Andy Davidson is the author of the novel In the Valley of the Sun, which was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. His latest book is The Boatman’s Daughter, which follows a young woman in the bayou, who moves contraband for a preacher to earn money to protect her loved ones against a dark threat. It has received rave reviews, with Booklist placing it alongside Sing, Unburied, Sing and Winter’s Bone, and Kirkus Reviews hailing it as, “A stunning supernatural Southern gothic.”
What would you most like people to know about your latest book, The Boatman’s Daughter?
Only that it was a labor of love from start to finish!
What is it that draws you towards horror fiction?
I’ve been a fan of horror stories since I was a kid. As anyone my age who writes horror would probably answer, I devoured Stephen King. It and Cujo and Cycle of the Werewolf were my favorites. Also, a little Dean Koontz—Watchers, Lightning. But before King and Koontz, there was Jaws. Jaws is a little bit of every kind of story for me: a thriller, a monster feature, a slasher movie, a seafaring adventure in the vein of Moby Dick, a buddy comedy, a love story—it just hits every note you can hit, and it’s a masterpiece. That’s something I love about horror in general: it’s the emotional bedrock upon which you can build almost any kind of story.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a second novel for MCDxFSG Originals, a western horror novel set in 1875 in the waning months of the Red River War. Think True Grit meets Apocalypse Now by way of Dog Soldiers.
What are you reading?
I just finished She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin, which is an extraordinary collection of weird horror. It was chosen, alongside my first novel, In the Valley of the Sun, and Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, for Summer Scares 2020. Now, I’m reading Kelly Link’s collection Get in Trouble. After that, it’s Adam Nevill’s The Reddening.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? Which do you avoid?
I wouldn’t say I avoid any genre, though being a writer certainly changes the way you read books. I find lately I’m pretty impatient with fiction that meanders and doesn’t grab me. I’m less likely to give a book 100 pages to find its footing. Of course, I love reading horror, but I’m also a fan of crime, thrillers, southern fiction. I read across mediums, too: comics, graphic novels, even screenplays.
Have any books ever made you feel truly frightened?
Salem’s Lot still scares me. The scene when the little boy is buried and the sun is setting, the atmosphere, the sense of dread… it gives me the shivers just thinking about it.
What are you watching?
My wife and I are burning through Locke & Key on Netflix, and we’re also glued to the fifth season of Better Call Saul, which, for my money, is just about the greatest show ever made for television.
What are you listening to?
I just recently became an Apple Music subscriber. So right now it’s just gorging on whatever artists and songs I can think of. I have a number of books on Audible. With all the driving lately on the book tour for The Boatman’s Daughter, I’m presently waffling between Michael McDowell’s Blackwater and Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers.
Do you remember the first story you ever read and the impact it had on you?
I don’t know about the first story, but I do remember the first adult novel I ever read. Watchers made a huge impression on me. My Mom recommended it to me. It had so much heart, that story. Characters that felt real, even though they were living through extraordinary circumstances. Also, the magic of the intelligent dog versus the pitiable monster. So much about that novel still informs the types of characters and situations I love to imagine.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
5th grade. 10 years old. Willy the Worm. The story of a worm who lives beneath a firehouse and wears a hat and drives a car. Like Star Wars or The Godfather, it was a family saga.
What do you look for in a great story?
Pathos. Empathy. Characters that move me deeply.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I like a good coffee shop.
Which of your characters do you think you could be good friends with?
I don’t know. I imagine Littlefish and I could bond over some Conan the Barbarian and Swamp Thing.
What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for a book?
Billy Cotton from The Boatman’s Daughter led me down a strange path, researching cults and a particular cult figure who, before he had a career as a TV preacher, designed fashion for Nashville country-western singers. The pictures were weird.
What’s something you are really good at that few people know about?
I can name actors in obscure parts. I have an extensive catalogue of actor names and roles in my head.
When you’re writing, do you have everything carefully plotted out or do you just let the material come to you?
My work tends to start out very structured, very plotted. It changes along the way, as characters surprise me. But generally I’m a big proponent of plotting. It helps you finish, which is all-important. You can fix it later, I always say, but you can’t fix it if you don’t finish it.
Do you rewrite passages over and over or are you generally pretty happy with what you’ve written after the first time or two?
I’m constantly rewriting stuff. After I finish the first draft, a book might go through fourteen or fifteen permutations. Chapters come and go. Whole paragraphs disappear, new ones spring up.
Is there anything you’ve edited out of a book that you really wish you had left in?
Not really. If it gets cut, it needs to be cut. There is, though, material that I’ve excised that I do think is good; ultimately, it just doesn’t fit the story that needs telling.
What is your favorite thing about being an author? Your least favorite?
My favorite thing is meeting other authors and librarians and talking about books. My least favorite thing is the waiting. Being a writer is a very slow profession sometimes. Publishing moves at a glacial pace, so it can be torture, sometimes, waiting months and months for the world to meet characters you’ve been living with for years.
Did you visit the library a lot growing up? Do you now?
I did. My hometown library was a constant source of reading for me. John Gardner’s James Bond novels, the Hardy Boys. Short story collections. The Shining. It burned down, tragically, when I was in college. Today, I don’t frequent libraries to check books out simply because I like buying them, but I’ve been meeting and talking with librarians all over the country, and that’s been really great. Librarians are amazing.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
The controversies that have broken out, recently, among YA fiction (social media dogpiling on authors) or the American Dirt fiasco—these, more than anything else, maybe, have made me cautious. I wouldn’t say it’s changed my perceptions about fiction, but it definitely shapes how a writer presents material to the world. Which can be dangerous, in a way. As a writer, you have to find that balance between being honest and truthful and not being hurtful or insensitive. I think sensitivity reads are good things. I think trigger warnings are bad. By and large, though, this is all external noise to the work. The work just needs to be honest.
What little known book do you wish everyone would read?
The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb. The film, written by James Agee and directed by Charles Laughton, gets a lot of notoriety, but Grubb’s novel is largely an unsung masterpiece.