The Children of Red Peak follows the lives of four childhood friends who spent their formative years being raised by a religious cult. What was the inspiration for the setup to this riveting novel?
When I write horror, I tend to look to turn tropes on their head and examine their consequences in a story that isn’t so much straight-up horror but instead a psychological thriller with horror elements. The Children of Red Peak does both.
The novel is about a cult, but it’s not a Manson Family-style cult with mesmerized people looking for mass murder, it’s a relatively happy, isolated religious community that transforms into a horrific cult after they become convinced God is waiting for them on a remote desert mountain. It’s this transformation and how logical it is—how religion has given the world so many of its greatest moral achievements but also some of its greatest acts of evil—that is where the horror comes from, not just what they do when they get to Red Peak, though that is horrific enough.
As for examining the consequences of the trope, I decided to tell the story in two timelines, one in the past where we see them growing up in a religious group that transforms into a cult, and the other in the present where we see the few survivors struggling to keep the past at bay. This provided many tools for me as a writer—showing how the children accepted their belief system without minimal question even when things started to get bad, showing how as adults they question everything and struggle to cope with their memories, the ability to tease out what happened at Red Peak all those years ago, and more.
Overall, though, the biggest thematic inspiration for the story was a reading of the Book of Genesis. At one point, God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac to a mountain, tie him up, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham does it but is stopped at the last moment by God.
I thought, what would that story be like if told from Isaac’s point of view? The result is a modern story about trauma and cosmic horror.
Your characters are all intriguing and well developed. What were some sources that informed their character development?
Thanks for that! It’s good to hear, as this is a character-driven novel. While The Children of Red Peak is strongly flavored with cosmic horror, it’s primarily a psychological thriller, looking deep into the souls of people who were touched by what may be either a mass break from reality or an actual cosmic event—or perhaps both. As a psychological thriller, it was absolutely essential to offer deep character development so we really understand these people and their flaws, particularly where the flaws come from.
So in the novel’s two storylines, we see that as adults the characters are grown-up versions of the children they were, and how their flaw is certain aspects of their personalities are now either twisted or put into hyperdrive as coping mechanisms due to the deep trauma they suffered. These coping mechanisms are reinforced by their professional choices. As an example, David was easily scared as a child and so he’d often hide from what scared him; as an adult, he’s now a cult exit counselor—he helps people escape—and he emotionally shuts down when confronted by stress, which costs him meaningful relationships and may cost him his marriage.
Once I had these elements in place for each character—their basic personality as children, the individual source of their childhood trauma, their profession and coping mechanism as adults, and what they wanted and needed as adults, I had everything I needed to create living, breathing characters. I fell in love with them—a hazard for horror writers, as we must hurt our darlings—and they often surprised me during the writing process as they’d taken on a life of their own and told me in a sense what they wanted to do and say without my conscious direction—including their choices in the story’s climax.
This novel does a great job of exploring trauma and how it affects different people. Was this intentional or did it come about organically while writing?
It was both. The trauma is what breaks them at Red Peak and what brings them back years later to find some sort of closure, which brings them face to face with the force that destroyed their parents. While the past timeline is about family, belief, and madness, the present timeline is about memory, trauma, and survival. To truly survive Red Peak, the survivors must go back to confront their past and the entity that appeared the final night, but escaping a second time may demand the ultimate sacrifice.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
When I’m not writing big-idea standalone novels, I self-publish “dime novel” series set in World War 2, which are very popular. Right now, I’m working on one about a carrier dive-bomber pilot fighting in the Pacific. They’re just simple, pulpy fun, and the history is wonderful if frequently tragic. My first love is horror, however, so I’m hoping to start working on another novel soon, and my big hope is to be able to work with Hachette as a publisher again. The company and its team, particularly my editor Bradley Englert, have been fantastic to work with. They really are the best at what they do.
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The Children of Red Peak, by Craig DiLouie, follows the lives of four childhood friends who spent their formative years being raised in The Family of the Living Spirit, a religious cult led by Reverend Jeremiah Peale. David, the first of the cult’s victims readers meet, works helping people like him, his sister, and his friends exit cults and make their way back into society as seamlessly as possible. David knows whereof he speaks–The Family robbed him of everything he loved and left him and his sister and three other children alone in the world and grieving for the parents they loved and thought they knew.
I have never read anything quite like DiLouie’s story. Sadly, the stories related by David, Deacon, and Beth make their experience in Red Peak all the more tragic. Their memories serve as the core of the story and give readers a clear idea of the events that occurred that tragic night on the mountain. The stories they present about their lives in the cult and the horror surrounding the decisions made by their parents give readers a very raw idea of the mania that ensues when vulnerable people are targeted by cults.
DiLouie’s work appeals to readers of various genres as he manages to include an element of the supernatural in David’s story. I must say I was surprised to see this woven into the plot. Expecting to see trauma and tragedy, I was not prepared for the supernatural to make an appearance. That being said, the author does a wonderful job weaving two worlds together.
I highly recommend DiLouie’s work to any fan of psychological thrillers. DiLouie’s writing is flawless and, at times, almost poetic. This is one of the few books I can honestly say that I have read without putting down. The characters are captivating and relatable on many levels. DiLouie has a hit on his hands.
Pages: 384 | ASIN: B085C788FB
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One of Us follows a group of teenagers known to locals as monsters because they bear the markings of extreme genetic mutation. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thought-provoking story?
Thank you for reading it and for your kind review! I’d wanted to write a monster novel and try a different take on it.
Previously, I’d written a vampire novel, Suffer the Children, about a parasite that kills the world’s children and allows them to return to life for a brief period of time if they drink human blood. The children are vampires, but the monsters in the book are the parents who have to decide how far they will go to keep their children alive. It made for a horrifying twist on the vampire story that challenges the reader to evaluate how far they themselves would go for love.
