Pinnacle

An Apocalyptic Interview with Hunter Shea

Tortures cover

Hunter Shea has had a slow summer. Normally he releases 12 books over a three-month span (or at least it seems that way), but this summer it’s only two: The Dover Demon, through Samhain Horror, and the book we’ll be discussing today, Tortures of the Damned, a novel, released through Pinnacle, about a doomed cluster of reporters forced to cover Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

I’m kidding (sort of).

TOTD ventures into post-apocalyptic thriller land, but I don’t think post-apocalyptic accurately covers things because the book begins pre-apocalyptic in a New York City suburb. Full disclosure: I’m not quite through TOTD, but I’m easily more than 70 percent done, and I’m digging it. Without spoiling anything, TOTD focuses on a loving family (mom, dad, four kids) and their resourceful neighbors hunkering down in a fallout shelter during some sort of chemical/bomb attack on the city/country/world? It’s hard to say at this point. I still don’t know what the hell happened! But when our intrepid heroes emerge from the bunker, they encounter what would be otherwise friendly city creatures—rats, dogs, Italians (I’m kidding! I’m Italian so I can make that joke)—gone berserk! Attacking and biting anything that moves!

What struck me as most scary was the book’s beginning, when New York City falls under attack. Hunter’s a New Yorker, and I’m from neighboring New Jersey, and we both experienced 9/11 somewhat firsthand simply because of our proximity to the attack. Naturally I was drawn to that upon reading TOTD and asked Hunter about how the worst terrorist attack on American soil impacted him and his writing.

Q: Were you in New York City on 9/11/2001? If not, where were you and what’s your most vivid memory of that day?

hunter-shea-photo

Hunter: I was at work in CT when the planes first hit. Once we heard on the radio that other planes were missing and the towers collapsed, I got in my car and sped home like the devil was on my tail. My house has a view of Manhattan, and we watched the smoke billowing with fighter jets screaming overhead. Friends and family all gathered there to watch the aftermath and wonder what was going to happen next. It was scary as hell. One of my best friends was working in the area and we couldn’t locate him. Phone lines were down. We thought this was just the start of the end of everything. And through it all, my kids were only 4 and 2 and we took turns keeping them away from it all so for them, it was just another day. The one good thing to come out of it was my friend checking back in 2 days later. I don’t think we ever breathed a bigger sigh of relief.

Q: How did 9/11 influence you in writing Tortures of the Damned?

Hunter: It taught me that we’re never, ever safe. We live in a very dangerous world. Living so close to a major target has changed my view of everything. I refuse to be lulled into a false coma of numbness, nourished by a steady diet of Kardashians, Donald Trump pretending he can be president and social media. There’s real danger around us all the time. The weapons unleashed in Tortures of the Damned exist. They’re on the black market right now. Any lunatic with enough cash can get their hands on them. A 9/11 event will happen in the U.S. again. Let’s all just hope Tortures of the Damned, as crazy as it sounds, isn’t a glimpse into a crystal ball.

Q: What is it about apocalyptic novels that appeals to both readers and writers? And with so many out there, how do you make them fresh?

Hunter: I think there’s a big obsession with them right now because we’re all uneasy. Despite the news telling us things are better, we’re not stupid. I grew up with air raid tests every month, the tail end of the Cold War all too real. What we see today makes me even more uneasy. Maybe we read and watch these stories to prepare ourselves. How would we react? What would we do? I know there are some folks out there that dig them because they hope it will happen. They picture themselves alpha male/female types that can take on the end of the world and spit in its eye. As a nation, I believe we’re at a glass half full period. You’ll know things are turning around when there’s a resurgence of what they called in the 80s tits and zits movies and stories with brighter endings.

As for making a post apocalypse story fresh, I think if you strip out zombies, you’re already ahead of the curve. You need to add a dose of hyper realism and a dash of the fantastic to grab the reader by the throat and scare the bejeeezus out of them.

Q: Do you have a favorite apocalyptic-themed novel? If so, which one and why?

Hunter: I absolutely love The Stand, especially the extended version. But my favorite is Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. Why? Because McCammon’s work in the 80s and 90s is some of the best horror fiction ever written in any time period. He can take an impossible premise and make it seem real. His writing is that good.

Question from Hunter to me: Now, since you live in Jersey, I have one question for you – is your go-bag stocked and ready and do you know where to hide your head when the shit hits the fan?

Matt: Whoa! What the hell is this?! I wasn’t expecting an inquisition! But to answer your question: I’d be screwed if the shit hit the fan right now. I don’t even have a 12-pack of bottled water in my basement. The closest I’ve come to witnessing first-hand the degeneration of society was the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out power to my house for two weeks. I am ill-prepared. But after reading Hunter’s book, and given our country’s inexplicable apparent willingness to help Iran develop a nuclear bomb, I’ll be going to the grocery store tomorrow, and bottled water will be on the top of my list.

