Interview originally published here
I had not heard of Aric Davis before I was sent a copy of The Fort. Having now read it and loved it, I will now definitely watch for his new books as well as go back and read his prior novels.
This book manages to be both a coming-of-age story, about three boys who spend time at their fort in the trees, and a thriller about a murderer, a deranged Vietnam Vet named Hooper. Doing both was no easy task, but Davis does a great job of it.
Indeed, the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of the boys, the killer, and the detective on his trail. It seems to me there are an increasing number of authors experimenting with telling stories from alternating viewpoints, but many are unable to pull it off. Davis makes it look easy.
Another author who did a great job using alternating viewpoints is author Gillian Flynn, in her bestseller Gone Girl. She says of this book, “Every so often you come across a book with a voice like a blast of pure oxygen. Aric Davis has that kind of voice: crackling, assured, energized.”
I agree. His is a confident voice in a book where confidence can be an issue at times. The three boys spot the killer, but when they go to the police they find their parents and the police officer don’t believe their stories. Dejected and frustrated yet confident in what they saw they start to make plans and investigations of their own and I don’t want to say more than that for fear of giving away spoilers.
If you want to read a book that has a great coming of age story about these three boys and their complicated dysfunctional families, and a thriller about a killer in a story set in the 1980s, this is your book.
Davis, who has written seven prior novels, lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he worked for sixteen years as a body piercer, he now writes full time. Now let’s talk directly with the author, who I thank — along with his publicist — for agreeing to do this interview.
How did you come up with this story? How would you describe it to new readers?
I conceived the idea while writing my prior novel, Rough Men. The main character in that novel is a writer named Will Daniels, and while fleshing out his backstory I realized that I needed to give Will some books. One of them was a horror novel called Broken Bottles, and the other one was The Fort. Later, I decided that I liked the idea too much to let it live as a two sentence description in Will’s novel, so I decided that I was going to take it back from Will. I don’t think he minds too much.
Were you concerned about its dark tone deterring readers?
This is something that I try not to think about with my writing, and trust that my editors have keep me dialed back enough to make things palatable for my readers. One thing I definitely try to avoid is having violence just for the sake of violence, having it make sense within the story can remove some of the sting, in my opinion.
I have not read any of your other books — how are they similar and how different are they to this one?
Although they are all quite dissimilar when it comes to plot, one theme that I try and keep in all of my work is a sense of heart. I may not always draw empathy from my readers, but I certainly like to try and nudge them in that direction.
How would you describe Hooper, the killer? It’s hard to find much sympathy for him. Do you think he had PTSD and that’s part of his problem? Did you want readers to feel sympathy for him?
I think if Hooper were brought to trial he may have used PTSD or the war in Southeast Asia as an excuse for why he is the way that he is, but I don’t think that’s the case. He’s a damaged individual that was messed up before he saw combat, but the battles that he was in just served to further strip him of his humanity, and to make the idea of killing that much easier. I most certainly did not want my readers to feel anything more than a morbid curiosity when it comes to Hooper.
What’s it like to have Gillian Flynn praising your writing when she’s like a literary it girl right now?
It was so incredibly cool of Gillian to do that, and it really speaks to her character that she was willing to blurb an author that she’d never met simply because she liked my book. Reading a blurb written by one of your literary heroes is an impossible to describe feeling, and I hope that someday I can meet her in person to say a much belated thank you.
Your bio refers to you as a professional body piercer? How does one become a pro with that particular hobby?
Best case scenario, apprenticeship under a trained teacher. In my case, I poked holes in friends too trusting to think about what they were subjecting themselves to. Body piercing was an interesting job for a long time, but it’s one that I’m happy to have in the rear view mirror. It’s very nice to work in a world where editing is acceptable.
Did you plot out the book first or develop characters first?
Nope, I have only plotted one book, all the rest I’ve written by the seat of my pants. It keeps it exciting, and definitely makes me look forward to writing every day.
Did you have a fort like you describe in the book or did your friends?
I had a pair of friends with forts growing up, but the fort in my novel is based on the one I built for my daughter from old deck wood. Building a patio, regrettably, was just as difficult for me in real life as it is for Tim’s dad in the book.
Which character is most like you and why?
I’d love to say Van Endel or Tim, but the most likely candidate is Tracy, the foul mouthed medical examiner. I had a riot writing his lines.
Let’s end with what I call the bonus question — pick a question you’d like to get asked more often and go ahead and ask and answer it.
What are your favorite roller coasters? Right now, my top three roller coasters are Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion, Skyrush at Hershey Park, and Maverick at Cedar Point. I’m hoping to find some new favorites this summer, but those are going to be a tough act to follow!
Thanks for having me, Scott!