Good morning! (Or afternoon, wherever you are, I hope it’s good.) Almost exactly a year ago, I hosted author Clay Gilbert here to talk about his release, Cassie’s Song, a sequel to his novel, Dark Road to Paradise. I enjoyed what he had to say about worldbuilding and drawing on topics of the times to inform one’s fiction, so I invited him to get back in touch when his next release was upcoming. His horror/YA novel, Pearl, is getting set to be released, and so I wanted to ask him about that, and about writing characters who don’t fit the mold of the normal or ordinary.
Q (Infamous Scribbler): Hi! Welcome back to the blog. What have you been up to since Dark Road to Paradise?
A (Clay Gilbert): Work, work and more work. The Dark Moon Press edition of Dark Road came out in 2018, after originally having been published by PDMI Publishing in 2013. Dark Road’s sequel, Cassie’s Song, came out in 2018 as well. In addition to the two vampire books last year, I also published an urban fantasy novel called The Kind: The Golden Road, a fourth book in my Children of Evohe series, Annah and the Arrow, and a sci-fi/romantic comedy called The Conversationalist: Out of the Blue. This year, in February, Dark Moon Press published The Conversationalist: Mission to Mercy Prime. Pearl will be my eleventh published novel.
Q: Your previous book(s) dealt with themes of alienation and being the outsider, and it seems your upcoming work does as well. Can you talk a little more about where that comes from, and how you use it in Pearl?
A: Well, in my own life, it’s a perspective I identify with because I grew up with hydrocephalus, which, among other things, meant that my parents kept me out of gym class in school because they were afraid of me getting my head injured and damaging the shunt that’s implanted there. It also means my head’s bigger than normal, which was more noticeable when I was younger and skinnier, but I do occasionally get stared at and even pointed at. So my characters tend to be outsiders, and even frequently, people with disabilities. Pearl’s ‘disability’ is that she is out of place. She spends the first eight years of her life in a lab where no one ever bothers to answer her questions about why she has silver eyes, pointed teeth, and sharp clawlike fingernails and toenails. No one bothers to tell her where she came from. They probably don’t know the answer, but they don’t even tell her that. They just call her a monster, an it, and a thing, and eventually lock her behind the bars of a cage, until someone puts a stop to that…not saying who or how.
I’ve always loved books and movies about misunderstood monsters—like Frankenstein, King Kong, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And what could be more easily misunderstood than a monster who is also a child; a little girl?
Q: As a writer, what draws you to the horror genre?
A: Well, I believe you should write in the areas you feel drawn to, and I’m a lifelong fan of horror, as well as of sci-fi and fantasy. I think horror provides a safe space to encounter our own fears, particularly our fear of death and our own mortality. I think horror provides a lens through which to look at our own darker impulses. But horror is also, along with science fiction and fantasy, one of the three arms of speculative fiction, and I think speculative fiction is crucially important in allowing us a way to examine and confront things we don’t understand—because let’s face it, fear often comes out of a lack of understanding—and through the confrontation, perhaps some understanding may manifest itself. Horror, like other forms of speculative fiction, can be a means of moving toward greater understanding of ourselves and our world.
Q: Horror and YA seem to be two genres that you don’t see blended together very often. How do the two genres complement each other?
A: I think people are often afraid that horror is too intense for the YA audience, but I don’t believe that at all. I believe children and young adults can handle more than we give them credit for, and I believe childhood/young adulthood is a scary time. In this sense, horror can provide young adults with a way to confront fears in a safe way, and to come to understand things about life that may be unfamiliar and frightening.
Q: Are there any areas where the genres of horror and YA are at odds?
A: In my opinion, not really, for the reasons I went into above. But then I don’t think horror has to be graphic to be intense. There isn’t a lot of gore in Pearl, and there also isn’t any sex or swearing to be found in it. But I do think readers will find it intense, all the same.
Q: What was something you found challenging when writing this book? What helped overcome it?
A: There were two of these, really, and together, they made Pearl the most challenging thing I’ve written. Most of my books are not set in the real world, or in anything like the present day. The first of these challenges was a matter of setting. Pearl takes place in East Tennessee, where I grew up, and while it isn’t exactly set in the literal present, its only about six years in the future. So there were real world factors to pay attention to, and logistics that couldn’t be dismissed because I was still writing within the realm of speculative fiction. The second, and perhaps more important, issue was that Pearl is the first book I’ve written in which the main protagonist is a child. Pearl is ten years old, and I didn’t want to make her wiser than her age, or perfectly behaved, or always fearless—because those are not things kids are. She’s a smart kid—at ten, she reads at a late high-school level, and she has a pretty good grip on common sense. But she is still a kid.
As far as overcoming these challenges—well, determination to push myself to the top of my game as a writer. I like a challenge. And having a good editor helped, too, without question.
Q: Anything to add?
A: Yes. I really do hope people will check this one out. It’s new territory for me, for sure, in some of the ways I discussed above, but also in that it’s not a romance like many of my other novels, including Dark Road to Paradise. There is love in Pearl, but it’s the love of a child for the man she comes to think of as her father, and his love for her—despite her differences from what he is used to thinking of as ‘human’ and ‘normal.’ I think people will enjoy meeting Pearl, and I hope her story brings a smile to their faces, at times, and at others, a chill to their hearts.