Today I’m delighted to be interviewing author Bill Schweigart, whose new novel, The Beast of Barcroft, was released in November. Bill has been kind enough to share an excerpt from the book with us, but before we get to that, lets see what he had to say when I caught up with him recently…
I bid you welcome to the dark and twisty world of The Seemingly Irrelevant. We’ll start with a nice easy one – tell me a little about yourself and your writing.
Very glad to be here, Hazel – thank you so much! My name is Bill Schweigart and I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C. called Arlington with my Kate and our daughter Sidney. And when they’re asleep, I write about monsters. As one does.
Your new novel, The Beast of Barcroft is about to be released, what inspired this particular story?
A few things really. First, for a suburb of Washington, D.C., there’s a surprising amount of woods in Arlington and I’ve always wanted to set something there. Then a few years ago, I lost my father. I didn’t have a particular plan for writing about either of those things until I happened upon an article about the real “Beast of Barcroft.” In 1974, something actually terrorized my neighbourhood. Pets were butchered, wild screeching filled the night air, and the local press ran stories about a “savage mystery beast.” When I discovered that article, it was the lightning bolt that brought everything to life. Suddenly, I had a story that could contain everything that I wanted—and needed—to write about.
This is your second novel, how has the experience differed to writing Slipping the Cable?
From their genres to how I wrote them, everything was different. I’m a former Coast Guard officer and Slipping The Cable is a nautical thriller, my attempt at a modern entry in the tradition of the sea novel. I wrote it when I was in my twenties and single, so I could shut myself away for entire weekends to write. I’m older now, with a wife and daughter and other responsibilities, so I don’t have as much time, but I get so much more done. I wake up early and have a very modest word count, but I write every day. It’s not the romantic ideal of a writer spending huge swaths of time writing, but I finished The Beast of Barcroft and its sequel in less time than it took me to write Slipping The Cable. Slow and steady wins the race, kids.
I’m a sucker for Dark Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, what drew you to these genres?
In this instance, the story came first. Slipping The Cable is a thriller, but it’s grounded in reality with zero supernatural elements. But I grew up loving genre stuff—fantasy, folklore, sci-fi, comics—and I read it all to this day. A few years ago, it finally dawned on me to embrace those elements in my own writing. But despite the fantastic elements, The Beast of Barcroft is a personal story, both in its content and that I drew from everything that I’ve always loved to read.
The Beast of Barcroft is billed as the perfect read for fans of Stephen King and Bentley Little, I’m a HUGE fan of both. Have these authors been influential on you and your writing?
Of course! I don’t think you can read Stephen King and write horror and not be influenced by him. He’s a titan. He can lift Thor’s hammer as far as I’m concerned. I’m less familiar with Bentley Little, but he’s at the top of my “to read” pile. I just have to wait until I’ve finished my next book so I don’t get intimidated!
What’s your go-to book when you need a Dark Fantasy/Urban Fantasy fix?
Stephen King’s It. It was my first horror novel and I remember to this day not letting my feet dangle from the bed as I read it. More recently, I read a wonderful book by Louis Bayard, Roosevelt’s Beast, about Theodore Roosevelt’s exploration of the Amazon, with a terrifying monster thrown in for good measure. Also, I’m a huge comic book fan, and two comics that scratch that particular itch for me are Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, a fantastic noir/horror series, and Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.
Are you a believer? Or are fantastical beasties squarely confined to the realm of fiction?
Here’s the part where I wish you and I could sit down for a few drinks. It’s hard for me to believe in the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot or aliens, but the boy in me would rather live in a world where they’re possible. I’ve always been fascinated by myths, folklore, cryptids. One of my characters in The Beast of Barcroft explains that the word cryptozoology literally means “the study of hidden animals.” Years ago, giant squid were a legend. These days, you can see them on YouTube. As we push our boundaries, we discover new “hidden” animals all the time. That’s both amazing and a bit sad to me, because after the initial thrill of discovery, that’s one less “sea monster.” I still want mystery. I want there to be room for wonder.
You have some colourful characters in The Beast of Barcroft, including the curator of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, and a cryptozoologist—was there a lot of research involved?
Yes! I had do some research on real animals and cryptids to make my characters—Lindsay the zoologist and Richard the crytpozoologist—sound convincing. But it was a lot of fun, digging deep into both science and myth, then playing in the gap between them.
Does reality inform your writing at all, or do you create entirely fictional characters and events, which have no bearing on your own life and experiences?
As far as source material goes, you can’t beat reality. I draw from it all the time, whether it’s an actual event that’s happened or just applying real emotion to an unreal situation. When in doubt, take a real setting with relatable characters, add a monster, shake well, and serve.
Finally, the one question that has to be asked of anyone who writes Horror, what’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?
I’ve been in accidents or situations where I thought my number was up, but I think you’re looking for a different kind of scary. So here goes: When I was a young Coast Guard officer fresh out of the Academy, I rented a large, historic house on the beach with four of my fellow junior officers. We were thrilled to finally be living on our own after four years of military school. One night, I was falling asleep and I felt my mattress dip on one side, as if someone was sliding into bed, enough to startle me awake. I thought one of my roommates had snuck into my room to pull some kind of prank, so I began to say, “Very funny, now get the hell out…” I rolled over and the words died in my throat. There was no one there. The bed, the room—empty, save for me. Fear can play tricks with your mind, of course, and having an active imagination doesn’t help. That night, however, it was summertime and I was sleeping in a new home with my best friends, excited to begin the next chapter of my life. It wasn’t my imagination because it hadn’t even occurred to me to be afraid yet. Later, when all of my friends were at sea and I was left alone in that drafty, old house on the beach, I’d have plenty of occasions to be afraid.
