Andrew Boylan is a novelist and screenwriter currently residing in Massachusetts. His debut novel, Sacrifice is a beautifully written cross-genre piece that blends together crime fiction and horror with a captivating southwest flavor.
On top of that Andrew is a hell of a guy who consistently shows his support for the New England Horror community and has organized events to help other authors spread their work. I’m excited to share this interview and I implore anyone reading this to check out his work!
Buy Sacrifice here!
Andrew, I know you have a history in film and screenwriting, but now your focus seems to be on prose. Can you tell us a bit about your history as a writer and the road to your first novel?
The truth is I always wanted to be a novelist and short story writer. I don’t think I ever really thought about become a screenwriter when I started out. I am a very slow reader, so I always enjoyed the short story form, because I could focus on a short story much better than I ever could a novel. For the first few years after college, I only wrote short fiction. At that time I was moving around a lot. I would land somewhere for a few months, take a job, get bored, and move on to the next place. All the while, scribbling stories in notebooks. However, around 25 I landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When I moved into a small apartment there, I set a goal for myself. I said to myself I wouldn’t leave until I finish a novel. I figured it would be very tough to build a writing career as a short story writer. I knew I had to buckle down and write something longer. Something marketable. That seemed like a dirty word to me back then: Marketable. I was in love with writers like Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, Jean Genet, and Charles Portis. I just wanted to work crap jobs and write the stuff I was passionate about regardless of the market. But when I landed in Santa Fe I decided to look at writing as a vocation rather than a hobby. But I had no real idea how that would play out.
I stuck to my guns and wrote a very bad first novel. Very autobiographical. Long on self-indulgence, but short on story. However, I did manage to get an editor at Random House to read it. He wrote me a nice, long letter of encouragement. So I figured I should keep at it.
But during the two years it took me to write that novel my fiction interests began to change. I became obsessed with 1940s and 1950s hard boiled noir. Especially, crime stories set in the southwest and west coast. So I decided to write my next novel in the spirit of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain.
It was around this time that I got an invite to go out to L.A. and meet with a producer who liked some of my short stories. He wanted to turn them into a movie. So I flew out and we had lunch. That was that.
I went back to writing and working my day job. A few months later the producer called. He said he was sorry he couldn’t get the project off the ground with my stories. However, he did have some money to make a horror movie, and did I have any ideas.
So I lied and told him I had an idea. Then I hung up the phone and went to the public library and started digging around for a story.
What I came up with was actually the first incarnation of SACRIFICE. I wrote it as a film for that producer.
The screenplay almost instantly secured me an agent and a manager. The producer who originally wanted it went on to produce a network television show. The agent began shopping my screenplay around. That was when I learn an important lesson about Hollywood. Nobody in the film business is interested in the idea that you have. They are only interested in your next idea. They mostly likely won’t have read your screenplay. Nobody in Hollywood reads. They will tell you they love it and then fold their hands, and say, “What else do you have?”
What SACRIFICE did do for me was get me other jobs. It became my sample script. Because it was a horror script, I was seen as a horror writer, and I got jobs developing other people’s horror ideas, or fixing up scripts that weren’t working.
For several years, that was what I did. And I never got around to writing my own projects, or developing my own ideas. I worked on projects that would never have my name on it.
One of the things that most excited me when I moved back to New England was to start working my own ideas.
In fact, getting back to writing novels was really exciting to me because I could do what ever I wanted. I could write whatever story I wanted. I could write however I wanted. Screenwriting is a very focused art. Tell a screen story is rigorous and precise. You can’t explore characters the same way as a novel can. You can’t go off on digressions. You have to keep the character’s needs in the forefront at all times. There is a tremendous amount of structure involved.
Likewise, screenwriting is very collaborative. You are constantly bouncing ideas around with all the other people involved in the film.
I was particularly excited about being selfish with my material. I could write whatever I wanted and I didn’t need to get approval from a producer, or worry about a director rewriting me. It was very liberating.
It’s funny when I look at some of my reviews. Some people have taken real issue with the liberties I take in how I tell my story. At heart, I don’t care. Yes, I am as egotistical as the next person; I want people to love me. But, sometimes in life you have to take a chance. You have to say this is the story I am passionate about telling, and if certain people hate it then I will have to live with that.
I have sat in enough rooms in my life where fifteen people are struggling to determine exactly what an audience wants from a story. Sometimes you just have to say, there are people out there that don’t like what I do, and move on, and keep doing what I am passionate about. Keep telling the stories I want to tell in the way I want to tell them.
