Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor and Blogger Scott Butki
“I felt like I could isolate the characteristics of the three general types of modern monsters – Undead, Parasite, Psychotic – and trace them back to three novels, namely Frankenstein, Dracula and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From there, I asked myself: What if one figure combined all three of these characteristics, and directly, personally influenced the authors of those books?” – Andrew Pyper
Andrew Pyper has written a fascinating, disturbing, horrifying, engaging novel, The Only Child. For me, at least, horrifying and engaging rarely go together but they do in this book.
The brilliance of the novel (and the reason I agreed to an interview even before I started the book) stems from this premise: The female lead character is a forensic psychiatrist who often interviews violent psychotic criminals. Then she meets a man who tells her he is more than 200 years old, and was the inspiration behind Frankenstein, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula. Oh, and he lets her know that he is her father who can answer questions about why her mom was murdered when she was a child.
Now THAT is a hook. And the book lives up to that great premise.
Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story?
Andrew Pyper: By reading. I was following a curious thread in my mind about where our idea of monsters come from and working my way through some of the early gothic tradition, when I had this Eureka! moment. I felt like I could isolate the characteristics of the three general types of modern monsters – Undead, Parasite, Psychotic – and trace them back to three novels, namely Frankenstein, Dracula and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From there, I asked myself: What if one figure combined all three of these characteristics, and directly, personally influenced the authors of those books? What if he was alive today? What would he want? How would he live? And to me, most interesting of all: What would it be like to be truly unique, truly alone, yet move among humanity as if you belonged?
SB: Which came first: the main character or Lily or the plot?
AP: I think the questions and curiosities I mentioned above came first. After a time of pondering those, characters arrived to embody them, answer them.
SB: How would you describe the main character, the one who says he inspired Frankenstein, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula?
AP: Though he exists without ever being named (in the sense that most of us are given a name at our births, a legacy, a signature) he calls himself Michael (after the warrior angel). Michael is a character who is a combination of characters – part historian, part searcher, part killer. He is someone who has come to justify his existence – and the damage he has done – by way of his singularity, the cost he (and all of us) must pay for the persistence of myth. He is a monster, a real one. But he is also our creation, something of human making, the ghoulish side effect of storytelling itself.
SB: Sorry, but I’m not familiar with your earlier work. How does this new novel compare to the past?
AP: I would describe my body of work as belonging to the psychological thriller tradition. I’ve only written standalones so far, and they are all quite distinct. More recently, however, I’ve more deeply and openly explored the supernatural and its mythologies: demons (The Demonologist), the afterlife (The Damned), monstrosity (The Only Child).
SB: Is this a standalone or is it going to be the first in a series?
AP: A standalone. But never say never…
SB: How did you go about researching this book?
AP: I read a lot. And traveled to every place where the book goes.
SB: What’s it like getting advanced praise including from Megan Abbott, who I understand is one of your own favorites? She wrote, “Andrew Pyper has concocted a darkly entrancing tale that sweeps you off your feet from its first pages. Filled with deliriously clever nods to the grand Gothic tradition, The Only Child is also fiercely original, wildly provocative and utterly satisfying, beginning to end.”
AP: It’s deeply gratifying when a colleague as accomplished as Megan Abbott endorses your work. Writing is solitary, and plagued with uncertainties, so when someone whom you admire says “You’re on the right track” the doubt is (at least temporarily) lifted.
SB: Do you ever get scared or surprised writing your own books?
AP: Yes. The characters surprise me all the time. But what scares me is when I bump up against moments when the events of the story feel like they could be real, that they’re being reported more than invented.
SB: I understand four of your five previous novels are in active development as movies. What’s that like?
AP: Exciting, but also fatiguing. When you’re used to being in charge – I’m the novelist around here! – being a small cog in a huge machine requires the embracing of one’s powerlessness.
SB: Here’s your bonus question: What is something you wish I asked you? Here’s your chance to ask it and answer it.
AP: Will the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup next year? I’m so glad you asked! Why yes, they will!
You can find copies of The Only Child on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.