Blog Tour Interview: Frenzy by Robert Lettrick
Available wherever books are sold!!
Genre: Middle Grade, Horror, Survival
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
14-year-old Heath Lambert is spending his summer at Camp Harmony in the picturesque Cascade Mountain Valley. It's the perfect place to enjoy the soothing calm of nature as he weighs a heavy decision. The camp offers distractions: his friends, Cricket and Dunbar, always up for trouble; his reluctant crush on Emily, one half of the beautiful Em & Em Twins; and hulking bullies Thumper and Floaties, who are determined to make him their punching bag for the summer. But no one rattles Heath like his creepy cabin mate, Will Stringer. Brilliant, cold and calculating, Will views the world as one big chess game, and he's always three moves ahead of everyone else.
Heath soon learns there's a much bigger threat to contend with. Something's wrong with the animals in the surrounding forest. A darkness is spreading, driving them mad with rage. Wolves, bears, mountain lions-even the chipmunks are infected, spurred on in droves by one horrific goal: hunt and kill every human they find.
Heath and a ragtag band of campers are faced with a choice: follow Will's lead and possibly survive, or follow the camp staff and die. But how do you trust a leader when you suspect he's more dangerous than the animals you're running from?
Heath came to Camp Harmony to be surrounded by nature. He's about to get his wish.
For those readers who might not know your work, Can you tell them a bit about the books you write?
Sure, Kristin. I write a mix of science-thriller and horror. My books are for middle-grade readers, but I think fans of YA might enjoy them, too. My stories fill the age gap between Goosebumps and Stephen King.
How did you come up with the concept for Frenzy?
I was sitting around mulling over ideas for a new project when my agent Tweeted that she was looking for middle-grade horror for boys. I grew up on a steady diet of Stephen King and Michael Crichton, but I’d never written in the horror genre before. I was excited to give it a whirl. I had just read an article about ants in South America that were being turned into mind-controlled zombies by a bizarre fungus. I wondered what the world would be like if the fungus ever adapted to humans. I was daydreaming about a possible storyline while doing dishes and staring out the window overlooking my backyard when a squirrel scampered across the top of my fence, stopped, and met my gaze. We were locked in a staring contest for a good while. I’ve always been amazed by how fearless squirrels can be. I imagined a world where just the animals were possessed by the fungus. Zombie animals driven by the fungus to attack humans. I started researching the book and I found an article on National Geographic’s website. It described a possible scenario where the rabies virus might one day combine with a fast airborne virus like influenza, at which point we’d have a real life zombie-like rage epidemic sweeping the country. The more I read about rabies, the more I knew I wanted to veer away from the overused zombie trope and concentrate on telling a story that was just as scary, but a bit more plausible from a scientific standpoint. So I wrote Frenzy.
What are some of the restrictions writing Middle Grade Horror? On the opposite side What are some of the benefits?
Obviously there are things you can write about in YA and adult books that you can’t just write with impunity in middle-grade, and in your review you brought up the subject of violence in MG, which was something you rightly guessed I struggled with when writing Frenzy. As I mentioned, the book was inspired by a Tweet from my agent about MG horror, an intimidating squirrel, and an article in National Geographic, and so the story concept preceded the story plot. And the age range was fixed by my agent’s Tweet. Now imagine if hundreds of woodland creatures were quickly infected with an airborne rabies virus that drove them to form a vicious multi-species pack with the sole purpose of attacking humans. It would be a bloodbath. To be true to the concept, I’d have to describe animals mauling people in a graphic fashion. I knew I couldn’t do that in a middle-grade book. So while authors of adult horror will often go hog-wild when describing the most gruesome scenarios, I was forced to work backwards and deconstruct the violence. That’s why I came up with the Flash. One bite and the animals move on. No mauling. No lingering. Not a lot of gore or bloodshed. I couldn’t have written Frenzy if I hadn’t dreamt up the Flash. It would have been impossible. But once I did, I was able to tell the story of ten individuals facing an external threat while working together to reveal and vanquish internal ones. In fact, as I was writing, I found that I was happiest in the quiet moments of the book where the characters revealed things about themselves and formed bonds of friendship over the course of their journey down the Dray River. The animal attacks were just a necessary byproduct of the story concept, but they aren’t, in my opinion, the heart of the story. I do agree with you, Frenzy as a YA or adult novel would be a lot of fun to write, and I could totally unleash the beasts, but I quite enjoyed the challenge of writing the story for a middle-grade readership. What I find interesting is that some adult readers have compared Frenzy to the Walking Dead and railed against what they perceived as excessive violence in the book, but if you’ve watched WD you know that it’s not an apt comparison. In WD, zombies tear into humans, gorging their hunger for flesh. It’s brutal and almost all of the deaths happen onscreen in glorious Technicolor. While it’s true that the body count in Frenzy is high, almost all of the deaths take place “off-screen,” and when I did describe the death of a major character, I labored over the description to avoid Walking Dead territory.
What is your favorite quote,line or scene from Frenzy?
