Ten years ago, the love of Daniel’s life disappeared. Then Daniel learns that not only did she commit suicide, but she left behind a daughter he never knew. Taking his estranged offspring home, he gets detoured to the small logging town of Shellington Heights, a town that’s no longer on any map and a population that’s no longer human. They soon find themselves pawns in a supernatural war, with the Apocalypse hinging on one question: How far will a father go to save a daughter he’s never known? Author Chad Robert Morgan introduces us to his pulse-pounding release, The Last Rite.
Interviewer; Christina Hamlett
Q: Whether it’s in a darkened movie theatre or with our noses tucked in a book on a dark and stormy night, why do you feel our brains are wired to crave the adrenalin of being scared out of our wits?
A: I think it’s a survival technique we evolved from. The adrenalin triggers our fight-or-flight reaction, and we get a huge rush from surviving a challenge. I also think when you watch a scary movie or a horror novel, it’s sort of like practicing. We know we can pause the video or put the book down at any time, something we couldn’t do if it was happening for real. Just like how we strain our muscles when we’re lifting weights, we’re straining or nerves when being scared for entertainment, and in both cases our body gives us a reward with endorphins and the like. Survival is addicting.
Q: Were horror films and/or scary novels part of your entertainment regimen growing up?
A: I grew up before PG-13 was a thing, so I remember seeing things like Gremlins with just my friends and no parents. This was also when VHS became a thing, so while I couldn’t see Nightmare on Elm Street in theaters, no one blinked at me renting a video tape! Eventually I saw all the mainstream videos and started reaching out for more bizarre and fringe videos. I remember seeing Naked Lunch for the first time and trying to understand it; it was way over my head. Might be over my head even today but I love looking for anything that tries something new or experimental.
Q: Scariest movie or book you’ve ever experienced?
A: I remember a friend loaning me a bootleg copy of the original Grudge. I watched the grainy compressed video on my computer monitor, at the time living alone in a studio apartment in Dallas. I saw dead little boys in the corner of my eyes for three days after that.
Playing Silent Hill 2 also terrified me. The way they would build suspense with the radio, how you would hear the static, which would warn you of monsters coming out from the fog before you could see them, was tension-building. This made the game feel more real than a book or movie could, the use of the rumble control so you could feel every hit and feel your heart beat when you’re injured. One part of the game that freaked me out the most, though, was when you find a note laying out on a porch in the town somewhere but it’s addressed to you, the player character. That inspired a scene in the book where a phone with a torn cord rings. Bethany, a child growing up with cell phones and thinking nothing about a disconnected phone ringing, answers. We never hear who’s on the other side, but we hear Bethany confirm her name so whoever it is knows who Bethany is.
The first Paranormal Activity was a master stroke of building tension. A lot of people rag on Paranormal Activity because they really ran the franchise into the ground, but the original was mind-blowing to me. Every time the familiar scene of the camera in the bedroom would fade in and it would say what night it was, you could hear a groan throughout the theater because we knew the weird stuff was coming and each night was worse than the previous one.
Q: Who are some of the masters of the horror genre you especially admire?
A: Stephen King, of course. One of the reasons for his success is his believable characters and how he doesn’t shy away from the dark impulses we all might have. That’s not just the antagonists, but we can see the darker side of the protagonists, too. They’re not knights in shining armor; they’re real people in extraordinary situations.
Q: What got you interested in horror, and are there styles of horror you prefer over others?
A: I was born on Halloween, so every year my birthday and celebrating ghosts and goblins were linked.
I prefer supernatural horror to things like gore-porn (i.e., Hostel). There’s some debate over whether you can do horror without gore, but I think some of the scariest horror movies and books had little to no gore. The Amityville Horror, The Shining, The Grudge – these are movies and books that were terrifying without a lot of bloody violence. I don’t like man’s inhumanity to man; that stops being escapist fantasy and becomes too real. I’ll go with monsters and things that go bump in the night rather than a sociopath with a butcher knife.
Q: Do you write horror exclusively or are there other genres you’ve explored?
A: I write whatever I feel like writing. I look for a good story, wherever it may be. My current project is a raunchy sci-fi parody, which is as different from The Last Rite as you can get. I also have ideas for other horror stories, including sequels and prequals for The Last Rite.
Q: What terrifies you the most in real life?
A: Something happening to my kids. I had a niece who died of SIDS, and I don’t think I shook that. When my daughter was an infant, I was paranoid over it. Any product that was supposed to prevent SIDS, I owned it. Even with my two older kids living on their own and my youngest being 10, it still creeps in on me. Sometimes I’ll lay in bed and the thought will worm its way into my mind, and I’ll get up and check on my youngest son to make sure he’s still breathing.
