Although I don’t have time to read every book that comes my way, it doesn’t stop me being absolutely fascinated by them. That’s the case with Pond Scum by Michael Lilly. Sadly I didn’t have time to add it to my TBR but I am thrilled that Michael agreed to tell me more about Pond Scum in interview and I would like to thank Kelly Pike at Folk PR for putting us in touch with one another.
My name is Jeremy Thorn, and I’m a serial killer.
Jeremy ‘Remy’ Thorn is a detective from a small town in Oregon. He does his job well and keeps to himself. A past of trauma and abuse, and a compulsive need for balance have shaped him into the person he is today: a decisive, effective killer.
His routine is simple but trustworthy.
Step one: Find two targets. The first, an abomination of a human being whose only contribution to the world is as fertilizer. The second, a detriment to society, perhaps a sidekick or accessory.
Step two: Kill the first. Frame the second.
After his latest, and most personal kill, all seems to be going well. He makes it home by morning and continues with his plan as normal, with each perfectly timed maneuver all mapped out. But to his horror, he finds that the man he was trying to frame—a hotshot detective from a major nearby city—has been called in to work the case. And what’s worse … he’s privy to the truth.
An Interview with Michael Lilly
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Michael. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Pond Scum in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I’d love to. I was born and raised in Utah, United States. It’s a fairly conservative area, and I think this influenced my upbringing in a big way, but the opposite way you’d expect. I’m gay (surprise!) and came out when I was a teenager, which created quite a lot of conflict, both internal and external, for me and those in my life. I think these factors largely propelled my desire to write. To dispel any rumors that may arise from the content of my book, no, I was not abused in any way. In fact, much of my family has had an active role in raising awareness for and putting a stop to child abuse locally, nationally, and even internationally.
(How interesting that sexuality has impacted on your desire to write.)
Why do you write?
There’s too much going on in my head. If I write it down, it helps me organize those thoughts. Often, those thoughts are philosophical or thought-provoking in nature, so I use Remy and the gang as sort of props to act out these hypotheticals.
When did you realise you were going to be a writer?
Oh dear. Not until I finished my first draft, honestly. I had this piece of work and didn’t know what to do with it (other than edit until my fingers bleed!), so I started researching what steps to take in order to publish traditionally. I had no idea whether my book would be considered by agents or publishers (and even still, I have trouble believing I am where I am). But feedback from friends, family, a supportive agent, and a wonderful editor have gone quite far to stem those doubts.
(So many authors describe a similar experience.)
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
The easiest part of writing, I think, is the one that makes everyone fall in love with the idea of it. That first rush you get after you conceptualize a new story, characters bursting into being in your mind, and the infinite possibilities of plot and suspense and interesting dynamics. There are no rules in the first page, right? Conversely, the hardest part is taking that wonderful start and patting it out to a full-on story. When you’re in the middle of the book, you’ve created something, so everything you write from then on must adhere to the thing you’ve created, barring some major plot twisting. And those are fun, too! But still, it can be a bit challenging to continue producing content after you’ve established so many rules and dynamics.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
Ha! I do most of my writing at my night job. As I mentioned above, while I was writing Pond Scum, we were allowed to have our laptops at work. When this permission was repealed, I wrote Roadrunner entirely by hand, and almost exclusively at work. It takes a bit of forced routine to get oneself to look forward to writing, but now, the sensation of putting pen to paper is one I crave, so it ended up working out.
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Pond Scum?
Jeremy Thorn, or, as he’d have you call him, Remy, was born into a life of trauma and abuse. I wanted to explore the oft overlooked nuances of mental illness and trauma, while simultaneously delivering an engaging and satisfying tale, and thus Pond Scum was born. If I may say so, I’m quite pleased with how the book turned out, and I think I managed to pull off what I set out to do.
Your protagonist Jeremy ‘Remy’ Thorn is both serial killer and detective. How did you manage to create such a complex individual?
Actually, the character sort of coalesced on the page in a sort of free write I did. Being the wordy sort that I am, I had a bit of sentence and phrasing stuck in my head (there’s a bit about the nip in the air in the prologue, foretelling the coming Thanksgiving season), so I sat down to write that out. After I created the setting, Remy and the bloody glove came into being, and all at once, it emerged. For all I know, Remy had been waiting to be written for years.
Remy is very much the product of his upbringing. To what extent do you think we are all affected by our past life?
Of course, there’s always the argument of nature vs. nurture, but at the end of the day, we sit down and do one of a few things. Perhaps we reflect on that day, or we anticipate the following one. Maybe we pour ourselves a cup of tea and immerse ourselves in television, books, video games. In any case, we’re either thinking outwardly about the world and its products or absorbing them. I think we don’t realize exactly how much we are products of our lives – past and present, and anticipation of the future. This concept can also be argued, of course, as two people with similar histories end up having vastly different outcomes, but again, we need to take into account the small differences, those little taken-for-granteds that slip our minds too often.
