Interview: Matthew Lyons Author of A Black and Endless Sky

By Corinna Kloth Feature, Interview Comments Off on Interview: Matthew Lyons Author of A Black and Endless Sky

By Anthony Carinhas


THANKS SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO MEET TODAY, I HOPE 2022 BRINGS YOU AND THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU JOY, PROMISE, AND PEACE OF MIND DURING THESE TURBULENT TIMES. ALSO, A FINAL APPLAUSE FOR LAUREN ASH FROM TURNER PUBLISHING FOR SENDING A COPY OF YOUR BOOK ON SHORT NOTICE AND FOR MAKING OUR INTERVIEW HAPPEN.

ML: Hey, thank you so much for having me on! It’s an honor to be here, and yes, a massive shout out is due to Lauren and everyone else at Turner. They’re doing really great work out in Nashville.

AS SIBLINGS, NELL AND JONAH’S ROCKY RELATIONSHIP IN A BLACK AND ENDLESS SKY IS THE CENTERPIECE OF THE STORY. WAS THEIR BICKERING PLANNED OR DID THAT NATURALLY UNFOLD AS THE NOVEL MATERIALIZED?

ML: So even as I started pulling together the very earliest pieces of the book, I knew that Jonah and Nell didn’t really get along much anymore. I knew they used to be close, but I didn’t know the exact details of their individual grievances until they—and the story itself—really hit the road, as it were. They’re siblings, after all, and what siblings don’t fight?

Given that, it was important to me that their internal conflicts feel organic to who they are as people, rather than mechanical elements designed to move the narrative along. Road trips can be pressure cookers for anybody, but two people who used to be tight and aren’t anymore? Conflict’s inevitable in asituation like that. Best thing I could do there was to stand aside to let Nell and Jonah have their say and try and sort their shit out like adults.

IN THE NIGHT WILL FIND US SIX TEENAGERS GO CAMPING IN THE PINE BARRENS OF NEW JERSEY WHERE ISOLATION, COSMIC TERROR, SPIRITS, AND MONSTERS LURK IN THE SHADOWS. ONE OF THE CHARACTERS, PARKER, CAREFULLY CONCEALS HIS MOTIVE TO FIND HIS FATHER WHO RECENTLY DISAPPEARED IN THE SAME VICINITY. DID DANIEL MYRICK’S THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, NEW DAWN FILMS’ SMILEY FACE KILLERS DOCUMENTARY, OR FABRICE ZAPHIRATOS’ BLOOD BEAT BEAR ANY INFLUENCE ON THE NIGHT WILL FIND US?

ML: Most definitely The Blair Witch Project, but honestly, the other major influences on The Night Will Find Us were The Breakfast Club, and arguably one of the greatest episodes of The Sopranos ever, “Pine Barrens” from the third season. Seems like kind of a weird 3-circle Venn diagram at first blush, but there’s some surprising common ground between the three, because they’re really all riffs on the survival story, right? People with dwindling reasons to trust each other, trapped in hostile environments while they search for something and do their best to just make it out alive. I’ve always been a sucker for setups like that.

IS JONAH’S CHARACTER AND FAILED MARRIAGE A METAPHOR FOR THE STATE SAN FRANCISCO IS IN TODAY OR WAS THAT A COINCIDENCE?

ML: Oh, purely coincidence. I’d love
to be able to lie and say that there’s a deeper metaphor at work there, but the truth is, I’m not familiar enough with the city to thread something like that into the narrative and thematics of A Black and Endless Sky.

San Francisco and Jonah’s marriage falling apart are way more part and parcel with the book’s themes of journey- or-destination and the failure to change one’s true nature. The Bay Area isn’t just a place, it’s a “destination”, you know? It’s like New York or Los Angeles, in that it’s one of those spots people go with an eye on becoming someone different and making their mark on the world. Jonah tried to change who he was by moving to California, getting a job in tech, getting married, but none of it took, and at the outset of the novel, he finds himself heading right back to where he started. He has to drop the illusions of the person that he spent so long telling himself he was and learn to embrace his real, actual self. Destination versus journey.

AS NELL AND JONAH CROSS THE AMERICAN WEST, IS THERE AN UNDERLYING MESSAGE THAT HAPPINESS CAN BE FOUND ANYWHERE—EVEN FOR THOSE WHO’VE LEFT HOME IN SEARCH OF GREATER THINGS? WAS THIS A MEMOIR OF SORTS OR PURELY A WORK OF FICTION?

ML: Absolutely. I think one of the major themes of the book is that true happiness is possible (and most achievable) through honest self-acceptance. I don’t know anybody who’s happier than people who are willing to let go of all the lies and fictions they tell themselves and just own their shit. Self-acceptance is a powerful thing, man.

