Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of Blood & Dirt! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise?
Corey Niles: Thank you so much. I would say that at its core, Blood & Dirt is a gay horror story about surviving death in every sense of the phrase. Set in Pittsburgh in 2017, the story follows Vincent, a University of Pittsburgh student, and his boyfriend James who fall victim to a violent hate crime that results in James’ murder. Weeks after his funeral, James reappears, unharmed but changed. In the face of an apathetic police force and a growing number of missing gay men, Vincent and James work to identify the criminals who attacked them and uncover what truly happened on the night they were attacked.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in bringing the story to life, and what (or who) have been some of your creative influences?
CN: A lot of the novel was born out of living in Pittsburgh in the wake of the 2016 election. The election seemed to embolden hateful people in a way that I’d never seen in my lifetime. On top of several queer people going missing in the city under questionable circumstances, my boyfriend and I were threatened when we were out with friends by some man who was enraged at our apparent queerness. That incident, and wondering what I would do if something awful happened to my boyfriend, was what formed the basis of the novel.
I had the opportunity to develop Blood & Dirt in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction (M.F.A.) Program. While drafting, I studied the genre of popular fiction, particularly horror. I learned that horror stories often came from myths, legends, and folktales to warn children of the evils of the world, and I studied horror fiction like they were textbooks. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stephen King’s Pet Sematary were two novels I returned to many times in the development of the novel. I think my reverence for them, as well as the horror genre as a whole, is apparent in the novel.
BD: If given the opportunity, do you foresee expanding the world of the book or its characters into subsequent stories?
CN: I have spent an afternoon or two exploring where the characters who survive end up after the close of the novel, but I don’t know if any of their stories after the last page would warrant another tale or novel, at least not now. That being said, I adored writing Sam, and if I ever considered putting one of these characters through more hell, it would probably be her to get to know her better. I am ardently opposed to the unnecessary sequel though, so it would have to be something special to make me want to return to her.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that this story will connect with and impact readers?
CN: I have always loved the horror genre because it not only provides an escape, but it is also an informative genre. You aren’t only enjoying a story, but through following or rebelling against the decisions of the characters, you are learning to survive the world.
I often turned to the genre growing up because these insurmountable obstacles in my life didn’t look all that different from a man in a hockey mask or an eternal monster. I often told myself that if Laurie Strode or Sidney Prescott could rebuild their lives after what they went through, I could certainly survive the hardships I faced.
If a reader picks up Blood & Dirt, forgets about their problems for a couple hours, and has a chance to process something about life, death, or losing someone, then my I did my job.
More than anything, I hope it connects with queer readers. As a fan of the horror genre, I was often saddened that the characters who I identified with the most were some of the first to be slaughtered. I wanted to put a gay character in the driver’s seat and create a character who is far from perfect, but one who is as flawed and as lovable as the many heroes and heroines who have graced the pages of horror fiction.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CN: I have been working on a few different projects since I wrote Blood & Dirt. I took a break from prose after finishing the final draft of the novel to work on poetry. A lot of those poems are now making their way into anthologies and magazines like “much to be mourned,” which will appear in Nightmare Magazine in September. I finished a queer poetry collection that is rooted in the psychological and historical research of cults that I recently started shopping around for a publisher. The past year, I have been working on a queer post-apocalyptic novella that is entering the final stages of editing, so I am excited to hopefully start querying that soon. I’ve also started outlining my next novel, which is shaping up to be more of a thriller, so a lot of exciting works to come.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Blood & Dirt and your other work?
CN: My website, coreyniles.com, is the best place to keep up to date with news on Blood & Dirt and my other publications. I have recently published an essay about the writing process and inspiration of the novel on the site, as well as a visual tour of the setting of Blood & Dirt. I also include where to find me on social media if anyone wants to connect online.