They say you should never judge a book by its cover. Still, in some cases, it helps to be warned. And The Devil’s Dream by American author David Beers certainly does look pretty ominous, with promises of sinister and bloody subjects lurking under its thin veneer. Indeed, it’s a story of transfigured love and obsession, about what makes a criminal genius tick, and the fragility of human life at the hands of a dark mind. This summer, Edinburgh Book Review dared to step into the shadows to confront the man who crafted this gruesome tale, to uncover what drives and inspires him.
First off, it should be noted The Devil’s Dream is not some run-of-the-mill battle between heroes and villains. Things are simple not as clear-cut when it comes to the book’s characters. Instead, at its core, the novel asks the question whether we’re just the product of the pain and sacrifices visited upon us by others, or whether we are strong enough to make moral choices that transcend this zero-sum game, and take responsibility for our actions. To write with this kind complexity within the realm of psychological horror takes a special kind of mind. We asked what attracts David Beers to committing pen to paper on this darker side of the human psyche, and what he would say are his most important influences as a writer?
David Beers: You know, there’s probably a lot of things involved in this. My family life was horrible as a child. Broken home and all that nonsense. I think that might predispose me to thinking of dark stories—and, I’ve just always been interested in horror, thrillers, and the internal psyche of characters. At nine years old, I stayed up late to watch a show called “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” I remember reading Stephen King for the first time and having my mind blown at the kind of horror he was writing. My brother was into comedy, but I just didn’t get it. I always thought the dark was more interesting than the light.
Influences as a writer…King, easily. Robert Pirsig – his philosophy and characters in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance have affected my life in a profound way. Bentley Little, some. Don Winslow, although I couldn’t point out exactly where in my writing you might see him. Joe Hill. My money is on him out performing his father in the long run.
In The Devil’s Dream, a blood-curdling race to catch Matthew Brand, a calculating serial killer with a brilliant mind, is underscored by the killer’s very human desire and maddening obsession to resurrect his beloved son by exacting revenge on the policemen who killed him. All the while, Brand’s motivation and passion is mirrored in his opponent, FBI agent Allison Moore, who sacrifices time with her loved ones in the name of justice. Punctuated by themes such as redemption, forgiveness, greed, vengeance, sacrifice and resurrection, Beers novel makes for a very complex and involved read. How did the ideas for the themes and characters from The Devil’s Dream come to his mind? Again, the author reveals the answer to be startlingly personal:
David Beers: My mother died in the summer of 2013. I just graduated from my master’s program and was at my job going through training, and I kind of broke down and asked to leave the room. I went outside, and I remember just looking at the area in front of me. I thought, What would I do to have her back, if just for a day? The answer was simple and true. I’d burn the whole world down. Matthew Brand was born right then. I think I started the novel the next day or something.
Rally’s character came from my wife – Brand wasn’t originally supposed to have a wife, and she just said – ‘why not?’ Completely changed the arc of the story – for the better.
The themes of love and resurrection seem to provide a common thread to Beers’ work. In his earlier novel, Dead Religion – where a young man is confronted with disturbing dreams in which an ancient Aztec god demands his self-sacrifice in order to be restored in the real world, turning him onto a bloody trail of death and destruction – seems to touch on some elements revisited in The Devil’s Dream. What is it about the concept of resurrection that fascinates him so much?
David Beers: Interesting observation. I don’t think I’ve ever made that connection before, actually. To be honest, I’m going to put the common thread down to luck. Dead Religion came from very different ideas and influences then The Devil’s Dream – despite both names being associated with religion. Sacrifice, I think, interests me a lot more than resurrection, and that’s common in both novels too. What makes people do it? What would drive someone to give up all they have – their life – for someone or something else?
Speaking of self-sacrifice; When reading between the lines on David Beers’ own blog, you get this sneaking suspicion that a lot of that mountain-moving drive and obsessive passion exhibited by his characters seeps out of their creator’s own dogged determination as a writer. In his own words, Beers offers a candid perspective on the time and dedication involved in the process of trying to become a prolific novelist: He says it takes about 1,000 hours to become a competent writer, with competent being 9,000 hours away from mastery. Our curiosity peaked, we wondered whether he could tell us more about the mentality involved, and what his ultimate goal is? What makes it all worthwhile for him? Is it the prospect of owning a yacht, as he mentions in his online bio?