As for how much of this book was based in reality, I’ll admit to a scant few elements of Jonah’s journey being drawn from my own life, sure. Back in 2019, when I was first thinking about writing this book, my wife and I moved back from New York to Colorado to be closer to our families, and I was having a really hard time reckoning with the idea of leaving the city. I love New York, I truly do, and moving back home after ten years felt a little like I was washing out or failing myself in some way. Writing the early chapters of A Black and Endless Sky helped me work through a lot of that self-imposed anxiety.

A BLACK AND ENDLESS SKY SHOWCASES A MYTHOLOGICAL AND SUPERNATURAL ELEMENT THE MOMENT NELL IS OVERCOME WITH MURMUR. THE DEEPER THIS MYSTERIOUS POSSESSION LATCHES ON, NOT EVEN THE DESOLATION OF THE DESERT CAN SAVE THEM FROM GHASTLY VIOLENCE. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL WORLD THAT CAN CAPTIVATE AN AUDIENCE SO MUCH THEY CAN’T WAIT TO FIND OUT WHAT REALLY OVERTOOK NELL?

ML: Okay, I like this question a lot. I personally think that it has to do with mythology-building and world- building. It’s about knowing the story’s world (both natural and super-) inside and out before you ever put pen to paper. That way you can IV-drip answers out in a way that best serves the art. Sometimes that means a Stephensonian infodump, sometimes a seemingly-impossible Lynchian puzzlebox. There’s a quote from Futurama that I think applies here: When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all. Myth-and-worldbuilding is a lot like that. It does so much heavy lifting, but when it’s done properly, it looks completely effortless. It’s the best magic trick in the world. I’m a big fan of focusing primarily on the human cost of the mythology and the supernatural, because to me, that’s where the story comes from. Answers about the big existential whys can be great, sure, but it’s seeing how normal people who are profoundly unequipped to deal with that kind of shit react to the supernatural that really gets an audience’s buy-in. We love a mystery, supernatural or otherwise, but we’re always going to love the utter humanity of it all so much more.

SIMILARITIES OF WES CRAVEN’S LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT AND THE HILLS HAVE EYES ARE PRESENT IN YOUR WORK. HORROR IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT GENRE TO BREAK BECAUSE IT’S ALL PRETTY MUCH BEEN DONE. THAT DOESN’T MEAN THE AMERICAN MARKET WILL STOP BEING BLOODTHIRSTY FOR GOOD MACABRE—NO MATTER HOW OFTEN A TOPIC’S BEEN REHASHED. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DELVE IN THE FIELD KNOWING HOW COMPETITIVE IT IS?

ML: Well, I think there are two answers to that question, really: I got into horror because I legitimately just love horror. Have ever since I was a kid watching Evil Dead 2 on VHS for the first time. Honestly, I didn’t think at all about how crowded or competitive the genre was, I just wanted to create art that I loved and wanted to see in the world. But that’s kind of the coolest thing about the horror community, I’ve found— whatever competition might be there is totally undercut by how supportive and enthusiastic literally everyone in the space is. Fact is, we all work in horror because we love horror, and love seeing the interesting and new ways everybody’s pushing the boundaries of the genre.

That said, I have to say that I disagree with the idea that horror is in any
way rehashing topics to slake market bloodthirst. One of my favorite things about horror is that it’s so deeply genre- inclusive—every story traffics in some measure of dread or fear just by having internal stakes, after all. That makes it easy for horror to friction weld itself onto whatever genre it likes: family dramas, westerns, coming out stories, sci-fi sagas, comedies, on and on and on. And because it’s so adaptable and fluid, it’s never going to run out of space. It hasn’t all been done yet, not even close. There’s always something new to be found in horror. That’s one of the things that makes it—and all the phenomenally talented authors, agents, editors, publishers, readers and reviewers working in the space—genuinely amazing. There’s plenty of room for everybody to do the work they want to do while unabashedly rooting for each other. It’s a really exciting time to be hanging out in Horror World, both as a writer and a fan.

FANS REALLY ENJOYED YOUR COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES, AND LIKE EVERY HORROR WRITER, THEY USUALLY HAVE AN ANTHOLOGY OF SHORT STORIES. WILL THAT BE YOUR NEXT VENTURE? PERHAPS A TRUE CRIME NOVEL? WHAT CAN FANS EXPECT AFTER THE RELEASE OF A BLACK AND ENDLESS SKY?

ML: Well, I’m currently at work on my next full-length novel; like A Black and Endless Sky (and a little bit The Night Will Find Us, I guess), it’s kind of a crime thriller that gets suddenly car-crashed into a horror story, and after having it in my head for a few years now, I’m so damn excited to finally be getting to work on it. That goes double because this next one takes place in my home state; I’ve been trying to write about Colorado for years, and but for a short story here or there, I’ve never quite been able to crack it, despite the fact that the Centennial State’s kind a scary place, when you peel back the wallpaper. Plenty of chills to be found out here in the weird west.

FAVORITE HORROR STORY AND WHY.

