With Abraham Road, Kristopher Kelly set out to write a fast-paced, family-centered monster story and showcase the part of Maine he knew from growing up in off-central Penobscot County. The Maine he knows is not the same as the coastal version he sees in a lot of other stories (when you go East of his hometown, you don’t hit the ocean, you hit Canada). Kelly wanted to try and describe a bit more of the Maine readers might not know so well.
Also, with the emergence of e-readers and the growing prominence of the short novel, a format he’s loved since he read Stephen King’s Different Seasons in junior high school, he wanted to write a story that might have been told in as a longer full-length novel but did so in about a third of the time. Kelly imagined a story told in eight 3,000-word chapters, each chapter focusing on three choices. The result isn’t quite metronomic, but it’s close.
Finally, Kelly wanted to create a new monster mythology, rather than recycle an old one. There’s something fun about not knowing all the rules of a creature before a story begins, and he wanted to create something new he could plant a few surprises within.
Kristopher Kelly grew up in Lincoln, Maine, a small mill town forty miles north of Bangor. His writing has appeared in The Harvard Advocate and appeared on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He currently lives in New York City, where he works as a librarian. He’s the author of the short story collections, I Held My Breath as Long as I Could and 3×6, as well as a novella, Abraham Road. He’s currently at work on two novels: Ed at Eleven, a dark romance, and Daukherville, an epic ghost story.
HN: You describe Abraham Road as what would happen if H. P. Lovecraft rewrote Of Mice and Men. Could you explain this for us?
KK: I’ve always loved the brevity and power of Steinbeck’s book. When I started thinking about writing a really short novel, Of Mice and Men immediately came to mind as an example of a story with an emotional punch far beyond what its total word count might suggest. But I’m also a huge monster fan who admires the work of H. P. Lovecraft, so I thought, “What if Lenny and George were young brothers in H. P. Lovecraft’s New England? And what if one of them turned out to be incredibly dangerous?” Granted, the prose didn’t end up all that Lovecraftian, and the story itself is pretty over-the-top. I tried to keep the monsters somewhat unseen. I don’t think I ever entirely describe what they really look like. While I certainly know where they come from and what they are, I only tried to allow myself the exposition the story warranted.
HN: What would draw a horror fan to Abraham Road?
KK: I set out to write a story that didn’t burden the reader with things he or she wouldn’t care to read about (I’ve been thinking a lot about what, in a story, is like the marshmallows in a bowl of Lucky Charms and what is like the annoying pieces of bran, because I want to write stories that are all marshmallows). It’s pretty lean and mean. Horror fans I think will appreciate the pace of the story, as well as the sheer diabolical nature of some of the things that happen. I’d also wager that horror fans will enjoy this story a whole lot more than non-horror fans will. I didn’t start writing until I had the ending worked out. I wanted a big payoff at the end. This is a new monster with an entirely new mythology; hopefully there are a few surprises.
HN: Abraham Road is your second book, isn’t it? Could you tell us about I Held My Breath As Long as I Could?
KK: Yes, I Held My Breath as Long as I Could – my collection of short stories. Some of them are even good! I was aiming for the collection to feel like the lovechild of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Other Stories – combining both genre and non-genre stories, as well as a mix of lengths. I still love those other collections a lot more than mine, but it’s nice to have goals. And I still love “Rex” and “Doggie-Style.” Maybe too much.
HN: What do you like the most about writing horror? What do you like the least?
KK: When it comes to horror, I guess a lot of people wonder, “Why would you write that?” or “Why would you read that?” I wonder more: “Why wouldn’t you?” I simply can’t imagine a genre that’s more fun to write or read. Absolutely anything goes! It’s a giant playground. Everything is at stake. Quiet, operatic – this genre goes to eleven! The only thing I don’t like about horror is the limited definition it gets thanks to the prevalence of slasher/zombie/vampire films – not to mention anyone who says, “I don’t like horror.” Yes, you do. Everyone does. No story is complete without an element of horror. I mean, try to pin Stephen King to a genre. Go ahead. Since the day he was threatened with a label, that man has done a lot to quietly undermine it.
HN: Tell us about Daukherville, the ghost story you’re working on.
KK: Daukherville is my albatross. It is my Moby-Dick. It might well destroy me. It’s my love letter to Maine and to the town in which I grew up, and it’s also my tribute to teenagers as well as anyone afraid of dying – a ghost story that thinks a lot about actions and consequences, written over the canvas of decades upon decades. I have maps. I have timelines. I have notes and drafts and ideas. It’s big, and I might never get it right. I’ve been writing it since 1995. I’m hoping to find a final draft in there before it gets old enough to drink. But I might just drink and get old.
HN: From a librarian’s perspective, how’s the horror genre looking? Healthy? Ill?
KK: I loved that the HWA showed up to ALA this year. I couldn’t have been prouder. I went to visit the New York Public Library’s book-sorting machine, saw Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (which I not only consider a horror novel but also consider one of the best novels ever written) pass by, and thought: “There is hope for all of us.”
HN: Anything you’d like to add?
KK: Thanks for listening. Thanks for reading. Dream dangerous dreams.