David Beers: Man, I have got to rewrite the bio! The sacrifices are enormous; I’m not going to lie. I have a wonderful wife who makes it possible. She’s just beyond supportive.
Excuse the language, but f**k the yacht. If I had a yacht, I’d still be spending those hours in a hole on the yacht plugging away at the keyboard. What makes it worth it are those dedicated fans that wait for your next book. That are constantly asking when it’s coming out. That read it in a day once it’s finally available. They make it worth it.
“The mentality to hit 10,000 hours of dedicated practice…I don’t want to sound pompous here, but it takes a certain grit to do this. 10,000 hours of dedicated practice is different than simply showing up to your job. It’s not what most people do every day. There are some really great books written on the studies looking into this theory of 10,000 hours (The Talent Code is one of them), and it’s not simply ‘working’. There’s an intensity to it that really only allows people to practice a few hours each day. After that, the mind is just too exhausted to practice at such a high level. At the end of 3-4 hours, you’re done, completely spent. And to do that day in and day out, no matter what’s going on, that’s where the grit comes into play. Anyone can do it for a week. Anyone can do it for a month. It’s when you’re going on two years that you begin to see – this is really consuming my life.
My ultimate goal? That’s simple. The best compliment I’ve received for my work came from an email. Someone told me they had the absolute worst day out of their entire working career, and they came home, opened my book, and completely forgot about it. They became so enraptured with the story that the rest of their life faded away. That’s my goal. To tell a story so well that I can make people’s lives better, if only for a few hours.
So, with all that hard graft and mind-altering zeal, does it pay off in the end? After all, there’s practice and then there’s talent. A friend of his he lovingly calls ‘the Pizza Sage’ once changed his life by showing him that one could actually try and be a writer for a living – with writing stories always having come naturally to Beers – and which sent him on the long path to actually becoming a good writer, deserving to be published. So, after all these years, is he any closer to understanding what actually separates a writer from someone who just writes – and in turn, what distinguishes a writer from a great author?
David Beers: I think about that question a lot though; what makes a writer? Artists, at least in my experience, are both extremely self-conscious and yet arrogant. I constantly think my work isn’t good enough and, at the same time, think my voice should be heard instead of others. The Pizza Sage actually writes amazing stories. I don’t consider him a writer, though. A writer actually writes. I wake up every day and get my three hours in at four in the morning. The Pizza Sage doesn’t do that anymore. I don’t get it, but again, that’s not my life.
I can’t say what makes a great author, because I’m not one of them. I think I’ll end up being a good author. The greats, though—the Kings, Melvilles, Nabokovs, Faulkners, and Hemmingways—they’re something different than the rest of us. They’re born with an innate talent, that I think transcends what we can do, and they combine that with a fierce drive to better themselves. They see the world different. They see words differently. That coupled with the inability to stop putting time at the keyboard births great authors. I’m just thankful they exist. They allow the rest of us to see what’s possible, even if we can’t attain it.
After finishing reading The Devil’s Dream, I was more than a little startled to learn that the story wasn’t dead and buried with that. In truth, it seems the trail of Matthew Brand will continue for another two books. Was it Beers’ intention to write a trilogy from the beginning? What can fans look forward to in the near future?
David Beers: It wasn’t meant to be a trilogy at all, but my fans kept begging to see what Brand did next given the ending of the first book. I kept saying; ‘no, that’s it, there won’t be anymore.’ Then an idea came to me that really interested me. If Brand escaped through someone else’s body, what would happen to his own psyche if he had to deal with someone else inside there? Especially if the person he used to escape was a convicted rapist.
The trilogy is finished. Book Two is out and Book Three will be out in early September of 2014. I’m glad I decided to make this a trilogy, because Brand’s story wasn’t done at the end of book one.
After that, I’m beginning a five book science-fiction/horror/thriller series. It’ll probably end up being around 1,200 pages at the end of it all. All of them should be out by October of 2014. Also, I got a few short stories on the shelf I need to get out there as well.
So, there’s plenty afoot for fans of David Beers’ work in the months to come. We at Edinburgh Book Review are sure that we’ll be revisiting his world of elegant terror quite soon. In the meantime, read our review of The Devil’s Dream from earlier this year, or have a look at David Beers’ official website – including his completely revamped biography.