For One of Us, I wanted to do a misunderstood monster take similar to Frankenstein, give the children developing agency similar to The X-Men, and make them hideous and terrifying such that they are subjected to horrible prejudice, which they fight in an uprising that is as cathartic as the classic 1972 film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. When they finally rebel, the reader must confront whether this was necessary or if change could have occurred some other way. The whole story is produced as a Southern Gothic, really the most original twist here, which seemed perfect for the novel, as Southern Gothic has a dark and rich tradition of covering strong topics like the grotesque, societal decay, taboo, and prejudice. And while it is very dark and somewhat violent, reflecting the society these people live in, the story ends on an important note of hope.
I liked how you were able to imbue both the normal people and the plagued with good and bad characteristics. What were some themes that were important for you to capture in your characters?
Initially, I wanted to show very simply that books should not be judged solely by their covers, so as the story develops, we see very human monsters and in some cases very monstrous humans, all of them the product of the society they share that is broken by the plague and the genetic mutations it produced among a generation now coming of age and wanting their birth rights. As this is a Southern Gothic, there is an ensemble cast of characters, and also true to that literary form, we see the full pageantry of human behavior on display, the good, the bad, and the ugly. By the end, when the children begin to fight back and win, the reader will probably experience a sense of catharsis after seeing and experiencing what the monsters endured, but then question their feelings. I fell in love with these characters, even the bad ones, and I hope my readers will too.
Your characters are all well developed and intriguing. Who was your favorite character to write?
Readers seem to like Dog, one of the monsters, as he’s earnest and believes if he follows the rules and works hard, he’ll get a fair shake. Sadly for him, the world ain’t fair. Goof, another one of the monsters, was a lot of fun to write because has an amazing power but all he wants to do is have a fun, normal childhood, and he offers comic relief. Among the monsters, though, my favorite is probably Brain. He’s a super genius trapped in a hideous body and must hide his intelligence from the authorities. He doesn’t see him and his brethren as monsters but as the rebirth of the gods of ancient myth. He doesn’t want a revolution but plans one anyway, seeing it as necessary. When the violence starts, there’s no turning back even though he finds it horrifying and hates it, making him a tragic figure.
On the human side, there are a number of characters we can both root for and hate, from the idealistic Jake to the hapless loser Dave Gaines, but my favorite is probably Sheriff Burton. He feels for the monsters but is similarly trapped by his role and belief system, which is to enforce what he sees as the natural order. This also makes him a tragic figure trapped between who he is and what he must face in the story, including guilt over a secret connection he has with the monsters.
In the end, it is these characters who take well-worn themes in a fresh package and make the whole thing emotionally a gut punch that I hope will affect readers, make them think and feel and challenge their perceptions, and continue engaging with the story even after they close the covers.
Will there be a follow up novel that continues this story?
Unfortunately, no follow-up is planned at this point, as it was a standalone story. Based on reader interest, though, there’s always a possibility.
Abandoned by his family, Enoch Bryant now lives in a rundown orphanage with other teenagers just like him. He loves his friends, even if the teachers are terrified of them. They’re members of the rising plague generation. Each bearing their own extreme genetic mutation.
The people in the nearby town hate Enoch, but he doesn’t know why. He’s never harmed anyone. Works hard and doesn’t make trouble. He believes one day he’ll be a respected man.
But hatred dies hard. The tension between Enoch’s world and those of the “normal” townspeople is ready to burst. And when a body is found, it may be the spark that ignites a horrifying revolution.
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Craig DiLouie’s One of Us follows a group of teenagers named the plague generation. Known to locals as monsters, these youngsters have been placed in orphanages as they bear the markings of the most extreme genetic mutation. Abandoned by their parents, the monsters have been raised away from those normal members of society, with a clear divide in place for many years. Yet, that divide is now at risk as these kids see adulthood on the horizon and tire of those normal people dictating their life to them. With tensions already high in a town that is still rife with racism and all manner of other prejudices, it’s only a matter of time before both worlds collide, with deadly consequences.
After having read One of Us, my first thoughts are, inevitably, this has to be made into a film! This has got to be one of my best reads this year.
Firstly, the setting and the timing in One of Us is faultless. The teenagers, both plagued and normal, are all at that point in their lives where confusion, emotions, and anger is high. Add in the many judgmental residents and old-timers of the town and the tension is bubbling at the very beginning.
Yet, Craig seems to present both the normal and the plagued with an element of good and evil, so much so that you find yourself veering between them, switching your opinions back and forth. So, you feel for the plagued, but at the same time, you understand the fear the normal people might have of them.
The book’s message is stark, and the plague is said to be spread as a sexually transmitted disease, as the normal teenagers have this message hammered home to them constantly. A sense of shame hangs over the town and its residents, with the news continually touted that all that those with the germ should never procreate.
Yes, there are a few scenes that make for uncomfortable reading, be it the actions of the older normal residents toward the plagued kids or the plagued kid’s acts of revenge, in particular Brain’s horrific act of retribution. But in reality, I think these harder to read scenes merely force us to question how we as adults have a level of power over children – which unfortunately some can and do act upon.
One of Us reminds me a little of the book, The Girl with All the Gifts, which I also thoroughly loved. However, I feel One of Us has the advantage here as it goes further by delving further into each character and offering us more individuals than just the one. As a result, you feel more invested in the plagued kids and the normal kids fighting on their behalf.
One of Us doesn’t let up with pacing that verges on perfection. When you add to this a bunch of entirely compelling characters, the result is a book you will not want to put down.
Pages: 400 | ASIN: B0776QMHPT