Tortures of the Damned tour logo

Montauk Monster Scribe Hunter Shea’s Take on Horror

Courtesy: the Leviathan known as Amazon (which could also pass for the thing on the book cover).

Hunter Shea’s a busy guy and–from an author’s perspective–is having an awesome summer. Pinnacle released The Montauk Monster (TMM) last month, and earlier this month my publisher, Samhain Horror, released Hell Hole.

Courtesy: Samhain Publishing

I’ve yet to read Hell Hole, a horror Western that’s queued in my Kindle, but have tackled TMM, and this much stands out to me: Hunter must’ve loved the original Jaws.

I couldn’t help but think of the 1975 blockbuster upon reading the first chapter of the book, which involves a man and woman with raging hormones and a desire to act on them on a Long Island beach. Now, I’m not gonna say what happens, but if you saw Jaws, you know two things:

1. The movie opens with a man and a woman frolicking along a Long Island beach, and the woman goes skinny dipping–resulting in the summer not ending well for her.

2. Based on Jaws’ movie poster,  you know what happens to her:

Courtesy: the Internet

Courtesy: the Internet

Now, I’m not spoiling anything when I say that a shark is not responsible for any shenanigans at the start of TMM. But something is. Something indescribable. No, really, Hunter does a great job masking what the hell is running (and swimming) around Montauk causing all sorts of problems. Hunter lives in New York, and you can tell through his writing that he knows and loves the area. He also creates likeable protagonists in Suffolk County Police Officers Gray Dalton and Meredith Hernandez, and animal control officer Anita Banks, who are tasked with trying stop these ravenous monsters (that’s right: monsters–plural), whose origins reside on nearby Plum Island, a mysterious U.S. research base where scientists play god and brew up strange creatures with gruesome faces like this one!

Courtesy: Google search

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

I’m sorry. Did I just get slightly political? Let’s avoid any unpleasantness and move along to a question I asked Hunter–a question I ask of all horror authors: What makes a horror novel? It’s one of those genres that encompasses so many things, making it tough to pin down. Here’s my take. And now, we welcome Hunter Shea!

montauk monster headshot 
OK, Matt has asked me for my definition of horror as a genre, which by no means is the definitive explanation. Perception is unique to the perceiver, so as a species, we can never have full consensus on anything. That’s what makes us so darn interesting (and frustrating).

Look, I’ve been a horror hound since I was a little kid. When bookstores took down the horror section years ago, I nearly wept. How the heck was I supposed to easily find my horror fixes? Do I really have to get on my knees to find John Saul’s books crushed under the weight of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye?

As I’ve gotten older and supposedly wiser, I’ve come to realize that horror shouldn’t be segregated at all. Horror is everywhere. It wears a multitude of disguises. So while the general public will deem anything supernatural, paranormal themes, monsters or crazed killers as horror, it goes much deeper than that.

Horror is about evoking an emotion. Those emotions can be fear, dread, suspense, anticipation, revulsion and on and on. Anything that picks at those scabs, makes us face our worst nightmares or discover new ones has entered into the realm of the horrific.

I was just at an author panel where we had to reveal our favorite horror movie, book and story. For me, the movie choice was easy – Alien. To me, this is the greatest horror and sci-fi movie of all time. Yes it’s set in space, but damn, nothing scared me more than watching Dallas crawl through the ventilation shafts searching for that creature. Talk about dread and fear walking hand in hand.

Someone on the panel brought up a book about war from varying perspectives. Sure, it would never be officially categorized as horror, but the theme and the scenes sure should. Horror can be found everywhere, from the Bible to the most far out fantasy novels and movies. Game of Thrones is bursting with great horror moments, but no one would ever categorize it as such. Zombie armies, The Imp going on a killing spree, the terror of the Red Witch’s hellspawn. You can’t tell me that’s not horror in its most classic form.

You don’t have to turn on the news to know that horror is all around us, waiting for those brave enough to plunge headlong into our most hidden fears. Open the pages of any book and you just may find it, hiding behind a senseless genre classification.###

Thank you, Hunter! Well stated. As for TMM, it’s the ultimate beach read because it never slows, makes you wonder what the hell’s out there stalking Montauk, and people literally get ripped to pieces on the beach! And elsewhere.

The characters in Jaws can be heard screaming, “Stay out of the water!” It doesn’t matter where you’re staying in TMM, because they can, and more often than not, will get you.