INTERVIEW WITH RYAN MCSWAIN, AUTHOR OF MONSTERS ALL THE WAY DOWN
Mr. McSwain’s debut novel was published in September, and is an ambitious step into the horror genre. He shares with us the experience of crafting his story, and some of the secrets on where his ideas are born.
MJT: Ryan, your novel is the kind of story that can cause a person to lose sleep at night, or at the very least, suffer nightmares. But of course, that is the point of reading horror stories. So, how much sleep did you get while writing Monsters All The Way Down, and what was your writing process?
RMCS: Mike, I started Monsters around the time my son was born, so the majority of the book was written and revised in the
middle of the night. After my family went to bed, I would mainline caffeine and work until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. So if it seems at times like this book is the work of a madman—it is. Thankfully, I have an improved arrangement now. I’m a better dad when I’m not burning the candle at both ends.
MJT: This is your first novel, but you’ve also written some short stories. What can you tell us about those?
RMCS: I’m in the Trust Me anthology, which is full of stories about talking dolls that sometimes lie. It was released with Ginger Goat’s Doll roleplaying game. I also used a couple of my stories to learn about the self-publishing process: The Fix-It Man is a scary twist on time travel stories, and The Other Darrin is a paranoid story in the vein of The Twilight Zone. I’ve been busy with novels, but I have more short stories just waiting to be revised. My wife likes the slice-of-life one I did about a barbershop.
MJT: What was the biggest transition for you in moving from short stories to a novel?
RMCS: I know it seems obvious, but size. My early short stories were all written for publications with a 2,000-word limit. Compare that with this novel, which is about 86,000 words. I can crank out the first draft of a short story in a weekend, but the first draft of this thing took me over a year. Something I didn’t expect was the difficulty of maintaining continuity. Keeping everything straight is easy with 10 to 20 pages, but you wouldn’t believe the problems that can sneak into 300+ pages. When I was reviewing my first printed proof, I caught an inconsistency in the weather. And this was after I’d been over the book a hundred times and my editor went through with a fine-toothed comb.
MJT: When did you get the idea that you would write a novel, and what was your inspiration for Monsters All The Way Down?
RMCS: Without spoiling anything, I had the basic idea about 10 years ago. I was compulsively reading Philip K. Dick when I finally put pen to paper, and I intended to write a similar paranoia thriller set in the modern day. The supernatural elements sort of just snuck in. There’s a big list of inspirations in the book’s afterword—everything from comic books to nonsense I wrote in my sleep. A major musical inspiration was The Mountain Goats’ Heretic Pride. That album played non-stop in my office while I typed away.
MJT: Viewed from one perspective, your novel is about a family, a very unique family, but nonetheless, a father with offspring. What was your childhood like, and how has it influenced your writing?
RMCS: I was fortunate to be raised in a stable household. It wasn’t Norman Rockwell, but it was safe and healthy. Much of my writing explores what it would be like to lose that stability, or the possibility that it’s all a false front, hiding something sinister. As for Monsters specifically, I think one of the relationships is heavily influenced by the competition I felt with my younger brother growing up—for instance, we both play the drums, but he plays on such a higher level, it’s crazy. When you’re the big brother that can screw with your head.
MJT: Your bio states that you were a youth pastor at one time. I’d like for you to address for the readers some of the symbolism you’ve dropped into your story. For example, one way of counting gives the Old Man twelve offspring, not counting Brennan. An argument can be made that he doesn’t count. And the names of the offspring have a certain biblical ring.
RMCS: I’ve got to hand it to you, Mike–you’re the first to point out that allusion! I’m surprised it hasn’t offended anyone yet. The idea was to show how the Old Man sees himself, and it was no mistake that I chose the name Thomas for one of the main characters. There’s some other biblical symbolism floating around in there, but that’s probably the most blatant. My background sneaks into my writing, sure, but I’m definitely not writing religious fiction—if I were still a pastor, this book would have gotten me fired!
MJT: What’s next?
RMCS: Monsters is the first book in a loose trilogy that shares themes, settings, and maybe a few characters. The next novel is about comic books, obsession, and the nature of reality. It won’t have as much straight horror as Monsters All the Way Down, but I think it’s an even bigger mind screw. The plan is to launch a Kickstarter for that book in the spring, which will be another new adventure for me.
MJT: For readers who wish to purchase Monsters All The Way Down, where can they find it?
RMCS: The easiest way is through Amazon—they have the softcover and ebook, and it’s available on Kindle Unlimited. Folks can also get a signed copy of the softcover through my website—I have excellent penmanship. And thanks, Mike, this was fun.