Q: What was the inspiration behind The Last Rite?
A: The story was inspired by games like Silent Hill, which I love. Ironically, right after we had the idea to do The Last Rite, not only did they announce they were coming out with a Silent Hill movie, but the company I was working for got the contract to do one of the Silent Hill games. I shelved the project for years, not wanting to do both at the same time. After enough time had passed since Silent Hill Homecoming had shipped, I thought it was safe to revisit The Last Rite.
When we were making this as a series, we were trying to reign in the scope of the project, so an isolated and abandoned town kept the cast of characters small. Making an interesting story with a minimal number of characters was challenging, but it forced me to develop the characters and deal with their feelings and motivations.
Q: What are some of the major themes explored in this book?
A: Fatherhood was an important theme. I wanted to explore how strong paternal instincts would be, how far the main character, Daniel, go to save a daughter he’s never met. The bribe for Daniel to abandon his daughter and it would all be over is dangled in front of him, and I wanted that to feel like a real option. Any parent would automatically say no, but to Daniel this child is a stranger, so I wanted the reader to feel there was a real risk of him accepting the offer.
Q: As you were developing the storyline, what were some of the challenges you encountered?
A: I had to balance Daniel’s desire to save his daughter and the fact they were estranged. I didn’t want Daniel to search for Bethany just because; I had to make it realistic for him to want to find Bethany even though they were strangers. I added a personal tragedy and a sense of duty to Daniel, but I feel I was struggling to explain Daniel’s motivations. I was happy to hear one reviewer mention Daniel’s sense of duty, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Another issue was, this was the novelization of a bigger project. The dialogue had been recorded five years ago, so those were locked down. There were definitely a few times when I wish I could’ve edited the dialogue, polished or rewritten a line, but the best I could do is cut it.
Q: What motivated you to do your audiobook with a full cast?
A: The Last Rite started as 12 scripts for an animated computer animated horror series. We formed a cast of performers willing to do the series for the promise of being paid if the project were ever to be funded in the future and on royalties if the series was ever completed and sold. Five years later and I was still trying to get the project funded and working on it by myself. I kept trying to prune it down to a smaller piece I could complete, but it kept feeling like I was trying to crawl from San Diego to Seattle. No matter how much progress I made, I wasn’t getting any closer to completing anything. So, I decided to turn the cast recordings to an audio book. I figured at the least, I could get the cast’s hard work out to the public. I really owed it to them.
Q: Tell us about the dedication.
A: As I say, the book came out of a project that was stalled. I had the story, I had the cast recordings, but I couldn’t get the animation done. The biggest step forward was the week we spent recording the dialogue. We flew in the cast (except Edwyn Tiong, who played the Business Suit Man and was from Australia), put them up in a hotel, and went to a local recording studio every day for five days. We rehearsed in the morning and recorded in the afternoon. It was a blast, but it was also a lot of hard work from people who were willing to do it for free and who believed in the project and the story. For five years I worked on this project with that weight on my shoulders, and every day I didn’t complete anything was another day I felt like I was letting them all down. The cast was my motivation to not give up. They had put their faith in me, and I wasn’t going to let them down, not without giving it my best effort at least, but I had to admit what I was doing wasn’t working. I asked myself, how can I get this story out? Then the audiobook idea hit me. So, the book is dedicated to them, the cast of the original animated project The Last Rite, the recordings of which became the audiobook.
Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. What did you learn in the DIY process you didn’t know when you started?
A: Self-publishing also means self-editing and self-marketing. If you think you’re going to throw your book up on Amazon, sit back, and let the Benjamins rain down on you, think again. It takes work to get your book on people’s radar.
Q: What are you doing to market the book?
A: I think one of the more effective tools was the book trailer I made. I posted it on various Facebook groups and got some good traction there. The trailer is very dramatic and eye-catching. I joined Facebook groups that were not only about audiobooks and self-publishing but also that included my target audience. One of the great things about publishing through ACX was they gave me 25 promo codes to hand out to get reviews. In retrospect, I should have handed them out a bit more carefully, but I did get several very good reviews from them.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I’ve been in the video games industry for 20 years. My first job in the industry was at LucasArts, which doesn’t exist now. Before that, I worked my way through college as a vocational nurse, and before that I was a member of the US Navy.
Q: Best advice to aspiring writers?
A: Don’t write because you want to be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Write because you have a story to tell. Write because you have a story in you that you need to get out.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I have heard back from a few people who have read the book and said they really enjoyed it. It is a real pleasure to know my work was enjoyed by someone else. If you read a book from Amazon or listen to it from Audible and you like it, please rate it and review it! Authors want to please people, so let them know when they have succeeded!