David Oppegaard has a new book out, And The Hills Opened Up. It's a wild and weird trip to the old west where outlaws, miners and isfits do battle with the fabled Charred Man. Part horror novel and part western gunslinger this, like all of Oppegaard's work, is a unique book to say the least.
Curious about where these crazy ideas come from, I asked David a few questions.
You write cross-genre hybrids. What are your influences for that stuff? You seem to be operating in your own little world.
I read a ton when I was very young and I guess all the genres sort of mashed together in my brain. We had a reading program in my elementary school that gave out prizes for reading Newbery books and reporting on them. I’d show up in the school library almost every morning and give a fresh report to the librarian. I don’t even think I really understood the concept of “genre” until high school.
Do you start with a conventional story and then twist it as you go or do these ideas come fully formed out of some twisted furnace in your brain?
Every book’s a little different, but I suppose I start with an idea for a story that interests me and purposefully twist as I go along. The Suicide Collectors, for example, started as thought experiment-could I come up with a unique apocalypse? My goal is to never write the same book twice.
And The Hills Opened Up is a little like a campfire tale. Is there any true to life origin for the story?
I love a good campfire tale! I did base Red Earth on a few copper mining towns in the northern Sierra Madres in southern Wyoming around roughly the same time period. These were remote company towns that revolved on working twelve hours underground a day, drinking, and sleeping. I did a lot of copper mine research for the novel as well.
Why was it important for the story to be set in 1890 instead of today?
I think the past is underserved in horror literature-think how much darker and horrific the world must have appeared to be back in the day. Plus, I love westerns and 1890 fell right on the far edge of the typical “western” time period.
You’ve written about meteors falling to earth, the end of the world or at least The Despair, and now the Charred Man. Why do you want to destroy humanity?
I don’t want destroy it, personally, but I do think it’s doing a pretty good job at destroying itself. It was reported recently that a NASA-funded study stated industrial civilization was headed for an “irreversible collapse”. I thought the most telling thing to come out of that study was how nobody really gave a damn about it, even the folks who acknowledged it was probably true. The human race seems to lack the ability to truly understand that failure is an option, that we’re not too big to fail. Which, of course, is the downfall of every smug villain in history.
Do you ever feel silly having to state “this is a work of fiction” at the start of your books?
You mean on the copyright page? Yeah, I guess that exists to cover everybody’s ass. I’ve also noticed every novel needs to have “A Novel” marked on the front cover beneath the title. Back in the day people knew a goddamn novel when they saw one.
Behind the curtain question: how have you liked working with a smaller press (Burnt Bridge) on this book? Is And The Hills Opened Up the kind of book a big publisher is just not going to get behind these days?
HILLS certainly made the rounds at major publishing houses and earned much praise but never sold. My agent believes it was the western part of western-horror, that people aren’t buying much western fiction right now. My editor at Burnt Bridge was Mark Rapacz, an old buddy of mine from the Hamline University MFA program. Working with Mark was great and I had a lot of input in the cover, the overall layout, etc. An ideal process, really.
Obviously you eschew the "write what you know" school of advice, or else you have a really interesting life. What's the thing you know now that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
That’s an interesting question. Maybe it’s better not to know too much when you’re starting out, because if you’re too self-aware (or truly aware of how hard the writing life is to pursue) you might never set out at all. I’ve written fourteen novels total and it’s been a constant learning process. I might tell younger Dave to make sure he’s truly enjoying whatever he’s writing about and to make sure that sense of enjoyment remains a constant guide.
I see a lot of Joe Lansdale in And The Hills Opened Up, and that's high praise from me. Who do you read on a regular basis and who should we be reading more of?
I think folks should just be reading more, period. I visit my library at least once a week a leave with a handful of books. I sort of plow through everything, let it sift through my brain, and hopefully it all makes me a better writer and person. Still, I admit I watch way too much TV.
In the western vein of literature I recently read and highly recommend Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.
I can second my love of The Sisters Brothers. Thanks, David, for stopping by.