What can you tell us about your creative process in bringing these elements together while crafting your narrative?
CJW: A big inspiration for the novel was the TV adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, which similarly blends family drama with living in a haunted house. I took it a step further and centered the story around Marie’s multigenerational family, who are experts in the field: the Renaults. This focus cascaded into a slew of decisions that shaped the story and world.
As an example of the Renaults’ precautions, let’s take something as mundane as books. Hardbound covers can make nasty supernatural projectiles. In the family’s library, books are locked behind plexiglass doors. They’ve studied the supernatural for decades, to the point where they’ve categorized ghosts into six distinct types by how their haunts manifest. All of this knowledge and preparation play key roles in swaying Garrett toward what is clearly a dangerous lifestyle.
Of course, Garrett and the Renaults won’t be safe. Good horror doesn’t work that way. Since most of the cast are veterans who have survived numerous haunts, I had to dial up the antagonists. This comes in multiple forms I won’t spoil, but one of those learned early on is a species of humanoids called the mekari. They’re the Yin to humanity’s Yang: a darker side that trends toward evil, self-serving ends. They live on another plane of existence but can pass into our world, alongside the dead, during a Breach.
Given that the Renaults are supernatural experts, they’re accustomed to mekari, too. That’s where the family drama comes in. The Renaults rely on each other to perform certain roles, like a well-oiled machine. Uncovered secrets may turn some of them against each other, to which the ghosts and mekari will happily take advantage.
Hopefully, that helps explain a bit of my creative process. I think of a unique situation (like a family of experts living in a haunted house, rather than hapless guests) and balance out the sides to ratchet up the tension to a level that horror fans expect.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Garrett and Marie’s story may connect with and impact readers?
CJW: Oh, that’s fun. I have two answers here. The first is the surface level. Garrett has to make a difficult decision in whether or not to actually marry Marie. He loves her and trusts her like no one he’s ever met. But is it worth binding himself to a haunted house for months at a time? That’s a legitimate deal breaker for most people. The ensuing series of events allowed me to explore the value of trust in a relationship and how far it can be bent before breaking.
Trust goes both ways, though. Marie, too, must decide whether Garrett is someone her family can rely on. Given that a Breach risks death for every family member, who she chooses to marry directly impacts the safety of a family she holds dear.
Secondly, there’s an inclusionary component, highlighting the importance of people working together no matter their backgrounds. The protagonist is of half-German, half-Chinese descent, and is a little apprehensive about potentially living in a small town in Louisiana.
Those concerns are acknowledged in several ways Garrett doesn’t expect from the Renaults and is then refocused on the real enemy that endangers the house’s inhabitants.
BD: Do you have any plans to expand this story into subsequent novels or other entertainment mediums (if given the opportunity)?
CJW: I do! In fact, it’s already part of a larger story. My first novel, A Broken Clock Never Boils, takes place in the same universe, with a different set of characters. These two novels, plus two upcoming ones, will comprise the Virulent Nightmare Origins series. All of them are written in a way that they can be read in any order or fully standalone. Those who read all four though may see pieces of a bigger picture forming in the (distant) background. After this initial quartet wraps up, I’ll explore what happens next in a follow-up series, something closer to a traditional trilogy.
I’ve always felt horror was so focused on typical horror emotions—fear, dread, anxiety—that the genre rarely left room to invest the reader in the world. That’s not to say horror shouldn’t focus on these emotions—they’re core to the genre. But I think there’s a lot to be said for a pervasive, unsettling world. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a great example of this. The “monster” is front and center from the start, and a lot of effort goes into setting up a believable, lived-in world. The door is open for more stories like these, and I want to explore that world with more depth than a single book allows. Secrets Gnaw at the Flesh steps through that door with a world partially explored by its existing characters, while leaving room for many more questions. Hopefully, this leads to readers feeling as invested in the world as I am.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CJW: I’m finishing up a standalone sci-fi novel that tackles the relationship between AI and human art. After that, it’s straight into writing book three of the Virulent Nightmare Origins series. That one will blend horror with a supernatural detective mystery. Every novel in the series comes with a different subgenre to keep the stories fresh, and a detective mystery is always fun to write.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Secrets Gnaw at the Flesh and your other work?
Finally, anyone who wants to pick up Secrets Gnaw at the Flesh can pre-order now or buy it on October 23. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Smashwords, and IndieBound as an ebook or paperback.