The Beast of Barcroft – Excerpt
The sun had set and all that remained of the crimson sky was a thin red line over the trees to the west. It was November, just after the dreary end of Daylight Savings Time, which had freshly sliced an hour of sunshine from his day. Too dark too early, he thought. He turned his back to the trail and was on the short path back to the road when he heard it again.
A baby crying.
He brought his hand to his mouth and called out. The crying continued at the same volume, as if the child had not heard him. It was difficult to get a bearing on it. It sounded like it came from inside a well but it also seemed to drift down from the branches overhead. A trick of the autumn wind, he told himself. For a moment, he thought of La Llorona, the Crying Lady, who drowned her children in the Rio Grande to impress a suitor. When the man was understandably not impressed, she had killed herself, but her spirit roamed the riverbanks, wailing and taking children after nightfall ever since. It was just a bit of folklore his father told him to keep him from falling into the river, but he shivered. He called out again and closed his eyes to listen harder. The crying floated around him. He had started for his truck to get a flashlight when he cursed himself.
The stream. He had not checked Four Mile Run.
He sprinted back down the path and crossed the trail to the edge of the valley. The stream was thirty, maybe forty feet below, and the steep face was choked with vines and roots, rock outcroppings jutting out and obscuring the bank directly below him. Stream my ass, he thought. It looked like a river. Water, from a week of heavy rains up north, roared over the rocks. It was so loud you could barely hear yourself think, even at this height. In the valley, it was darker and harder to see, and a corner of his mind nagged at him to get the flashlight, but the crying was clearer now, pinpointed. And insistent.
“Hang on!” he yelled. “I’m coming!”
He clambered down as quickly as he could. Halfway down, clinging to the undergrowth, he wiped the sweat from his eyes. He peered over the lip and spied a figure below. “I’m coming.”
The figure turned and sniffed the air between them.
Manny swiped his eyes again and blinked. What he saw should not be here in Arlington.
He moved faster scrambling up than climbing down, using every limb and muscle to get back to the trail, to his truck that would take him away. Promises and prayers jumbled his thoughts. If I make it, Madre Mía, I’ll exercise, he thought. His heart burned, but he shot up the tangle as fast as his body would allow. He got his head over the edge and raked at the valley wall with his feet to clear it, but the thing caught his ankle and pulled. For a moment, he could see the trail, just feet in front of him. Beyond that, the small beaten path that led to the guardrail, the border between the woods and Barcroft, between this nightmare and the real world. Then came a sharp, wrenching pain. Manny hollered, but in a split second his leg was blessedly free again.
He pumped it but found no purchase. He looked down and saw his foot was gone.
With the little air left in his lungs, Manny threw back his head and screamed. Maybe someone on the trail would hear and come running, but it was November now and too dark too early. There was no one to flag down, and the rushing water drowned out his screams just the same. He wasn’t going to make it to the truck or the trail or out of this valley. It had him by the knee now. The trail slid from his view. Overhead he saw the stars beginning to reveal themselves on a clear night, framed now by the walls of the valley. Then the beast pulled him down into the stream and he saw nothing. The last thing he thought before losing consciousness was his inability to distinguish the icy sting of Four Mile Run from the teeth.
About the Book
Title: The Beast of Barcroft
Author: Bill Schweigart
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Horror
Fans of Stephen King and Bentley Little will devour The Beast of Barcroft, Bill Schweigart’s brilliant new vision of dark suburban horror. Ben thought he had the neighbor from hell. He didn’t know how right he was. . . .
Ben McKelvie believes he’s moving up in the world when he and his fiancée buy a house in the cushy Washington, D.C., suburb of Barcroft. Instead, he’s moving down—way down—thanks to Madeleine Roux, the crazy neighbor whose vermin-infested property is a permanent eyesore and looming hazard to public health.
First, Ben’s fiancée leaves him; then, his dog dies, apparently killed by a predator drawn into Barcroft by Madeleine’s noxious menagerie. But the worst is yet to come for Ben, for he’s not dealing with any ordinary wild animal. This killer is something much, much worse. Something that couldn’t possibly exist—in this world.
Now, as a devilish creature stalks the locals, Ben resolves to take action. With some grudging assistance from a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the crackpot theories of a self-styled cryptozoologist, he discovers the sinister truth behind the attacks, but knowing the Beast of Barcroft and stopping it are two different animals.
Bill Schweigart is a former Coast Guard officer who has drawn from his experiences at sea to write the taut nautical thriller, Slipping The Cable. Schweigart’s debut is a modern entry to the rich tradition of the sea novel: everyone is confined aboard ship, tensions run high, and the setting itself is deadly, but not nearly as deadly as his characters. If you have ever suffered an impossible boss, ever wanted to fall off the grid and start over fresh, or just wanted to lose yourself in a high seas and high stakes adventure, Slipping The Cable is a must read. Schweigart lives in Arlington, VA, where he is currently finishing his second novel, a supernatural thriller set in the shadow of Washington, DC.