Courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
THE SHADOWKILLER takes place in Washington state, where you grew up and where Bigfoot stories thrive. How important is setting for you? Tell us about the influence of these stories on you and that area of the country.
I loved growing up in Oregon and Washington. It's overcast all the time and rains too much but they're both incredibly beautiful places. My family spent a lot of time hiking into alpine lakes in the nearby Cascades and running up and down the sand dunes on the coast. On the way home, I remember looking out the window as the car sped through those dark, mysterious forests and wondering what might be out there. And around Eugene in the early 60s, there was no shortage of stories of strange things that people saw in those woods to fuel my imagination. My dad also told wonderful, vivid tales on those trips back home, mixing in history and mythology to add an edge of reality and magic to those seemingly endless stretches of trees and mountains. I guess The Shadowkiller was really born during those weekend outings many years ago. I wanted to work Seattle into the story because I lived there off and on for nearly twenty years and I know it well. The story's setting, the town of Snohomish, is a beautiful, peaceful little town where my sister and her family live. Snohomish County sits astride both civilization and the wilds and seemed like a great stage for this story.
Where does the title THE SHADOWKILLER come from?
This book has had three titles during its creation and development. The first two, while I thought were good, ultimately weren't ominous enough to properly represent my antagonist. I also wanted Ben to bring up the name at some point in the book. Ben, being a Tsnungwe Indian, calls all Bigfoot by their Tsnungwe name, Oh-Mah, but that didn't really convey this particular Bigfoot's frightening nature. I knew the name had to be special for Ben and he would speak it with great respect, even reverence. That name came one evening after my wife, Stephanie, and I attended a natural child birth class. Supposedly we were listening to the lecture on vitamins, but instead, we were both quietly brainstorming. On the way home we threw about a hundred titles at each other but rejected them all. Five minutes after we got home, it hit me. I finally had what I thought evoked an image of menace and power and sized up my bad boy perfectly. I quickly checked Amazon and was happy to see no one had used it as a book title. I went into Steph, framed the name with my hands and said, "The Shadowkiller." She smiled and nodded. "That's it."
You have been a writer for a long time, having authored screenplays and co-authored three biographies, but this is your first novel. How has your previous writing experiences affected your fiction writing?
Prior to jumping into non-fiction about seventeen years ago, everything I wrote was fiction. But even true stories about real people require reconstructing dialogue and circumstances. Another thing about true stories—regardless of how mind boggling they are they may require quite a bit of planning as to how they will unfold. No matter what the genre, a beginning, middle, and an end need to work together and satisfy. Now, I'm not remotely saying that any of this approaches James Frey's breathtaking levels of invention, but everyone who reads non-fiction should understand that unless you're simply printing a transcript, not everything is exactly as it really happened. It can't be. What I'm trying to say is that there is a certain acceptable level of fiction in non-fiction. The beauty of writing fiction versus non-fiction, is that you never have to clear tone, dialogue, or story points with a co-author.
How did this book come to be? What was the inspiration for the story? What made you decide on the plot for THE SHADOWKILLER?
I've been drawn to the possibility that Bigfoot exists since I was about five. Since then I've wanted someone to take Bigfoot seriously and either write a book or film it the way I've always seen it. Bigfoot seems to be shy, maybe even timid at times, but that wasn't the story I wanted to tell. I've always been fascinated with the biggest, fastest, strongest and I figured Bigfoot is so imposing...what if he got mad? No one had ever really satisfied that craving in me, at least not in a serious, high quality tale. There's plenty of exploitive Bigfoot material available but none of it lived up to my expectations. I just finished reading Frank Peretti's Monster and I really like what he did with his Sasquatches. My direction was very different. With this novel I set out to make Bigfoot as good an adversary as I thought he could be. I gave him a personality and made the reader privy to his thoughts. Of course he's fearsome and extraordinarily powerful, but he's also very cunning and absolutely driven. Truth be told, I think the scariest creature in the woods is human, but for this book, at least, I wanted to imagine something else. I also wanted the reader in on everything while I left the characters in the dark to find their way as events unfolded. My inspiration for the overall concept was true animal-versus-human stories like Jaws, based on accounts of the Jersey shark attacks of 1916, and The Ghost and the Darkness, from the true story of the two man-eating lions in the Tsavo region of Kenya in 1898 that killed 139 people. And yet while my story is fiction, it could be true. Here's a giant primate, filled with rage against humans, and on a killing binge that fulfills several of his primal needs. I wanted the structure to allow only a short time period from beginning to end (5 weeks) because such mayhem would eventually bring out enormous law enforcement, perhaps even military, assets, taking the solution out of the hands of my ordinary heroes. I wanted these three men, with their varying flaws and personal reasons for involvement, to try and stop it. And even at three to one, they're outnumbered.
Were there inspirations for your characters, like Ty, Kris, Mac, and Ben?
