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Where the Horror Comes From

Craig DiLouie
Craig DiLouie Author Interview

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.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

David Young, Deacon Price, and Beth Harris live with a dark secret. As children, they survived a religious group’s horrific last days at the isolated mountain Red Peak. Years later, the trauma of what they experienced never feels far behind.
When a fellow survivor commits suicide, they finally reunite and share their stories. Long-repressed memories surface, defying understanding and belief. Why did their families go down such a dark road? What really happened on that final night?
The answers lie buried at Red Peak. But truth has a price, and escaping a second time may demand the ultimate sacrifice.

The Children of Red Peak

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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