Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday Spotlight on our friend, Bracken MacLeod! We’ve hosted Bracken before when he had his release of Stranded, and we were very excited he could join us back in November for Small Business Saturday with Haverhill House Press, sharing his “author’s preferred edition” of Mountain Home.
Besides Stranded, Bracken is also the author of Come to Dust, among others. He’s also worked as a maratial arts teacher, a university philosophy instructor, for a children’s non-profit, and as a trial attorney
Thank you so much for joining us, Bracken! For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from the latest version of Mountain Home?
I don’t like to be pinned down to a single genre. If you include my short work along with my novels, I’ve written sci fi, weird fiction, crime, horror, dark erotica, and even a western. Where I tend to prefer to work is in what I call “secular” (i.e., not supernatural) thrillers. My recently re-released book, Mountain Home is a mostly secular thriller, with a very light supernatural element.
What readers should expect from Mountain Home isn’t the same book they read before (if they read it). I think of this edition as a restoration of the material, the way you’d restore an old house by tearing out all the old electrical and modernizing the plumbing. I did a line-by-line edit to sand off the rough edges of a first novel. The language hopefully better reflects my present literary style. In addition, I added a couple of scenes that expand upon a couple of characters that I thought deserved some extra time in the book, and restored the original cut ending. What I did not do, though, was make any George Lucas style Greedo-shoots-first changes. Well… maybe one. But trust me, it’s a good change.
What was the inspiration for Mountain Home? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
There are a lot of things that all added up to the idea for Mountain Home. I’d just trunked a fat novel that I’d been shopping to agents for a couple of years with no success. It was a sprawling crime novel that took place all over Boston with a figurative cast of thousands. Everyone I pitched it to liked the idea, and they liked my style, but the complete novel wasn’t right for them or the market. I wanted to do something new that was more or less the exact opposite of what I’d spent the last few years writing, and I was feeling inspired by a conversation I’d had with one of my literary heroes, John Skipp (he of The Light at the End and The Long Last Call). He’d described to me a project he was working on at the time that was intended to be a series of short, propulsive novels that you could read more or less in the time it took to see a movie. All chiller, no filler was the takeaway I got from his concept (this was WAY before James Patterson stole the idea). I wrote Mountain Home with an eye toward submitting it to his imprint, but then things didn’t work out there. So, it ended up having a different life.
As far as content inspiration, one of the major things that moved me to write this story was the news breaking at the time of the sexual assault crisis in the U.S. military. We engage in a lot of big talk about respecting the troops and honoring our veterans’ sacrifices, and then we fail them in so many ways both during their service and after they come home. I wanted to write about that failure and how it destroys the people that we claim to honor as heroes. I also tied that in to a theme that runs through a lot of my work about cycles of violence and the struggle to transcend abuse.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
Hated most was easy. Beau is a character with not much to like about him. Though Joanie is the one doing the shooting, Beau is the biggest hurdle for the protagonist, Lyn. He’s the one who is actively trying to suppress her agency. At the same time, he’s not a flat villain. Though he doesn’t get the same kind of development that Lyn and Joanie do, he still has daughters he loves and a pair of dogs he’s worried about getting home to. But, in this setting, and in terms of his broader personality, he’s still a selfish, racist, controlling asshole. No wonder he’s divorced.
Loved most is MUCH harder. There are a lot of characters in this book that I love. Lyn, natch. But Neil and Hunter are both characters that I grew very fond of as well as Leonard (who is the only character in the book directly based on a real person). Joanie, was the big surprise though. As the years go on, I find myself feeling the most affection for her. She does terrible things in the book, but she’s a badly broken person who wants not to be. She does her best, until her best just can’t cut it any more. I don’t think of her as a villain as much as I think she’s a tragic figure. Someone who deserved much better than she got. That might have been my subconscious aim all along. The epigraph by Andrew Vachss I picked for the book, “People who don’t have much get ugly about giving up the little they have left,” is ultimately about her.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
New England is a big part of my work. In a lot of my stories it is a kind of character itself, because of the geography, the history, and the attitude of the people who live here. That said, the only novel I’ve set in New England is Come to Dust. Stranded takes place in the Arctic (though the main character is originally from Gloucester), and Mountain Home is set in northern Idaho. I suppose Mountain Home could very easily take place in New Hampshire or northern Maine, but a huge part of the appeal of writing it for me was to cast back to time I spent vacationing in the Selkirk mountains.
The novel I am working on now is set in my early childhood stomping grounds in the Berkshires.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I don’t know how near it is, but I’m working on a home invasion thriller right now about a couple who buy a house from a man who isn’t ready to give it up. His secrets and theirs collide in a way that could cost all of them everything. The book is about those little expenses that aren’t part of the asking price, and can sink the deal if you aren’t prepared for them. That’s true of life as well as home buying. There are always unanticipated costs in getting and keeping what you want. There’s also a deeper thread of male entitlement and violence in the book that’s there if you’re reading for theme. The book is tentatively titled Closing Costs. This one’s a secular thriller more like Mountain Home or White Knight than either Stranded or Come to Dust.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Beyond Annie’s, all my work is available at Amazon smile.amazon.com/Bracken-MacLeod/e/B0095ZKR5Y or you can ask them to order it at Barnes & Noble.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I have a personal website at brackenmacleod.com, and very rarely blog over at https://brackenmacleod.wordpress.com
Thank you, again, Bracken, for having joined us for Small Business Saturday and for sharing this great interview. We look forward to selling more of your titles from our shelves!