I’d have to say the last line of the book is my favorite. I think it succinctly sums up everything I wanted to say in the book. My favorite scene is probably the one that involves drinking straws. The scene I envisioned most clearly while writing was the run to the river. It was playing in my head like a movie, and I was looking through Heath’s eyes the whole time. There was no musical score, only the internal sound of Heath’s heavy breathing.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I think the toughest criticism was the one I’ve already mentioned, the complaint that I handled the violence in an irresponsible fashion. I promise it’s not my intention to give my young readers lifelong nightmares. But on the other hand, being young and being frightened by a scary movie or a scary book isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. One of the best memories I have from my childhood was watching The Shining snuggled up with my mom and sister on the couch, cringing over a bowl of popcorn. My mom made sure to cover our eyes during the infamous bathtub scene, but the movie still gave me nightmares for weeks. Even though I was young, I understood that The Shining was a movie and Jack Torrence wasn’t going to chop through the TV screen with his axe and announce, “Here’s Johnny!” Maybe because my mother was right there holding my hand, reminding me that it was “only a movie”. Sometimes good parenting means saying, “No, this book is too much for you to process right now,” and sometimes it means just being there to answer questions or offer a mental detoxification after their child has been immersed in an exhilarating but unsettling adventure.
The best compliment I’ve gotten so far? I love when a boy or girl in the recommended age range declares, “This book is awesome!” As much as I appreciate the feedback that I receive from adult readers, ultimately I think that simple four-word review is what we middle-grade authors live for.
With the location of Frenzy being set in a Summer Camp, How did you choose which characters would be the focus?
It happened organically, I think. I mean, I knew from the start that I wanted Heath to be the main character. But the rest of them just sort of jockeyed for position in my head as the story unfolded. I’ve received some interesting feedback about Will and the conclusion of his individual storyline, but in my mind, Will was only relevant in that he was one more force of nature impacting upon Heath’s internal and external journeys. Frenzy is Heath’s story, not Will’s. Will had a simple purpose in the story and that was to force Heath to think on a different level. That being said, I did enjoy writing Will. He is the first and only character I’ve ever penned who remained an enigma to me even after the book was finished. Even now, I don’t know what makes Will tick. He’s as mysterious to me as he was to Heath, and that’s why I think Will is one of my most successful characters.
Heath isn't your typical hero, How do you think the events over the course of the book influenced the characters development?
That’s true; Heath isn’t the typical grandiose hero. He’s not even a reluctant hero, because he was more than willing to sacrifice himself to save his friends. I think Heath is just a good kid who, through extreme adversity as a child, evolved to become a very mature and introspective young man. He’s simply a genuinely decent human being. Heath was actually inspired by a young cancer patient I saw on a reality show a few years ago. A little girl who managed to beat the disease into remission after a lengthy battle. I was blown away by how mature and hopeful she sounded when she spoke. She reminded me of a little Dali Lama, wise beyond her years, completely selfless, and brimming with gratitude, optimism and love. She affected me. Heath arrived at camp with his mind set, but I think truly evolved people are not rigid in their decisions. They allow themselves the freedom to change their minds. Heath saw his friends dying and I think under those circumstances he was reminded of just how precious the gift of life is and that it’s worth fighting for.
You tackle bullying in your book which I loved, Do you think it was important to show how even after a bullies redemption the scars of the act remain for those affected by it?
Definitely! I think emotions like hate, resentment, rage and fear are just as contagious as The Flash. They can be passed on from person to person, with crippling effect. I think it’s important to remember that in general, bullies aren’t happy people. Happy people don’t go around making life miserable for others. They usually have something festering in their lives and aren’t likely to share with their victims. I wanted to touch on this idea through the back-stories of Floaties and Thumper. Bullying is never right or defensible, but I think it’s important to remember that the person being bullied isn’t the only victim of the bullying. It damages all parties involved. I do empathize with Theo. I understand why he felt the way he did throughout the book. But I also know from experience that clinging to negative emotions is never healthy. The good news is that positive emotions can spread quickly, too.
I mentioned that Heath is the main character. Floaties was the supporting character that muscled his way from the back of the pack and said, “Hey, Robert! My story is just as important as Heath’s!” I agreed and I think his redemption is the story within the story.
I ask this strictly out of curiosity, Have you hidden any Easter eggs in your books? Personal stuff or jokes known only to a chosen few?
Fun question! I can’t think of any hidden eggs off the top of my head, but I will say that originally we had intended to include a Science of Frenzy section in the back of the book, but in the end it didn’t happen. I think readers would probably be surprised to discover how much of Frenzy was inspired by true stories. For example, in 2012 a Boy Scout leader was attacked by a rabid beaver while swimming in the Delaware River. The beaver swam through the man’s legs and bit him in the chest. He was able to drag the beaver onto the shore and free himself of the sick animal’s teeth. The beaver then attacked a pool noodle. The Boy Scout troop saw that the beaver was still dangerous and suffering from the disease they put it out of its misery before it could attack anyone else.
Also, Mr. Soucandi and Cricket were inspired by people I actually know. Like the Mr. Soucandi in the book, the real version was kicked in the head by a horse.
One last question. Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? Any chance of a Frenzy sequel?
When my agent first pitched Frenzy to Disney, we included detailed synopses for two sequels in case they were open to publishing a three-book series. Ultimately my editor felt that Frenzy worked best as a stand-alone book. Book two, set in a zoo, would have opened a year after the events at Camp Harmony. In the third book, the virus spreads to a major city. If enough people read Frenzy and ask for more, I’m sure it’s something my editor and I will discuss. Right now the plan is to write stand-alone books in the same vein as Frenzy—science thrillers with a dash of horror. I’m currently working on a story titled The Murk. I’m in the editing phase now and the book should be in stores sometime in 2015. The Murk follows a character named Piper as she and her companions search for a miraculous flower in the country’s largest blackwater swamp, the Okefenokee of Georgia. The story is incredibly creepy and draws from the rich history and folklore of the region.
I have several ideas for books after I finish The Murk, but there’s one in particular I’m champing at the bit to write. It’s set on a tropical island and features some epic fight scenes and some beautiful monsters.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me.
And Thank You Robert for stopping by!!
About the Author
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