Last year, several young adult librarians and teens selected their favorite Stuff for the Teen Age. One of my favorite titles was a book called The Monster Variations by Daniel Kraus. Now, it's a year later and Daniel has a new book out titled Rotters. I caught up with Mr. Kraus to ask him a few questions about the inspiration behind his dark new novel and why his writing is always so macabre.
How does Rotters differ from your previous book, The Monster Variations?
They're wildly different. I suppose they both deal in the dark urges of boys. And, if you read really close, there is a small connection between the two books. I won't give that away, though.
How long did it take you to write the book? Did you have the idea for a long time before sitting down to write it? What was the inspiration behind Rotters?
About 10 years ago, I was in North Carolina trying to outrun a hurricane in my car. I passed a flooded cemetery and had this mental image of two men battling through the muck trying to reach something valuable. I didn't know who they were or what they were after, but I knew I was onto something rich and possibly taboo. I sat on it for a decade, occasionally messing around with a few pages, but it wasn't until I struck upon the idea of an apprentice grave robber learning the trade that the storyline began to fit together.
The protagonist, Joey, has a strange and unique relationship with his father. Does your own relationship with your father provide the inspiration for those characters?
No, not directly. But my father's passion is hunting—big game, small game, exotic game—and, not only that, but he often uses a bow rather than gun, which has a kind of inexplicable mystery and grace to it. Obviously, there's a violence involved with it as well. So it's possible that being fascinated by the rituals and skills of the dark art of hunting are analogous to Joey being drawn into the strange traditions and practices surrounding the history of grave robbing.
Do you think you’ll ever write a happy book? Why is it do you think that you are drawn to the strange and bizarre? Is that just more fun to write about? The horror of it all?
I've always been thrilled by the spectacularly terrible. Maybe because I love a challenge, I can't resist taking characters who seem irredeemable and finding a way to generate sympathy for them. For me, the distinctions between "bad" and "worse" are much more interesting than those between "good" and "bad." I do think I'll write a "happy" book one day. That's not to say that I think my books are overly grueling or depressing. Some of the most humorous stuff I've ever written is in ROTTERS. I mean, what's funnier than setting up this super-serious network of grave robbers and then having them awkwardly discuss Cool Ranch Doritos?