Yes, Winston Churchill, Cruella De Vil, Spiderman and Obi-Wan Kenobi. No, seriously, I didn't really have one specific person in mind when I created any of them. I suppose there's a little of me in both Ty and Mac. Of course, Ty is a tortured man, while I am not. Ty is also one of those people who becomes morbidly fixed on achieving his goals, an admirable quality, until it verges on destruction. Ty is, at his core, a good father and husband, but he's hamstrung by his obsession, kind of like the guy who loves his wife and kids but climbs Everest anyway. Mac is a little easier to understand. He's stubborn and trusting, and trust can be an Achilles Heel for a guy in his position. Mac works within the system, but in his heart he's an outside-the-box kind of guy. He makes that work for him, bringing those two worlds together, by being very good at his job. But when he drops his guard he starts to make mistakes. Ben started out as a colorful old Indian who had the societal advantage of being a minor celebrity. I have a lot of actor friends so I had something to draw from. And yet, as I developed him, Ben became more of a necessary archetype to the story, the anchor character you always need when delving into mythology. To compensate for his goodness and purity of purpose I loaded him up with various foibles and weaknesses. Yet through all that I had to maintain his greatest strength, his character. Also, despite his connection to the business end of Hollywood, which most would say is not too spiritual, Ben actually re-embraces his roots as a Native American and becomes the metaphysical conduit to the Shadowkiller, as well as a guru to the other men. Kris, well, let's just say she's an amalgam of certain people who will remain nameless.
Were there any characters or aspects of the book that you found particularly difficult to write? If so, which and why?
Creating Bigfoot's "voice" or, maybe I should say, his point of view, was difficult. He needed a distinct personality, and while there had to be a simplicity to his thoughts, I wanted to be careful not to make him simple-minded. I also had to consult a number of sources to create a Bigfoot culture and behavioral model so that his actions and reactions made sense. The world of anthropology came in handy there. But probably the hardest element of his makeup was designing his extra sensory abilities. How would it work? While many scientists dispute that ESP is real, the CIA has done extensive work on it since the 50s. The Russians have been even more out in the open about their studies and have attempted to harness or direct the alleged powers. I also drew on empirical and anecdotal exposure to ESP. We've all had those experiences that seem to defy coincidence, where you say a word or have a thought at the same time as someone close to you. Does ESP exist? I don't know, but it would explain a lot of things. Does Bigfoot actually have ESP? That I also don't know, but I have read over the years theories that Bigfoot might posses some form of ESP which could shed light on some things, primarily his ability to elude capture. After I created his ability to "hear" other living creature's thoughts and emotions, I had to figure out the effect he'd have on people. The warmth on the neck or shoulders was something I'd once read in connection with a sighting so I used that. It's also like the feeling (okay, maybe a little more palpable) of being watched that we've all had. I made Ben his primary receptor, for despite having been away from spirituality for so many years, he still had that ability to tap into the metaphysical world. Bigfoot is surprised when he reaches out with his thoughts and Ben reaches back.
Did you have a specific message or goal you wanted to accomplish in this novel?
Does this book have a message? Part of it would be that we don't know as much about nature as we think we do and that we take nature for granted. We don't think about nature until nature raises its hand, with an earthquake or tsunami, and kills a few hundred thousand people. I'm sure that's why the environment is in such dire straits. We are not as aware as we should be. But that's another issue. Mainly, this book is an adventure. Along the way, if I can emotionally touch the reader and get their heart racing, then I've succeeded. With this novel I also wanted to set the tone for my subsequent work, in that I'll give you a good ride as well as your money's worth. But because I'm pretty opinionated and have a specific point of view, I do reserve the right to include a message in books to come.
You believe that Bigfoot exists, and this book covers a lot of science. Tell us about your research for the book.
I could probably say I started researching this book as a kid in 1962 when I checked Ivan Sanderson's book, Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life out of the library. Since then, I've either read or watched everything on the subject I could get my hands on. In my first year of college I wrote a 30 page paper on Bigfoot and sent Roger Patterson (he shot the famous Patterson/Gimlin Bigfoot footage in 1967) a letter with some questions in connection with it. This was the year before Patterson died of cancer and I recall he actually wrote me back and was very gracious. That paper was probably the jumping off point for my very serious interest in the subject. I drew on many, many sources to create the character of the Shadowkiller in my book. I have assembled my own library of books dealing with large unknown hominids. With the growth of the Internet there is now a wealth of information at everyone's fingertips. As a kid I would go into the library and the first thing I did was make a beeline to the anthropology section to see if there were any new books on the subject. Since then there are a number of excellent books, both scholarly and informative, on the subject. I recommend Dr. Jeff Meldrum's book (Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science) and Dr. Grover Krantz's two books (Bigfoot Sasquatch: Evidence and Big Footprints: A Scientific Inquiry Into the Reality of Sasquatch), as well as various books by Loren Coleman and John Green (together and respectively), and quite a few others. Other than zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson's book which I mentioned, I have a few old favorites like John Green's On the Track of Sasquatch (I bought it in 1973) and The Abominable Snowmen by Eric Norman (I bought that in 1969). The accounts from the 50s and 60s actually seem fresher there because they had just happened. There are also great accounts in both books I've never found anywhere else. In one of them, Norman relates a story from 1951 as told by a French journalist from the mountain jungles of what was then French Indochina, about a terrifying encounter with the "taw," nine-foot tall murderous beasts who walked on two legs. That story inspired a scene in The Shadowkiller.
What made you decide to tackle a mystery/ghost story as your first work? What do you like to read?
I have many stories I want to tell. I also have a lot of screenplay treatments that I've spent time developing and think would make great books. And I have a thick file of story ideas I've created over the years, so there's no shortage of things for me to write about. The Shadowkiller was an idea for a book I kicked around for years. I have loved good campfire stories since I was a kid and felt this was the novel I had to write first. What do I read? I'm drawn to historical non-fiction. I'm reading Miller's Lincoln's Virtues and Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee. But I'm also into Stephen King's last book, Cell, an older one by Clive Cussler, and I'm excited to read Nelson DeMille's new one, Wild Fire, next.
Are you working on something now? If so, can you share a little about it with us?
Yes, I'm working on my next novel, and who knows, it may even have a message.