ML: Oof, okay, this is a tough one, because there are so many great choices out there. Realistically, I don’t think I can pick just one, so I’m going to cheat a little bit and lightning- round a few that will never not haunt me: Carmen Maria Machado’s “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order: SVU” is one of those bonkers-genius, how-in-the-unbelievable-fuck-did-she- even-do-that triumphs of storytelling that only come along once in a very long time. Machado was a finalist for the National Book Award for a reason, and really, there’s no way for me to tell you about this story without spoiling something about it, so please, just go read it. Right now.

My friend Lindsay King-Miller has got a story coming out soon called “Penance” that just fucking destroyed me in the best way. It’s beautiful, haunting, scary as shit, and ultimately goddamned heartbreaking. It floors me every time I read it; it’s a flat-out incredible piece.

Finally, let’s go a little old school and say Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God,” because it’s a cosmic horror story masquerading as a sci-fi story, and it doesn’t show its hand until the last possible second. I first read it when I was like, fifteen, and the thing has been living rent-free inside my head ever since.

FAVORITE HORROR FILM AND WHY. DOESN’T HAVE TO BE AN ADAPTATION FROM A BOOK IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING IF THIS IS A TRICK QUESTION.

ML: Oh, John Carpenter’s The Thing, no question. Not just my favorite horror movie, it’s my favorite movie of all time, bar none. Left unchecked, I can (and will) talk about The Thing for hours. Every single part of it is fantastic: the writing, the casting, the acting, the set design, the practical effects and creature design, the score—the score! Ennio Morricone and John Carpenter working together on music is a notion that’s so cool it should be illegal, somehow.

Close second would probably be Christopher Smith’s Triangle. I still don’t know how people aren’t talking about this movie all the time. I know I am— whether my friends and family like it or not. It’s a beautiful narrative machine, a masterwork of form and function working perfectly in concert, with all the panic, paranoia, blood, nihilism, references to Greek mythology and, most importantly, scares you could ask for. Melissa George’s lead performance as Jess is breathtaking in so many ways. One of the few movies that I immediately restarted the second the credits rolled.

IF A MOTION PICTURE COMPANY LIKE BLUMHOUSE PRODUCTIONS, ARTISAN ENTERTAINMENT, POLONIA BROTHERS OR A24 OFFERED YOU A DEAL TO COMPOSE A SCREENPLAY FOR AN UPCOMING HORROR FILM. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU CHOOSE, AND WOULD YOU EVEN VENTURE INTO FILM?

ML: Okay, so, if we take books and short stories out of the running, movies are pretty much my favorite thing in the whole world, so I would absolutely jump at the chance to venture into writing horror movies—especially right now. It’s been so heartening to see that the resurgence in interesting, experimental and artistic marquee horror flicks over the past eight or nine years has been driven by true-believer production companies, run by people that are doing astonishing work on the regular.

All that being said, if I had to pick just one to work with? Right now, I think it’s probably going to be SpectreVision (not just because I want to meet Elijah Wood, but it’s not not because of that, either). I think SV’s carved out such a cool niche for themselves in that they can put out a movie as utterly batshit crazy as Mandy beside something as poetic and ruminative as A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. SpectreVision’s got an eye for talent and quality, man. The fact that they’ve worked with people like Ana Lily Amirpour, Adam Egypt Mortimer and Panos Cosmatos is proof enough of that, which also shows that they’re not afraid to get seriously weird with it. I love that brand of horror: the kind that manages to strike a perfect balance between scary as hell and weird as fuck. SpectreVision does that better than pretty much anybody else in the game.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SITTING DOWN WITH ME TODAY, MATTHEW. I LOOK FORWARD TO PRESENTING OUR CONVERSATION TO OUR READERS JUST IN TIME FOR THE RELEASE OF YOUR NOVEL IN MARCH. BEST OF LUCK ON THIS PROJECT.

ML: Thanks so much again for having me! It’s been a blast.

ABOUT THE BOOK

A BLACK AND ENDLESS SKY

Road trips can be hell.

Siblings Jonah and Nell Talbot used to be inseparable, but ever since Jonah suddenly blew town twelve years ago, they couldn’t be more distant. Now,

in the wake of Jonah’s divorce, they embark on a cross-country road trip back to their hometown of Albuquerque, hoping to mend their broken relationship along the way.

But when a strange accident befalls Nell at an abandoned industrial site somewhere in the Nevada desert, she begins experiencing ghastly visions
and exhibiting terrifying, otherworldly symptoms. As their journey through the desolate American Southwest reveals the grotesque change happening within his sister, one thing becomes clear to Jonah: It’s not only Nell in there anymore.

Pursued by a mysterious stranger who knows far more about Nell’s worsening condition than they let on, the siblings race to find a way to help Nell and escape the desert before they’re met with a violent, bloody end. But there are far worse things lurking in the desert ahead… some of them just beneath the skin.


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Article originally Published in the February / March 2022 Issue: New & Upcoming.

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