In Forry’s They Did Bad Things (Arcade CrimeWise, June.), five former college housemates, linked by involvement in a death, are lured to a remote location, where they are picked off, one by one.
What inspired this novel?
A few ideas that ended up coming together. I was living in London, completing my master’s degree, and I learned that it’s not uncommon for British undergraduate students to find their own housing. They basically end up living with strangers without any oversight. I thought, “What would happen if the wrong combination of people ended up living together?” That idea had been churning in my head for a little while when I went to this absolutely terrible Halloween house party, and I then really wanted to write about a house party gone wrong where the characters make terrible choices and take no responsibility for what happens.
Can you discuss why you let the reader know at the outset that the putative victims are all in some way guilty of whatever happened?
I knew readers were going to suspect that there was something bad in their pasts. I decided it would be easier to just let the reader know that they were all guilty of something right away and build the mystery around another part of the plot. Plus, being a huge fan of horror, I’m always aware of the trope that people never make intelligent choices in a horror movie—they run upstairs when they should go out the door, they stay at the house when they should just leave, etc. I don’t want the story’s conflict to come from my characters making obviously stupid decisions. I want my characters to make what seems like a logical decision in the moment, even if it’s going to backfire on them later. So, by making it clear from the outset that each of the guests was guilty of something, it gave them a logical reason to stay at the house. They knew they had done something wrong years ago, that this something is coming back for them now, and even if they leave, it’s going to follow them. So why not try and face it and settle it out in the middle of nowhere where their secrets might still be kept safe from others?
How has your background in film production shaped your novel-writing?
I would love to say that getting to work on M. Night Shymalan films taught me a lot about suspense and mystery, but to be honest, my main jobs working on The Happening and The Last Airbender were shopping at Whole Foods and making sure extras weren’t taking unauthorized photos. But it did teach me how to see things cinematically and describe them cinematically.