You’ve had some major struggles in your own life. How far has writing Pond Scum been a cathartic experience or a difficult one for you?
It was almost purely cathartic. Of course, in the more emotional moments, it was difficult to put onto the page, but even then, I felt a special brand of cleansed afterward. I’ll reiterate that my own struggles certainly haven’t been the same as Remy’s, but in the way that he’s built and the way that he handles his problems, he and I are very similar. For example, I wrote a not-small bit about his obsessive-compulsive rituals, and these are the exact rituals I myself had when I was in high school. To get that out was painful, but the pain brought with it that sort of numb healing sensation afterward, and I’ve felt just the slightest bit purer for it.
(I’m so glad it has been a positive experience Michael.)
The subject matter underpinning Remy’s early life is traumatic. Why did you choose to explore such themes through your writing?
As I’ve mentioned above, my family and I have had roles confronting and fighting against child abuse. In addition, my father is a counselor and works closely with children (often with trauma and abuse), using play therapy techniques. While I haven’t pursued psychology in higher education, I took a couple of classes in high school, and the fascination has always been there. For the past four years, I’ve been working with high-risk teen girls at a behavioral treatment center, and have had the opportunity to build relationships and rapport with them. As such, I’ve been able to get a close-up and heartbreaking look at the effects of trauma and how it influences the mind. In a study conducted within the facility itself, 78 of 80 patients had disclosed having been subject to some sort of trauma, and the other two were suspected of having had trauma, but simply not opening up about it just yet.
(That sounds like immensely important work.)
Pond Scum is the first in your Darkthorn series. How do you manage the plotting for a series?
I had originally planned to write just the single book, but after it ended, I found myself missing Remy! Just as I finished writing Pond Scum, my night job banned computers, so I figured it was pretty good timing to put a halt to it, but one night I was overcome with the need to write, so I grabbed a few sheets of paper and my trusty pen, and set to work on what became the prologue to Roadrunner. As I neared the completion of the latter, I foresaw this sentiment (I’m smart like that), so I left it quite open at the end while still wrapping up the main storyline. This gave me plenty of room for mystery and draw in the third installment. I am aware that all good things must come to an end, however, so I’ve spent a lot of time bracing myself emotionally for Remy’s story to come to a close.
Pond Scum has a cover that suggests there is more happening beneath the surface than might at first be realised. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Actually, I’ll admit that I had relatively little influence on the art. The stipulations I set forth were that I wanted the constellation Orion incorporated (See him there, in the upper right corner? Love that guy,) and that it was fairly dark. The use of the pond must have been a collaboration of my editor and the artist, and I absolutely adore it. Indeed there is more going on underneath the surface, and that in itself is largely what needed to be conveyed. The title and cover art are attention-grabbers, but sufficiently vague to get potential readers to ask, “Why?” So I suppose, in essence, the goal is to force them to ask questions without allowing them the answers. We’re tricky marketers like that.
If you could choose to be a character from Pond Scum, who would you be and why?
Beth! She’s confident and smart and I love her (no hetero). When I first introduced her in the prologue, I didn’t intend for her to have such a big role in the book, but as I continued to describe her character, I fell in love with her, and I couldn’t just let her sit in the background.
If Pond Scum became a film, who would you like to play Remy and why would you choose them?
That’s a difficult one. I wanted Remy to be subtly handsome, but if we’re taking it to Hollywood, I definitely wouldn’t mind a Mark Wahlberg or Chris Evans type playing him. Just as long as he manages to deliver the funny bits genuinely. I think those are important parts to Remy’s character, and I hope they’re not overlooked or discarded when my audience reads them.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
Anything well-written, really. Coming of age young adult dramas, horror, fantasy, crime, suspense. Sci-Fi is one genre I have difficulty getting interested in, but even then, if I start reading a book, I usually have difficulty putting it down.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Pond Scum should be their next read, what would you say?
Treat your mind to the twisted, complex crime fiction it’s been craving with Pond Scum.
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions, Michael.
Thank you for the opportunity to share about my book!
About Michael Lilly
Michael Lilly is from the States, born and raised in Utah. Much of the inspiration for Remy comes from Lilly’s own experience growing up with mental health issues, many of which were associated with his fear of coming out in the LDS church. Today, Lilly uses his experience to help others in need, working in a behavioural treatment centre for high-risk teen girls. Lilly’s father is the founder of the non-profit Bikers Against Child Abuse.