Patrick Lacey knows how to tap into the fears, insecurities and deepest wishes we had left behind for any number of reasons in our lives. His recent works have been some of the best horror fiction I have had the pleasure of reading and discussing. Based in Massachusetts, Lacey blends lore and reality on a narrow line that takes characters out of their element and puts them into the darkness of their true selves. This trend of macabre storytelling continues with his latest novel We Came Back.
Surrounding a story of revenge within the perimeters of a small town that has gone through a terrible school tragedy years earlier, we find characters dealing with grief, acceptance, pressures, addiction and more wrapped inside a redefined monster story deep in a haunted house. Never feeling a sense of balance, always ripping the dark secrets out and bringing an honesty within his dialogue, settings and fiends, I grabbed Lacey for a quick chat to discuss his latest book, charity, teenage angst, grief, vampires and more for the Horror News Network.
JK: Where did the initial inspiration for the story surrounding We Came Back come from? What impact and influence does New England play on you as an author and in your stories?
PL: I grew up in a small town by the name of Gloucester, Massachusetts and when I was in eighth grade, there were rumors of a local teenage cult (you guessed it: The Gloucester Vampires). If said rumors were to be believed, these kids were getting up to all sorts of trouble. Things like ritualistic sacrifice and blood orgies. In reality, they were probably just drinking in the woods. But my young if somewhat macabre mind latched onto our resident cult. When the time came to write a coming of age novel, I had the perfect groundwork.
JK: We Came Back is a multi-faceted horror story with a theme of revenge that develops through the reading. Can you talk about that theme and what creative freedom it gives you as well as the perception of revenge in this book?
PL: Bullying and suicide are the catalyst for the supernatural elements. I wanted to play around with that and explore how one moment–one quick, awful event–can have ramifications years down the road. In regards to freedom, it allowed me to blur the lines between good and evil so to speak. Those involved with the bullying incident, even if they were on the sidelines when it happened, were, in a way, still just as guilty as the bullies themselves. Because the incident could’ve been prevented and therein lay the conflict.
JK: The story opens with very little exposition as a young honor student named Vicki Bronson is seduced and abducted transforming and maybe gaining freedom into a goth monster. She is the first of a very high achieving group at Lynnwood that ends up being the leader and liaison for an evil entity at the heart of the story. This group of successful students on the surface have no issues in the public eye but later on we find that their trouble (especially at home) goes deeper than the more transparent and troubled youth. It’s an interesting dynamic in the story and goes against the grain of who can be influenced.
Why go that route with these characters and transform the suppose strongest and high achieving? What does that aspect of goth/vampire culture bring to this story and what inspired the Lynnwood vampires? How powerful of feeling is acceptance and family? In contrast, how much fun was writing characters who rebel?
PL: It was a blast turning these kids into feral/primal monsters. I wanted to tinker with teenage pressures, specifically regarding academics and sports. I had friends just like Vickie, friends whose parents wanted them to excel so badly, it came at the cost of their well-being. I got to thinking: what if all of these kids rebelled at once? And further still: what if they rebelled not by their own volition?
JK: You paint a bleak picture of the Lynnwood high school faculty. They are unmotivated, afflicted by the tragedy, poor role models and at the core human. Again, there is a reality to them and the school system we have in place. Can you talk about this aspect and how much development it took to reach what we read in the book?
PL: I was an education major for a while in college. As in, if I took a handful of classed and did my student teaching right now, I’d be licensed in the state of Massachusetts. Just before I switched majors (straight up English in case you’re wondering), I had to clock a certain amount of observation hours. Long story short: I’d sit in the classroom and observe how the teachers implemented their lesson plans. For whatever reason (or no reason at all), I was placed with the “difficult” students and what I saw wasn’t exactly motivational. The teachers seemed tired. Drained. Downright depressed with the educational system as a whole. I kept that experience tucked away until this novel came around.
JK: Can you talk about the stain that is left on all levels of the school after Melvin Brown’s actions? Was there any particular detail or description that you made sure to be included whether visual or emotional? How many drafts did it take to fully form the old Lynnwood High School building as a character itself?
PL: I knew from the start that I wanted the high school to be a character in and of itself. The moment Melvin commits suicide, the place becomes haunted, hence the “stain” his blood leaves behind, both literal and figurative. I tried to approach it by way of suggestion first. We don’t really know what the inside of the old school (it’s since been condemned and a new school has been erected) looks like. We’re given some local folklore and that’s about it. But as the story progress, we can closer and closer until we’re inside the school. And then, in the third act, we see the school might be more than steel and bricks. It might just be a living, breathing thing itself.
JK: The timeline of this book begins around Labor Day and continues through the character’s senior year with the final chapters take place on Halloween. Why go with this time span for this book? Did adding the element of Halloween enhance the overall story?
PL: I wanted to show a two-month span of time where the proverbial shit hit the fan. It’s not a terribly long period of time but not overnight either. I thought it would be just long enough to show the cult’s effect on the school and the town’s way of life without drawing it out too much. It’s funny, I wanted to have the culmination take place on Halloween and I’ve since done that with another forthcoming novel as well. It is my favorite holiday after all. For obvious reasons.
JK: Each character in We Came Back deals with “loss” and “grief” in their own unique way. Whether these themes stem from being bullied, growing apart, death, growing up or something more, each character deals with it and copes. Is “loss” the largest theme of this book and did you tap into your personal life for inspiration on these relationships and coping?
PL: I would say loss is the main theme but certainly teenage pressures and depression and bullying are there as well. When crafting characters, I usually try to have them facing unique problems but with “We Came Back”, the majority of them are facing grief over the loss of a loved one. This was a challenge but one I was willing to take on. Because it’s not about who they lost but how they deal with it that defines them as characters.
JK: What did the editing process mean to this book? Was this the touchiest stage of the writing process and was it tough to see your story go through that process?
PL: For sure. This was the longest book I’d written. Still is in fact. Twenty thousand word longer than most of my work at that point. I’m also a vigorous editor. I usually go through three or so drafts but this one was closer to six. It can be maddening sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with some dark and heady themes, but I also think it’s worth it in the end.
JK: How important was the cover art to this story?
PL: Very much so. The cover literally incorporates the theme into the title. Like I mentioned earlier, the catalyst for the supernatural elements is a bloody moment in time where all hope, as it would seem, is lost. So, we’ve got the idea of blood being spilled but it’s also more literal because the Vamps have taken to leaving sacrificial surprises on the doors of select citizens. There’s a lot going on in such a small image and I dig it so much.
JK: What makes a great villain? How does your philosophy reflect “We Came Back”?
PL: A good rule of thumb, when approaching villains, is to remember that your average bad guy (or girl) thinks they’re right in being evil. They often think they’re the ones who’ve been wrongfully treated and that their actions (there’s that revenge again) are righting a certain wrong. In many cases, that’s accurate. In this case, we have a victim whose hatred for those that bullied him quite literally lasts beyond the grave.
JK: Where can we pickup We Came Back and where can we find more about it?
PL: You can grab it in eBook and paperback on Amazon at this very moment. I also want to mention that I’m donating all of my royalties for this novel to “The American Cancer Society” in honor of my father, who passed away when I myself was in high school. This is by far my most autobiographical novel and many of the scenes involving Justin are closer to reality than fiction.
Thanks as always for taking the time to interview me, Jay!