Author, Matt Manochio’s debut horror novel, The Dark Servant, is available NOW from Samhain Publishing. Matt graciously took the time to answer questions about the characters, inspiration and research behind his twist on the Krampus mythology.
Buy The Dark Servant on Amazon and at Samhain Publishing’s website.
Where did the inspiration for your new book, The Dark Servant, come from?
My boss (to whom I dedicate the book) in December 2012 asked me if I’d ever heard of Krampus—I had no idea what he was talking about. He showed me a Krampus website. My first thought was “How come I’ve never heard of this thing until now?” The idea of a chain-wielding devil that torments kids around Christmastime was new and original to me. I visited Amazon and Barnes & Noble and searched for Krampus books and found little commercially published fiction. I remember thinking “How many other Americans have no clue what Krampus is?” That lit the fire. I contacted my editor, Don D’Auria, and pitched him a modern tale setting Krampus in New Jersey. He said go for it, and I did.
Three words to describe your writing?
3. Conversational. (That’s my one-word synonym for “dialogue-driven.”)
What type of research did you do while preparing to write The Dark Servant?
I read no Krampus fiction. I didn’t want another writer’s vision of the creature influencing mine. So I stuck to Internet research—www.krampus.com (the website my boss showed me) was especially helpful—to understand Krampus’s origins. Not surprisingly, the US media hasn’t done many stories on him either, but enough was out there to help paint a picture. I tracked down a New York Times article from the 1940s about Krampus being outlawed in Nazi-occupied Austria (which makes its way into my book).
Which part of the book challenged you the most?
Not making The Dark Servant seem like a history book. It’s easy to bog down a reader with historical minutiae to display your own knowledge of a subject. I wanted to give the reader a general understanding of Krampus without cramming in every little detail that could take away from the story.
The Dark Servant takes place in New Jersey, what inspired this decision?
Write what you know! I’m a recovering newspaper reporter who grew up and worked in northern New Jersey. Despite what people may think, New Jersey isn’t simply a jumble of highways (well, not entirely). There are plenty of woodlands and rural areas, and I modeled the township in my book after one that I covered as a reporter. Also, Krampus, like Santa, doesn’t know boundaries. He’ll find you in a big or small European town. So why not in the New Jersey boonies?
You mention childhood depression as a theme in The Dark Servant, can you elaborate on how this theme is carried out?
Childhood mental illness (especially when it’s undiagnosed or not taken seriously) can be disastrous. I got the idea for The Dark Servant a few days before the Newtown school massacre in Connecticut. The aftermath affected the way I wrote the book, so much so, something happens in my book that typically does not occur in most, if not all, books that fall into the horror genre. I’m eager to see if people pick up on it. Also, The Dark Servant isn’t strictly a “monster” book. I touch on real-life issues that confront teenagers: love, heartbreak, happiness, and, indeed, sadness, sometimes the crippling variety. My lead characters experience all of these emotions, depression included.
What is the message behind The Dark Servant?
I respectfully decline to answer. I know what the message is, and I’d like readers to discern it for themselves.
The story involves two high school-aged brothers, one of whom you describe as a “golden boy.” Can you talk about the relationship between the brothers? Which do you most identify with and why?
Billy Schweitzer, my main character, admires his older brother Tim, who’s popular, strong and smart. Tim looks after Billy the way a father might a son—this is in part because the boys’ parents are divorced, so the boys become closer. Billy lags behind Tim in popularity, strength, and self-esteem. That’s why I identify with Billy—he has his self-perceived flaws, like we all do.
In The Dark Servant, Krampus targets bullies, is this inspired by the current bullying crisis happening with kids and teens?
Absolutely. I’m 39. We had no cell phones, social media or email when people my age attended high school (1989-93), and I’m thankful for that. Nowadays kids are targets for cruelty the second they turn on their iPhones. The bullies in my book aren’t simply physical brutes—they’re also cyber-bullies, just like they are today, unfortunately.
What did you learn about yourself as a writer while working on The Dark Servant?
I love writing dialogue. One key rule to live and write by is to tell a story through dialogue. Now, whether people enjoy reading my dialogue, we’ll soon find out.
What are your thoughts on genres blending in works of fiction?
I’m all for it! It frees you up, especially when you enter the supernatural realm.
Where can my readers find out more about you and your work?
1. Werewolves or vampires? Werewolves! (But not those ridiculous CGI ones that ruin movies. Give me a man wearing fur and a prosthetic snout any old day of the week.)
2. Favorite horror writer? Original answer alert: Stephen King. Although the one book that literally made my heart race and spooked me (that’s hard to do to me) was Frank Peretti’s Monster.
3. Favorite horror movie? An American Werewolf in London.
4. What scares you? The cost of college tuition 15 years from now.
5. What’s one word you overuse? Just.
6. Favorite place to write? In my bedroom on my bed.
7. Title of your first published work? The Dark Servant, although I had a deal for a different book in 2010, but it fell apart. That experience, which you can read about on Writer’s Digest, helped me become a better writer.
8. What book do you wish you wrote? Not a single one. I’m pleased to have created my own book, my own characters, and mold my own version of a fantastic European folk legend.
9. Favorite color? Orange and Blue (I go back and forth).
10. What are you currently reading? Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, by Ian Kershaw. I was a history major in college, and WWII fascinates (and horrifies) me to no end.
11. Coffee or tea? Coffee! (Pete Puma squeal) With lots of light cream and sugar.
12. Beer or wine? I’m a guy: Beer.