Author, and fellow New Englander, John Durgin’s debut novel The Cursed Among Us recently found its way to the top of my kindle pile and I couldn’t have been more impressed. Less than halfway through, I reached out to John to see if we could talk a little more about the book and the writing process. – Brennan LaFaro
BL: John, congratulations on a phenomenal debut book. The Cursed Among Us came out on May 31st. Can you tell us a little about yourself and share a brief synopsis?
JD: Hi, thank you so much for chatting with me. I was born and raised in New Hampshire, in a town you might recognize in my book, Newport. I’ve been a life long horror fan, and knew from the moment I read IT in 8th grade that I wanted to write horror novels. Last summer I finally said it’s now or never and I wrote and submitted my first shorty story which happened to be picked up by two anthologies. It gave me the confidence to pursue a novel, which is what gave birth to The Cursed Among Us.
The book follows Howie Burke and his group of friends who are out in the woods filming a horror movie when they stumble across a mysterious grave. In doing so, they release an evil on their small town unlike anything they could imagine, and soon find out their town has many dark secrets. Secrets that were never meant to be uncovered. It’s up to them to stop the evil before it’s too late. The book is a coming of age/slasher/occult mashup that leans heavy on 90’s nostalgia.
BL: How has the reception been so far?
JD: Amazing! I couldn’t be happier with the reviews and receptions I am getting from people. With it being the first book I’ve ever even attempted to write I was very nervous how it would be received. Imposter syndrome was the real deal, but from the moment my editor told me I had something special going on, I started to feel better. Then it went out to the rest of the world and the nerves kicked in all over again.
BL: The Cursed Among Us takes place in 1999, the new coming-of-age time period for us late 80s/early 90s kids. We’re starting to see other books like Tim Meyer’s Malignant Summer do the same thing. Yet even with the later time period, it captures the coming-of-age magic of writers like King, McCammon, and Malfi. Who were some of the influences on your writing, both in general and specifically for this story?
JD: well King and IT specifically are the biggest influence. The book made me want to write, so it was only fitting my first book involve some coming of age tropes. My love for COA books goes far beyond IT though. Ghoul by Brian Keene is one of my all time favorites. Fear by Ronald Kelly is another. I grew up in a small town, so small town horror fascinates me, and the three I just mentioned do it better than anyone in my opinion.
BL: All great books. Fear is a personal favorite. One element that makes it work so well as a coming-of-age story is the group of kids at the center of everything. From Todd to Ryan to Howie to Cory, each character has their own personality and quirks that make them jump off the page. What went into crafting such memorable characters?
JD: Childhood inspiration 100%. This group of friends IS my group of friends. The book is set in the late 90s because that is when my friends and I were the age of the characters in the book. The term write what you know couldn’t be more true here. Many of the stories, personality traits, even appearances and attire, were all pulled from my memories.
BL: Without delving into spoilers, Newport seems like the type of town where people get into some abnormal stuff. In fact, the plot kind of thrives on it. Is this a location readers can expect you to revisit in future stories?
JD: Absolutely! I never planned to try making my own Castlerock, but I love the idea of an area where things tend to be slightly unsettling and off. I always planned to write a prequel to this book diving into the era of the prologue, so that will happen eventually. My current novel I’m writing takes place one town over in present time and there is an Easter egg mentioning the murders in Newport during the 90s.
BL: Splatterpunk extraordinaire Brian Bowyer, says this book reads more like a tenth novel than a debut, and I have to agree. Tell us a little bit about the process from idea to finished product.
JD: First off, thanks for the kind words. I saw Brian’s review mention that and it meant a lot coming from someone who’s been at this awhile. My process coming in was to write a coming of age book set in the 90s based on my friends. We really did have an Unsolved Mysteries episode based on a local serial killer who was never captured. The story fascinated us growing up. We really did film horror movies in the woods during high school as well, so the idea came to mix the two. What if we were filming our movie and came across something in the woods related to the killer. What if there was a reason the woods were off limits that nobody talked about? From there I knew I wanted to write a love letter to slashers which I grew up on. Have some brutal kill scenes, and I wanted to go heavy on 90s to feel like we were back there again.
BL: Is there anything you can tell us about what you’re working on next?
JD: Yes! I recently signed a contract with D&T Publishing to release my next novel some time in 2023! My quick pitch is it’s The Shining meets Ozark. Weird combo right? I promise it will all make sense when you read it, but the action kicks into high gear from the prologue and really never lets up. It’s quite different from The Cursed Among Us, but it still leans on the small town obsession I have in my stories. It’s called INSIDE THE DEVIL’S NEST.
BL: Another big congratulations on that! Thanks for taking the time to talk a little more about the book. Where can people find you online?
JD: thank you for having me! My Twitter is @jdurgin1084. On Instagram people can find me at Durginpencildrawings. My website is under development as we speak but the site is www.johndurginauthor.com