The Great Depression has been the setting for many novels, notably John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, films (Wild Boys of the Road, There Will Be Blood) and in photographs by artists like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. It’s a fascinating period that is brought to life in author D. H. Schleicher’s second novel, Then Came Darkness.
Schleicher’s work has appeared in Underground Voices, Scratch, The Eunoia Review, Lit Noir, and Wonders in the Dark. He blogs about books, movies, and travel at The Schleicher Spin.
David was gracious enough to take some time out from his busy schedule and for this interview.
Can you tell us a little what Then Came Darkness is about?
This is always a loaded question – talking about your own work, but I’ll give it a shot.
On the surface level, it’s about the Kydd family struggling to survive in the aftermath of the poor decisions made by the father, Samuel. He’s brought all kinds of hardships on his wife, Evelyn, and their children, and it culminates in the return of his former business partner Joshua Bloomfield (a greedy, petty, misogynist, racist, revenge-fueled sociopath) who brings darkness and destruction everywhere he goes.
But apart from their family centered stressors, there are these cataclysmic world events weighing down on the family as well – the Great Depression, and the global rumblings that would bring about World War II. I wanted readers to think about this family, and especially the kids, and wonder, “If they survive Joshua Bloomfield, and the Great Depression…what’s next?” I wanted that to be part of the suspense. Tyrus Kydd would be old enough to be drafted towards the end of WWII. That sense of an always increasing impending doom…that even if they survive this immediate threat…there’s always more darkness creeping around the corner, looming on the horizon, ready to suck them right back into chaos. I wanted to explore what kind of resilience a person would need in a world like that, and the types of decisions they would be forced to make.
What was your inspiration for the novel?
The Great Depression always fascinated me. I always wanted to write a period piece that took place during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Upstate New York is one of my favorite places on earth, and I knew that I wanted to set a story in those fabled hills, with the Cooperstown area serving as the model for the fictional towns of Fenimore and Milton. The idea of that dramatic and beautiful setting, and that traumatic milieu (the Great Depression) naturally brought to life the characters that would inhabit the world of Then Came Darkness.
I know you’re a big movie fan. How much influence did film have in the creation of the book?
I try to write in a vivid, cinematic style and I always imagine how my stories would work if they were to be movies.
If one were to boil down the main plot of Then Came Darkness, it could sound like a retread of The Night of the Hunter. I saw that film for the first time as a child and it haunts me still. Its influence is clear.
Another film that greatly influenced the style and tone of the novel is There Will Be Blood – that definitive sense of doom and fate and events put into motion by the minds and hands of misguided, greedy men. I initially imagined Joshua Bloomfield as a broken-down, unsuccessful version of Daniel Plainview. As I wrote the story he morphed into something a bit different, but that was my initial impression.
Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill was also an inspiration for the similar Depression-era setting and its depiction of the relationship between the two young brothers.
What kind of research did you do to capture the feel of the Depression era?
Every setting in the novel is based on places I have visited and researched. Also, as I wrote the novel, I was constantly researching things like “what songs or radio programs were popular then?” to add layers to the characters by giving them favorite books, songs, and shows. I also researched other events that were happening on the periphery that would be of interest to the characters (i.e. Lou Gehrig’s 1936 MVP campaign which was of great interest to Tyrus Kydd). The heat wave in the novel is also based on the real record-breaking heat wave from that year.
Any real life people who inspired you in developing your characters?
The character of Myra Long has a brief affair with a photographer, and the works of this fictional photographer that are described in the novel are directly inspired by actual photographs taken by renowned Depression-era photographer Walker Evans.
The family dog Sue (a pivotal character) was inspired by a border collie my roommates and I rescued while in college. She was a great dog but a restless soul, and we eventually had to give her away to someone who owned a farm so she could fulfill her life’s mission to run wild through fields and herd things.
What are your currently reading?
I normally read literary and mainstream fiction (an old Michael Ondaatje book is in my queue right now) but I’ve been on a weird kick lately. I just finished the sci-fi novel, Artemis, which I didn’t care for, and I’m about 100 pages through the prequel to Dracula that just came out called Dracul, which I’m finding far more entertaining than I thought it would be. To balance that, I’m also reading the annual Best American Short Stories (chosen by Roxane Gay).
Would you tell us a few of your favorite books?
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Light in August by William Faulkner
Jazz by Toni Morrison
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (my favorite writer, I love all of his work)
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje