Interviews

Andrew Nance
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Andrew Nance

Andrew Nance is retired from a twenty-five-year career as a morning radio DJ. He uses his storytelling skills to give ghost tours throughout historic St. Augustine, Florida, where he lives. This is his first novel for young adults.

A Conversation with Andrew Nance

1. The structure for Daemon Hall is quite interesting — short stories imbedded within the framework of the larger story. Discuss how you came to this idea and the challenges involved in this approach.

About half of the short stories were written first. I was looking for a unique way to present them, something other than a short story collection. I was talking to my oldest son about it, he was ten at the time, and he’d just received a gift of a Japanese candle holder. It held about twenty small candles. That’s where the inspiration came from. We thought it would be cool to get a group of kids in a creepy house telling stories. They’d have a bunch of candles, and after each story, they’d have to blow out one candle until the last story was told in the dark. After I wrote the first draft of the main story, I looked at each character and wrote the rest of the short stories as if they were something the characters would write. I thought that would be hard: writing through a character, but it actually made it easier. When I finished, I still had a short story collection, though packaged in a unique way, but I felt that something was lacking. It really came together when I decided to approach it as a novel with imbedded stories.

2. This novel is so much more than just another haunted house story. What, do you think, besides its fresh structure, sets it apart?

The story comes at you from so many directions. There is Daemon Hall, the estate, which seems to be an entity in and of itself. There’s the history of the doomed Daemon family and how it plays into what occurs. Aspects of the stories the kids tell factor into what happens to them. Other than a love of writing and a chance to be published, some of the characters have ulterior motives for coming to Daemon Hall. I didn’t want to patronize young adult readers with a horror-lite novel, so I don’t hold any punches. It’s a dark and suspenseful book.

3. Ian Tremblin is anything but a reliable/trustworthy host to the five teens in his care for the night. What was your inspiration for this character and how does he function within the story?

I love the character. To Tremblin, it’s the story that’s most important, any story. He doesn’t really look at it from the perspective of, I’m the adult, I’m in charge. He has great respect for the teens. To him, it’s more like he’s one of six writers who have come together to share stories, it just turns out he’d the oldest and most experienced.

He’s a man who’s totally immersed himself in what he writes. He loves writing and he loves the macabre, and he wants to share it. So he holds this writing contest. He has no idea of what’s in store for them. He thinks he’s helping young authors reach their dreams, and he’s doing it in a fashion that reflects his books. But as the night progresses and things happen, he becomes more unreliable. The teen finalists come to realize that they’ll have to try and save themselves. Then something happens and Tremblin goes from a bumbling author to a malevolent being. Even when it’s impossible to tell where Daemon Hall ends and Ian Tremblin begins, the stories still seem most important to him.

4. In general, what can you tell us about the characters in the book and their specific stories they choose to tell?

Ian Tremblin sets the tone for the night with a new take on the haunted house story. It isn’t until much later in the evening that they realize how accurate that tale is. A couple of the stories express the freedom the young writers are seeking. One wants independence from an overbearing parent, and the other feels tangled up in impending illness. Chelsea, a character I grew incredibly fond of, tells a couple of stories that go straight for the jugular in their intensity. One reflects pain she suffered from a loved one. Kara, the poor thing, does not like anything even bordering on scary, and when she unleashes a frightening tale, it really upsets her that it came from her imagination.

5. How does Coleman Polhemus’ artwork relate to or differ from the images you envisioned in your mind as you were writing this book?

When Christy Ottaviano, my editor, sent me copies of his illustrations, I remember sitting at my kitchen table and laughing like I’d won the lottery or something. I sounded like Renfield in Dracula giggling as he talked about eating nice juicy spiders. I’ve always loved the artwork Ralph Steadman did for Hunter S. Thompson’s books. The illustrations worked so well. I think there’s a similar appropriateness for Coleman illustrating Daemon Hall. It was almost like he plucked the image of the vampire from Invitation straight from my mind. However, his depiction of Chelsea was totally different from what I had in mind. Yet, I could tell by how lovely he made her, that maybe he’d become as fond of her as I had. The book cover rocks. But I think my favorite is his picture of Ian Tremblin with lantern in hand. That one is getting framed and put right above my desk.

6. Were there any surprises for you in terms of plot development as you were writing the book, or did you have it all planned out/outlined in advance?

I’ve tried outlining stories, but it doesn’t work well for me. If I have an idea or inspiration, I’ll jot a note and come back later. If it still seems like a good idea, I’ll develop it and put it in the appropriate spot. There were plenty of surprises for me as I wrote Daemon Hall. The past relationship between Chelsea and Chris came out of nowhere. I didn’t plan on Wade’s compassion in helping Kara with her fear, yet I respect him more for it. I had no idea as to how Daemon Hall would deal with the football star and what happened is so absurd that it became one of my favorite scenes. Oh, and Ian Tremblin’s transition from nice to evil was supposed to be subtle, instead it arrives like a head-on collision.

7. In order to write such compelling suspense, you must have read widely in the genre. Please discuss your writing influences over the years.

I enjoy the masters: Stephen King, Peter Straub (I read Shadowland at least once every couple of years), Clive Barker. I love how Neil Gaiman mixes horror with fantasy. Garth Nix blew me away with Shade’s Children and the Abhorsen Trilogy. The person who really turned me on to suspense was Ray Bradbury. My dad had an Alfred Hitchcock Presents short story collection. When I was in the fourth grade I snuck it out of his bookcase and read a Bradbury story (I later learned it was a chapter from his novel Dandelion Wine that they’d turned into a short story for this collection). It was about a pycho killer in a small Midwestern town. A woman who lives alone goes to the movies one night. On her way home she thinks the killer is following her. The suspense keeps building and building and you’re urging this poor woman to hurry home, and, sigh, she makes it. She locks the door and is safe, or so we think, until she hears someone clear his throat inside her dark house. I still get goose bumps.

8. If you could choose one book that has played an important role in your writing, what would it be?

I’m going back to that book I swiped from my father’s bookshelf and that short story by Ray Bradbury. At the time I had a teacher who loved reading and wanted to instill that love in her students. Everyday at the end of class she’d read from a book that one of the students brought in. Guess what I brought for her to read? The reaction it received is crystal clear in my memory. It was a pretty long story and the bell rang before she was done. No one jumped up at the bell, they all stayed glued to their seats. There were a couple of pages to finish, and instead of insisting the kids hurry, she kept reading. When she read the last sentence, the classroom literally erupted in screams. I remember the teacher raising her eyes from the book to look at me, and her open mouthed expression. I saw what Ray Bradbury could do with words! I knew I wanted to be a writer.

9. This is your first published book. Please discuss your road to publication.

I took the long road rather than the interstate. It’s been six years from starting the book to having it released. I tried finding an agent, but most want only established writers. The few that looked at it seemed shocked, saying, “You can’t market this to kids.” So, I approached the publishers. I had one deal that went to the wayside when the publisher stopped carrying young adult titles.

I’d pretty much written off Henry Holt and Company because I hadn’t heard back from them after many months. One day, however, I got an email from Christy Ottaviano, their executive editor. She said she liked the manuscript and asked if I’d do a rewrite. I couldn’t believe what she wanted me to do: hack seventy-five pages from the manuscript! I figured it would be close to impossible, but at least it would be good experience. After I finished that revision, I saw how much better it was. She read it, liked it, and signed me. At the time another publisher wanted Daemon Hall to lead off their new imprint, but I really wanted to go with Henry Holt. Christy has been incredibly helpful and, even more important, patient with this new author.

10. Talk a little about the editorial process with Daemon Hall. How has the novel changed over the course of revision?

The various working titles will give you an idea of how it morphed. Initially it was called Twelve Candles and Thirteen Stories. Then it became The Thirteenth Story. From there it was The Tenth Story of Daemon Hall, and finally we settled on Daemon Hall. Initially, there were a few more short stories. They were lighter and not as grim. My thought was to start it out kind of fluffy, and then get progressively more sinister with each story. The book still progresses that way, but we’ve eliminated the softer stories. It’s more streamlined, more focused.

11. You have two sons. How, at all, do they influence your work? Did they enjoy reading Daemon Hall?

They’ve not only read Daemon Hall, but took an active part in the creation of the book. My oldest son, Will, helped to develop the main story. Jamie, my youngest, worked on the basic premise of three of the short stories as we waited for his school bus each morning. The Field Trip is one of those, so it’s no surprise that the setting takes place on a school bus.

12. At the end of Daemon Hall, the four remaining teens are about to enter the haunted mansion once again? Is there a sequel in the works? What can you tell us?

I’ll definitely bring back some of the characters. Up until recently I thought that Daemon Hall, the setting, was over and done with, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps Daemon Hall will lure in more victims.