If you read Chris F. Holm’s Collector series, you know he is one of the most talented writers out there. His latest featuring Sam Thorton, a soul collector for Hell, The Big Reap, has him going up against several former collectors who have turned into creatures who have been living off of humans for centuries. Once again he weaves a great mix of horror and hardboiled into a tale about humanity. As this interview we did with him shows, he’s also one of the smartest writers out there.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Big Reap has Sam learning something that could change his life or at least his view of it. Did you think it was necessary to have this discovery early in the series?
CHRIS F. HOLM: I think the timing of that discovery — in which (cough spoilers cough cough) I dangle the possibility of redemption — was vitally important. If I’d done it in books one or two, it might have felt cheap, unearned. If I’d waited until ten books in, it might have felt like a deus ex machina. But three books in, the audience is comfortably settled into the rules that govern Sam’s existence, so it seemed like the perfect time to upend those rules.
MP: Because of the nature of the book, Sam fights several different creatures and it never seems repetitive. How did you approaches these passages so it wasn’t just another monster battle?
CFH: The Big Reap has a classic revenge-tale structure in the vein of Kill Bill or Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast, and like those works, it was important that each of the characters Sam squares off against was unique, and entertaining enough to justify their time on-screen. And further, because his prey are former Collectors warped by the ritual that freed them from hell’s bonds, I felt that they should each represent a potential dark fate for Sam himself. To do that, I turned to an unlikely source: the movie monsters that shaped my childhood. I riffed on a little bit of everything, from Dracula and Frankenstein to Alien and Poltergeist, and in so doing, I was able to create what I hope were some memorable characters that manage to reflect poor Sam’s deepest anxieties back at him. I’m glad to hear, for you at least, the work paid off.
MP: In Dead Harvest, Sam is caught between two warring factions; The Wrong Goodbye has him betrayed by a friend; and The Big Reap has a scene reminiscent of Marlowe’s meeting with Major Sternwood. Do you like to have an echo of the book whose title you’re recreating for the one you’re writing?
CFH: Absolutely. Early on in the series, I realized if I were to hew too closely to the plot of the book from which I take my title, it’d suck the air out of my own story and lend it an air of predictability. But I’m a huge pulp nerd, so I can’t help but leave an easter egg or two for people like you who know enough to spot them.
MP: In the series and some of your short work, you have part of the characters’ back story slamming into their present. What meaning do you think a person;’s past has?
CFH: Phil Dick once wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” And that, to me, is how I view a person’s history. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read my work that I’m fascinated by the elasticity of self. People adopt so many personae — and wear so many masks — throughout their lives, the question of what’s essential, what’s immutable, interests me to no end. But one thing that can’t be changed, nor ever truly escaped, is our past. It shapes us in countless ways, and colors every aspect of who we are. And yet two people with similar personal histories can make very different choices, lead wildly disparate lives. That friction between fate and free will is, to me, the essence of what it means to be alive.
MP: What makes Sam Thornton worth coming back to?
CFH: Well, for one, I just like spending time with the guy. Profession aside, he seems like he’d be a good dude to grab a beer with. That’s handy whether you’re a writer spending a few years with him, or a reader spending a few hours. But I also think some of his appeal is in the fact that his tale externalizes and makes literal the internal struggle we all face, trying to make sense of a brutal and beautiful world that resists sense-making.
MP: Can you tell us what you have in store for him next?
CFH: At present, I’m not contracted to write another Collector book, but that could change at any time. I will say Sam’s role will shift considerably thanks to the events of The Big Reap, and the temptations he faces in the next book, should there be one, will be of a different sort entirely. He’s proven himself over the course of the first three books to be a man of good intentions… but then again, I hear the road to hell is paved with them.
Copies of all of Chris F. Holm’s books are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.