‘Ex-Heroes’ Author Peter Clines on the Stephen King Story That Scarred Him for Life

 

This is the first of a two-part interview (second part here) with Peter Clines, author of The Fold and zombies-versus-capes series Ex-Heroes. In this installment, Peter talks about his work on The Fold, the horrors of a photographic memory, and the Stephen King story that ensured he’ll never sleep with a closet door open. Ex-Isle, the latest installment in the Ex-Heroes saga is available now. Look for The Fold in paperback on March 1.

UNBOUND WORLDS: What can you tell me about The Fold?

PETER CLINES: The best description I’ve heard of it is that it’s a horror-suspense novel disguised as a sci-fi mystery. It’s about a guy named Mike who has a lot of special gifts that he’s been denying for a long time. He basically gets roped into working for DARPA by an old friend and investigating this project they’ve been working on that is basically what seems to be a working teleportation device. The scientists are very paranoid for some reason about letting anyone examine it or letting the invention go public, so Mike is being sent in to their little exclusive clique to find out what exactly is going on and why they’re so paranoid about anyone finding out about their working machine.

UW: That’s interesting because there are actually a lot of rumors and conspiracy theories about DARPA creating these sorts of technologies. Are you familiar with any of those? Did you run across them when you were doing your research?

PC: Yeah, I mean, DARPA, for years has been a writer’s goldmine. If you ever want to say that the government is pouring money into something crazy, you can use DARPA and it’s completely believable because they have funded some of the most bizarre things ever. Some amazing stuff has come out of DARPA, so it’s really not hard to believe. You can do a little bit of research and come up with some really great things that just sound great and work well in a story.

UW: How did this idea come to you, initially come to you?

PC: I’ve actually had versions of this idea rattling around in my head since ’90 or ’91. It started out as a short story I wrote in college for a writing class called “The Albuquerque Door” which dealt with a lot of similar themes, but on a much less experienced level. Then I was actually kicking around for a while with an idea called Mouth about six or seven—actually about eight years, now—and I put it aside to work on this idea I had about zombies fighting superheroes. That went over really well, so it [Mouth] got pushed aside for a while. About two years ago, I was talking to my editor about what I wanted to do next, and I thought abut dredging this book out. I realized that it tied in really well with another book I wrote called Team. There are a lot of similar ideas and themes in it, and while it wasn’t a sequel, or anything like that, it would make for a neat shared universe book and people who had read both would see some connections between them.

UW: When we talk about special abilities and DARPA, one of the things that come to mind is the Stargate Project, in which they were working on developing psychic powers to compete with the Russian, who had their own program. Have you ever thought of something at DARPA and thought, “You know what? This is probably too weird to go in a book”? If so, what might that have been.

PC: Honestly, no. If you really go through it and look at—between DARPA and the CIA—just some of the stuff that our government has spent money on… I have friends who work in government and have worked for the military and they’ve actually told me stories that I’m not supposed to repeat of things where it’s like you hear of those things and you [are surprised] that someone was actually spend money on that and then they did. I really don’t think that there’s actually anything that you can tie back to the government that would seem too ridiculous.

UW: What about your main character’s gift?

PC: Mike is, depending on how you want to look at it, blessed or cursed. He has extremely high IQ and an actual photographic memory. This was a big thing, because when I was doing research for the book, I learned that there really isn’t a such thing as a photographic memory. It’s in comic books, it’s in movies, but it doesn’t actually exist. There are variations thereof—people who have a near photographic visual memory, there are people who have what they call extraordinary memory—but the thing that we think of as photographic memory doesn’t exist. I wanted it to, though, so I did a lot of though experiments. If someone actually had this ability, what would their life be like it? It affects how you deal with a character because, literally, this character cannot forget anything. They never have this moment of wondering what someone said or forgetting where he or she might have seen something before. It made for a very challenging book in that sense, because I couldn’t cheat in any way, but it also made for a very interesting character as I really started to think about what life would be like of someone who remembers every single moment of their life in perfect, crystal clarity.

UW: What are the bad parts of having a photographic memory?

PC: Look at it this way: We all know that when we’re kids growing up we stub toes, we hurt ourselves, we see pets die, all sorts of things, and with a photographic memory every single one of these things is right now: You’re remembering it again. The moment when your first dog died is right now. Any time you happen to think of your dog then it is happening right now, again. And your grandmother, your grandfather, your school hamster, the first girl or boy who broke your heart—every bit of it is now, and you can never get away from any of this your whole life. When the book begins, Mike has decided the best thing he can do is essentially hide. He makes it a huge point that he doesn’t read, he doesn’t watch TV—he’s a school teacher who doesn’t have to pick up any of the books because he knows all the lessons and all the plans. He just tried to have as minimal input as possible.

UW: What scares you?

PC: All sorts of stuff. As silly as it sounds, one of the scariest things to this day is an old Stephen King story titled “The Boogeyman” [collected in the King anthology Night Shift]. I read it when I was really too young to be reading Stephen King stories. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it—it’s amazing—but to this day, as a grown adult, I cannot sleep with the closet door open. I felt really stupid about this for ages, until one night I was hanging out with a friend of mine—one of those military guys I mentioned—and we had a couple of drinks, and he brought up that he cannot sleep with the closet door open because he read “The Boogeyman” when he was a kid!