Sacrifice is an unusual mash-up of horror, crime, and thriller with strong religious themes. What were your influences for the story?
I often call SACRIFICE horror noir. I am a huge fan of noir. When I was developing the idea as a screenplay I was very influenced by David Lynch. Wild at Heart. I also love the novels and short stories of Barry Gifford who wrote the source material for Wild at Heart. Story, or plot, let’s say, has never been of paramount importance to me. I usually get pretty bored with a story once I see the gears turning. I would prefer to have my senses overwhelmed.
I’m more interested in the feeling created by a book than what actually happens to the characters.
Nobody is better at that than David Lynch.
I feel similarly about the stories of Jim Thompson. He doesn’t have a full quiver of plots. His story mechanics seem to use the same gears. But he drags you into this dirty world. There is a deep disquiet he creates inside the reader when he pulls you into the heads of his characters.
I have always had very vivid nightmares. And I frequently experience night terrors. I wake up screaming. My wife has recounted entire conversations I have had at night that I can’t remember in the morning. I sleepwalk. Much of my nightmares surround aspects of my religious upbringing. But there is no way to logically explain a nightmare. So often times with the stories that I write I want to capture that experience of being trapped in a nightmare that at first glance might appear to be reality. I want my stories to have the flavor of a nightmare more than a perfectly executed three act structure.
I am also very influenced by the writings of several medieval monks who experienced visions. I think that contemporary literature is too focused on straightforward, realistic storytelling. It can be a little tiresome. I can’t imagine how someone would express a vision of God if they had to be constrained by a beginning, middle, or end.
There is a great debate amongst Biblical linguists if Genesis began “In the beginning…” or “In a beginning…” That one simple article unravels a story that has been written and rewritten over millennia. So I distrust stories which adhere to too rigid a structure.
How has your experience in the literary world been unique from your experience writing for film? Is there much overlap or are they wildly different?
I think there is a lot of overlap. The most obvious I guess would be because Sacrifice began as a screenplay. I have another horror screenplay that I have been flirting with developing as a novel too.
The biggest difference is the solitude of writing fiction. With a screenplay I am always collaborating with someone. I’m always bouncing ideas around with the director and producers. I spend very specific time alone when writing screenplays. Where as with my novels it is almost entirely alone.
Even when a book is done I have a hard time getting beta readers to commit to reading the manuscript. Whereas with a screenplay, it is so easy to read, and so quick, I can always get a lot of opinions.
You did a horror film called Home Sweet Home in 2012? What is the film about and how did it come about?
Home Sweet Home was born out of desperation.
I had been developing and reading scripts for a production company called ShadowCatcher based in Washington State. I was also working with an Emmy winning producer developing two of his projects. And other people were offering me work on their projects. However, I couldn’t get any of my own material made.
Also, my sister had been an actress in L.A. for a long time, and she became disillusioned with the business. She actually moved to Albuquerque to get some space from Hollywood. While she was living in New Mexico she met and fell in love with a guy who was a director.
So the three of us started talking about how we could make something really cheap that we could own. First, we made a short which was accepted at a few film festivals. After that we decided it was time to make a feature.
So we all pooled our resources and decided to roll the dice. We decided let’s bet on ourselves.
We had a cool house in the middle of nowhere in southern New Mexico that we could use. So we structured a home invasion movie around that house. We made a home invasion movie with a twist. Instead of the invaders breaking into the house, we set it up that they were squatters, and the main character invades their space. When the main character moves into the house, the squatters don’t want to leave. They begin a sadistic game to drive her out of her home.
Has moving from the southwest to New England affected your writing? Does the change of scenery and lifestyle evoke markedly different ideas?
When I first moved back to town I was flooded with New England story ideas. But most of them fizzled out. I did write a haunted house story I liked that was published by Blue Spider Books called “The Peculiar Odor of Bad Dreams.” I think my tank is still full of desert stories I need to finish first before I can transition my mind fully to New England.
You are currently working on a new novel. Can you tell us a bit about it?
My current work in progress is called DAPHNE. It is about a girl whose mother was a cult movie star in the 70s and 80s, but died on set of a horror movie that no one ever saw. Ten years after her mother dies, the girl learns that the film reels still exist, and the killer might be on the reels. So she goes on a journey to find the reels and her mother’s killer.
