Young Adult author Daniel Kraus was kind enough to answer a few questions about SCOWLER, his latest release. Daniel “is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and filmmaker. His debut novel, THE MONSTER VARIATIONS, (Random House, 2009), was selected to New York Public Library’s “100 Best Stuff for Teens.” Fangoria called his Bram Stoker-finalist, Odyssey Award-winning second novel, ROTTERS(Random House, 2011), “a new horror classic.” In 2014, TROLLHUNTERS (co-written with Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro) will hit the shelves.
Tell us about SCOWLER and what makes it such a great read?
Well, you’ll have to tell me if it’s a great read. But it’s about a 19-year-old kid named Ry who lives on a farm with his mother and sister. The place has been falling into decay in the decade since Ry’s father was thrown into prison for doing something particularly horrible to Ry’s mother and chasing Ry through the freezing woods for two days. During the chase, Ry hallucinated that the three toys he had with him were friends guiding his way: Mr. Furrington, a teddy bear; Jesus Christ, a plastic Sunday School figure; and Scowler, a twisted little troll.
Now it’s 10 years later, the day of a long-awaited meteor shower, and a lot of old demons are about to return.
You stated that you “write the kind of stuff that would have fired me up as a kid, or would fire me up today as an adult.” What fires you up about SCOWLER?
It goes for broke. I can say that much with confidence. From a young age I had a penchant for stuff had an obsessive edge to it, like the writer or filmmaker or artist was channeling something that I’d never quite understand but nonetheless had to look upon with a little bit of awe. I don’t know if SCOWLER gets there or not, but regardless I think it’s a good goal–to become like a fire that, whether a reader likes it or not, he or she has to admit burns pretty bright.
In SCOWLER, you tackle the issue of physical and emotional abuse and conquering it. Why did you choose for Ry Burke to defend himself with three imaginary childhood protector, and what makes those protectors so powerful?
When you’re a kid, you can’t conceive of standing up to adults in any significant way. But by placing the power in the hands of these protectors, Ry is able to do it. Mr. Furrington sort of represents encouragement, Jesus Christ represents wisdom, and Scowler represents violence–a last resort but, unfortunately for Ry, a necessary one. That doesn’t mean violence isn’t problematic in the book. Good characters do very bad things. But having to struggle with your protagonist, both as a writer and as a reader, can be a exciting thing.
You stated that you’ve always been “thrilled by the spectacularly terrible.” What’s spectacularly terrible about SCOWLER?
There is so much sameness in media that it’s always a bit of thrill to see something push beyond usual limits, and that could be limits of the horrific or comedic or erotic or whatever. It’s one of the things that wakes us up and makes us refocus. There are a few moments in SCOWLER that make me a bit uncomfortable in that way and I don’t often feel that way about my own stuff.
SCOWLER is described as a book that “peers through a dark, warped glass at the remnants of an American dream.” What does this mean in the context of the book, and why did you choose to tackle this theme via a teenage protagonist?
The small farm is one of the iconic visions of the American dream: a family working hard to generate safety and prosperity. But how many of those dreams became nightmares? How many farms failed? How many people went hungry and committed crimes? Or, in the case of SCOWLER, what happens when a man’s drive to succeed lays waste to every other consideration? Ry’s at the age when he needs to forge out on his own but the adult world around him is nothing but spoil — and so there is a dark temptation to behave like his father, because his father, for all of his horrible faults, was nothing if not a success in achieving the American dream.
SCOWLER is a Junior Library Guild selection and is already receiving great reviews, yet you’ve stated that SCOWLER is “the most messed-up thing I’ve ever written and part of me can’t believe that people are actually going to read it.” Explain.
ROTTERS was dark, for sure, but there was an undertone of adventure to that book. SCOWLER is much harsher. It was a difficult thing for me to write. I abandoned the book more than once. It got to the point where it felt like it was a thing I was wrestling with in private, so, yes, it’s a little alarming to see it come out. I suppose it feels kind of personal.
What’s next for Daniel Kraus?
The only thing I can talk about right now is TROLLHUNTERS, a book I’m writing with Guillermo del Toro. He was a fan of ROTTERS and contacted me about doing a book together. It’s almost done. It’s a serious book but it’s lighter than my other stuff, which is just what I needed after SCOWLER. So thanks for being there when I needed you, Guillermo!