The Providence Rider: The Return of Horror Great Robert McCammon, Interviewed by Chuck Wendig
At the behest of Omnivoracious, rising star Chuck Wendig (Blackbirds) recently interviewed iconic bestselling author Robert McCammon about his new novel. The Providence Rider is the fourth installment in the extraordinary series of historical thrillers featuring Matthew Corbett, professional problem solver. The narrative begins in the winter of 1703, with Matthew still haunted by his lethal encounter with notorious mass murderer Tyranthus Slaughter. When an unexplained series of explosions rocks his Manhattan neighborhood, Matthew finds himself forced to confront a new and unexpected problem. Someone is trying--and trying very hard--to get his attention. That someone is a shadowy figure from out of Matthew's past: the elusive Dr. Fell. There follows a memorable journey during which, Matthew encounters a truly Dickensian assortment of memorable, often grotesque, antagonists.
Chuck Wendig for Amazon.com: Where does Matthew Corbett come from? What inspired you to write him and how is his ongoing tale one that only Robert McCammon could’ve written?
Robert McCammon: Matthew's story began, of course, in Speaks The Nightbird. That was supposed to be a "one-shot" book, not the beginning of a series...but for a long time I'd wanted to do something "different" that I didn't think anyone else was doing. I wanted to move away from horror for a while and see what else I could do, because I'd covered just about all the bases in purely supernatural horror. After I finished Speaks The Nightbird, I thought...well, there could be more to Matthew's story than this. In fact, I could really build a whole world around Matthew...so that's how it became a series.
From the beginning I wanted Matthew to be a "real person," to grow and change throughout the course of the series, and also--very importantly--for people to feel they knew him. And that they wanted to follow his life and adventures and see how he develops. So it's interesting to me now that I do hear from readers who feel they know Matthew and they look forward to his continuing story. There's something appealing about Matthew, I think, because he really does want to "do right." He's learning, and he has a lot to learn, but he wants to be someone's champion. Also, things never go perfectly for him. He messes up sometimes, as he certainly does in The Providence Rider, but I think that helps keep Matthew "real.”
Amazon.com: The Providence Rider gives Matthew--and fans--what they've been looking for: an encounter with the dread "Professor Fell." What's the secret to writing a strong antagonist?
McCammon: I think the antagonist must be as interesting and compelling a character as the hero. Maybe sometimes even more so. In the case of Professor Fell, it was always my intent to introduce the character in as dramatic a way as possible and keep also a shroud of "mystery." I wanted to explain a little about Professor Fell's past through his own voice...knowing that there's much more to his story and that he enjoys his game-playing. So I guess if there's a secret to this, it's in making the antagonist human while keeping him also mysterious and somewhat "unknowable." Professor Fell will grow and change in the story arc just as Matthew will, and they both have a long way to go. I will say that The Providence Rider plants the "seed" of what the entire series is about.
Amazon.com: In terms of writing historical fiction, how much of the story is slave to truth? Or is it vice versa?
McCammon: I try to be as truthful to the era as the story will allow. The story comes first. I'm not going to be outlandish about twisting the facts of history and I do try to be as accurate as possible. I've learned that there's an expert for everything under the sun and if you make an error you will hear about it almost immediately. I'm surely no expert in any one subject, but I have to do my research and know enough about the era to be able to accurately construct a story within its constraints. But...again...the story does come first.
Amazon.com: You used to write predominantly horror and even your non-horror books contain scenes of it (whether it’s falcons going for people’s eyes or the sheer vileness of Lyra Sutch): how do you define horror? Is it even a genre or is it something else entirely?
McCammon: Well, I define horror as the evil that men do to men. I do enjoy stirring the supernatural pot, and I intend to do more of that, but the horror of cruelty and injustice, of brutality and everyday evils however small or large...those are things that I want to write about, and how human beings get to that point of "evil" to inflict such inhumanity upon others. I do enjoy supernatural horror, yes, but that more mundane and quieter evil...the evil of reality...is very chilling and heartbreaking.
Amazon.com: There exists a period in your writing life (pre-Matthew Corbett) in which you stopped publishing work. What was that like? And why did you come back to writing novels?
McCammon: I needed a break, pure and simple, for a lot of reasons. Some I can never reveal, because it involves the names of people I can't speak about. But there was a lot going on, I was under a lot of pressure and the people who were supposed to be in my corner and helping me through some turbulent times were not there. I've told several people my story, and they always say something like, "How could you stand that?" Well...it is what it is. I thought I was done writing, but I did get the chance to return with Speaks The Nightbird and Matthew's ongoing story. Of course...that wasn't supernatural horror, which I was known for, and I was doing something that no one else was doing and had no "model" for success...so it's been a tough road.
Amazon.com: If you had the ability to force your readers--by hypnotism, gunpoint, Martian space ray--to read the works of three other authors, who would you have them read?
McCammon: Okay...Martian space ray out and pointed at readers: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Constant Gardener by John LeCarre and The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith. One more...Napoleon Symphony by Anthony Burgess.
Amazon.com: What’s next for you as a writer and storyteller?
McCammon: I'm doing another Matthew book right now. Then a big science-fiction/horror novel. Then a book of Matthew short stories and novellas. Then...I have a lot of work yet to do. And I'm very, very glad of that.
Amazon.com: Thanks again, Rick!
McCammon: A pleasure to do this, Chuck, and thank you!