Editor’s note: Hellnotes reviewer Ray Palen recently reviewed Jeremy Bates’ chilling novel The Sleep Experiment. Now, as an added bonus, Ray and Jeremy had a Q&A session to dig deeper into the book and Jeremy’s creative process.
RP: THE SLEEP EXPERIMENT is the second book in your World’s Scariest Legends series. How do you go about researching and selecting titles for this eerie series?
JB: Selecting the ideas for the books in this series is as straightforward as spending a few days searching the internet for a legend that resonates with me. However, this doesn’t mean writing the story is a breeze. Usually the legend is only a few paragraphs long, and I have to turn that into a full-length novel. So while getting the idea is relatively simple, writing and filling out the story is something else entirely.
RP: A Russian legend was the impetus for this novel. Why did you choose to do a fictionalized retelling set in the present, as opposed to a straight-up novelization of the original events?
JB: Good question! I considered doing a novelization of the original events, but I ended up deciding that having it set in the present, and in sunny California of all places, would bring a refreshing twist to the tale. Also, a recent book I wrote, Mountain of the Dead, had a good chunk set in 1950s Russia—so it was also a bit of been-there done-that, steering me away from delving into Russia again.
RP: Is there any significance to the fact that there were allegedly four test subjects in the Russian experiment, yet just two in your novelization?
JB: No, none at all. I just thought four would be two too many. Given there are three experiment supervisors, two subjects would make a cast of five—and that was plenty enough for a relatively short novel.
RP: Dr. Roy Wallis would seemingly stop at nothing to see his experiment through to the end. Is this a statement on his dogged determinationm or a depiction of obsession-fueled madness?
JB: He is definitely determined, and a bit mad. But I’d probably say his fatal flaw is his overriding ambition. In my mind, that’s what drove him to do everything he did (and perhaps made him mad in the process).
RP: The World’s Scariest Legends series follows your World’s Scariest Places one. How did you first come about your obvious love of horror, and what started you off in deciding to share these tales of evil on earth?
JB: Although the first books I read compulsively were sci-fi, I quickly got into Stephen King and Dean Koontz when I was an early teenager (my mom had a lot of Koontz books lying around). These scary/supernatural stories stories simply resonated with me more than cop/detective stuff (the other novels my mom had lying around). There’s something fantastical to horror that just opens up the imagination. Now, I should point out that the first two books I wrote were thrillers (White Lies and The Taste of Fear), but that was mostly because thrillers were what agents and publishers were looking for at the time. Horror was always the black sheep. But when I decided to self-publish Suicide Forest (my third book), I finally had the freedom to write what I wanted to write about. I haven’t looked back in that sense.
RP: In your opinion, why do you think prevention of sleep would cause the type of madness this story depicts?
JB: I don’t think I can really go into that much without giving away the plot 🙂
RP: Was there any special significance in both of the sleep experiment test subjects being Australian?
JB: No! I just needed two young people who would be hard up for cash. I thought of backpackers. And because I now live in Australia, I thought—why not a couple of Aussies!
RP: Based on all of your research, is it people, places, or events that are evil? Or some combination of the three?
JB: A theme in most of my writing is that it’s people who are evil—people are the worst kinds of monsters. I haven’t yet written a story with a haunted house or something along those lines where the place itself is evil. All the locations in the World’s Scariest Places series are scary, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend visiting them on a romantic getaway—but it’s the people in my stories, not the actual locations, that cause the true horror.
RP: Who are your favorite horror novelists, and how have they influenced your writing?
JB: Stephen King, Dean Koontz (his earlier stuff), Terry Brooks, Richard Laymon. Bentley Little. These are the authors that immediately spring to mind, and whose stories have all stuck in my mind. There are many others, for sure, but these guys were my main influence growing up.
RP: Can you give us a glimpse into what’s next for you with this series and beyond?
JB: I just finished the next book in the World’s Scariest Legends series. It’s called The Man from Taured—based off of another real legend. It’s about a man who shows up in Tokyo International Airport—and is told his passport is from a country that doesn’t exist. I had a lot of fun writing this one, and based on early reaction from beta readers, I think it might be the best in the series (though it is actually has the least amount of horror in it). It will be out February 11. For the next book, I’m going to return to the World’s Scariest Places series—I’ll keep you posted on that!