The third and final day of the blog takeover. Today, I talk to Johann about Whitesands.
Iseult: Hi Johann, thank you so much for talking with me. I loved Whitesands and I hope it is the first in a series of John Dark novels.
What was the inspiration behind the blend of thriller and paranormal horror that makes Whitesands so compelling?
Johann: The inspiration is, first and foremost, Daniel Hecht’s SKULL SESSION. Secondly, it is the wish that Silence of the Lambs and True Detective had gone all-in with the supernatural that is hinted at. Thirdly, it is Toni Morrison’s quote “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Whitesands is exactly the sort of book I want to read; the supernatural is present but I always think “What would someone’s actual response be to this?” Like, if you realize your house is haunted, you just move, you don’t take it upon yourself to investigate. In the case of Whitesands, Detective John Dark resists acknowledging the clear supernatural element that is the only reasonable explanation left, even when it is staring him in the face.
Iseult: I love this answer so much, I agree with you 100%, and this was a major part of what I loved about the book.
John Dark is immediately relatable due to the personal hardships he has experienced. Was this emotional centre always front and centre in the novel or did it appear as you wrote it?
Johann: Detective John Dark appeared as the book was taking shape. Originally I had intended to write it about Daniel Hope. But as Stephen King said in On Writing, we “discover” the novel as we write. John Dark appeared as I needed a policeman to investigate a murder scene. It was at the half-way point in the original draft but he just sort of took over. He was not what was intended. Whitesands was supposed to be about a schizophrenic man who saw ghosts but no one believed him. Instead, it is a book about a policeman who wants to search for his daughter but is drawn into a series of crimes that seem to have an impossible connection.
Iseult: That’s so interesting. I love when characters take over!
Daniel Hope is my favourite character in the novel. I love his story arc. Is there significance in his name (is he a catalyst for hope)?
Johann: His name is a direct and shameless nod to Daniel Hecht, the writer of Skull Session. Without Skull Session, I wouldn’t have the idea for Daniel or, indeed Whitesands. And without Whitesands, I would not have had the drive to become a writer. His name is not meant to be a direct and literal Hope, but in a pivotal scene he does give John Dark hope that his daughter is still alive. So yes, maybe he is a catalyst for hope.
Iseult: I have to read Skull Session! Thank you for the recommendation.
Did you find it difficult writing a story set in the United States of America rather than Iceland?
Johann: I did not. Mainly because I cheat. Whitesands takes part in a generic United States, no place in particular, though I envision it being in an urban area near the east. If I had tried to have it take place in, for instance, Chicago, I would have gotten so many things wrong and the book would have felt inauthentic. But by placing it in a Anytown U.S.A. kind of setting, the obfuscation of details becomes part of the atmosphere. This is lifted almost directly from the way True Detective and Seven don’t take part in any specific part of the U.S., but you can sorta guess that True Detecive is in Louisiana and Seven in New York City. But it is not explicit.
There was no way to have it take place in Iceland, because with the small population and it being an island, no one is missing for more than a day or two without being found, or being found dead.
Iseult: I know what you mean, Ireland is similar in that way.
I love the animal imagery that appears in your novel (if in somewhat macabre ways). What inspired these representations of nature?
Johann: This was at first inspired by the first scene in True Detective, taken a step further. This then became another example of what King refers to as discovering the book as we write. I had not intended this to be a part of the murders at all, but Michael Stillwater sort of just did that as I wrote the scene. It was then that a lightbulb went off and I thought to carry that theme on through the crimes. And only later did the reason reveal itself.
Ok, Iseult, I have to admit that I am just NOW as I answer these questions discovering that I am indeed a “pantser” and not a “plotter”.
Iseult: Haha! Lots of discoveries in this interview.
Will there be more John Dark novels? (Please say yes!)
Johann: Very probably yes.
Iseult: Thank you so much for talking today, Johann. It was wonderful to speak with you. I loved Whitesands, congratulations on its publication, and I hope I don’t have to wait too long to read your next book.
Whitesands is the gripping debut thriller from Johann Thorsson. Click here to buy it now for $5.51 ebook on Amazon.