I originally imagined it would be a horror novel, but the story itself hasn’t agreed with me. Much of the movie is about the filming of a horror movie. But the story itself is less scary. It is more of a coming of age story. It is about 90s pop music and 80s horror movies and 70s counter culture. It is about a girl trying to discover a mother she never knew. It’s about not achieving your dreams. It’s about children reaching the dreams their parents had dreamed.
It is an ever-expanding canvas. Originally it was supposed to come out this November, but it has been delayed until February. The more unwieldy it gets, the more frightened I am it will be delayed again.
It is hands down some of the best writing I have ever done. And I really want it to be good, so if it delays farther, so be it.
One thing I’ve learned through the experience of publishing SACRIFICE, it is very hard to sell books. It’s hard to break through the noise. There are so many books in the world. There are a lot of good books out there. It is a great privilege when someone chooses to spend hours out of their life reading something I wrote. There is no need to get to market in a hurry. Very few people will notice, anyway. But I will live with it out in the world forever. So I want it to be the story I want to see in the world. I can’t make people love my book. Plenty of people have had passionately negative reactions to SACRIFICE. People have found it difficult and hard to follow.
So I am preparing myself for the reception of DAPHNE. It is far less straightforward than SACRIFICE. My primary concern is that the book that hits the bookshelf best accomplishes my vision. That way no matter how many people hate it I can feel confident with what I created.
What draws you in about the crime and horror genres?
When it comes to horror I think it found me, I didn’t find it. When I started out as a writer I never expected to write horror. What is interesting to me when I look back on my life as a writer and reader, the most influential writer for me was Stephen King. Strangely, the first two grown up writers that I read were Stephen King and John Updike. I was introduced to Stephen King one summer on Monhegan Island, Maine. Growing up, my family spent the month of August on Monhegan. The summer I turned ten I arrived on the island and one of my summer friends showed me the book he was reading. He was reading THE STAND. He dragged me to the tiny library the island had and made me pick a book. He was obsessed. After I read my first King book I became obsessed too.
John Updike was quite different. My dad had a couple of his books on the shelf. And they stood out like a challenge. My dad didn’t read fiction. He was a preacher and an amateur historian. But he had these two Updike books because they were written in the town where he grew up and they caused a lot of controversy. One of the titles was COUPLES. I heard it whispered around the house that it was a dirty book. So I of course had to read it. So I snuck off with it when I was about ten or eleven. It opened my eyes to a very different kind of sexuality from the kind that eleven year old boys talk about after school. These two writers were my first true introduction to storytelling.
Horror was always lingering at the periphery. But crime came later. Certain my fascination with mid-century pulp writers played a role. But I also worked for Dan Rather Reports researching crime stories and that influenced me greatly as a writer. Some of the backstories in SACRIFICE came from my research days with Dan Rather. I also have another novel I wrote a couple years ago that I am tinkering with that comes directly from my crime research days.
As a man of both film and literature, what is your favorite book to movie adaptation? And what do you think makes a good adaptation?
One of my favorite film adaptations is FIGHT CLUB. I am a huge David Fincher fan. I think he is one of the best American directors. I have felt that way since probably SEVEN.
But I read FIGHT CLUB a long time before it became a cult classic and I thought it was an amazingly fresh way to tell a story. The way he used product placement ironically. I also thought he made some very insightful statements about male culture over the past twenty years. And I think Fincher captured that on film perfectly.
Ironically, I think novels are the worst source material for movies. They are too long and unwieldy. Also novels tend to be very interior.
I personally think short stories are the best material to develop a good movie. There is a film based on Andre Dubus’s short story KILLINGS that I think is probably one of the best adaptations ever. It is the story of a father who captures the man who killed his son and takes him into the woods and kills him. It is a profound story. And the film managed to mine every dark corner and nuance of Andre Dubus’s genius. The movie was called IN THE BEDROOM.
What can we expect from you in the future? Feel free to shamelessly promote yourself!
Of course, as I said, I’m actively finishing a new novel.
But the most immediate thing that is coming is a movie. I wrote the screenplay for a movie called AT YOUR OWN RISK. It is finishing sound design now. It is due out very soon. I am very excited about it.
I like to think of it as David Fincher’s THE GAME meets TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.
Its follows two girls who own a marketing firm who are invited to test out a live action treasure hunt in the desert. They are given GPS codes that lead to buried treasure. But as the game goes along the treasures they find are used against them in a sadist game of survival in the middle of the unforgiving desert.
Buy Sacrifice here!