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Kelley Armstrong Interview

What if the only way to keep your home was to open it up to strangers? In Kelley Armstrong’s Hemlock Island, this is precisely what Laney Kilpatrick has been doing to keep the island she calls home. She rents it out as a vacation destination, but renters are reporting strange things on Hemlock Island. Bloody bones, hex circles, out-of-control campfires. And the danger is only escalating.

Read the full interview below.

Concerns about renting out your private space to strangers is a very relatable anxiety. What inspired you to look more closely at that?

We have a remote summer home, and we’re constantly being asked why we don’t rent it out when we aren’t there. This book is my answer. As a writer, I can imagine everything that could go wrong!

Hemlock Island introduces us to Laney after a pandemic-related divorce. Some novelists are choosing to address the pandemic in their work and some aren’t. What made you decide to reference it with this story?

It fit for the themes I’m exploring. Laney is dealing with the grief of losing her sister and the end of her marriage, and I feel as if a post-pandemic setting fits that. Many of us feel a sense of loss for those years, and it had so many unforeseen impacts that it also fit for depicting a new marriage that went sideways, all those tiny fractures amplified.

The events going on at Hemlock Island bring old friends together for the first time in a long time. Was crafting the backstories for those relationships something you outlined ahead of time or did you learn more about them as you wrote the novel?

I went into the story with a very specific dynamic in mind to explore. As I said, Laney is reeling from a pandemic divorce and the death of her sister, which left her with custody of her teenage niece. So, naturally, I make things worse. I strand her on an island with her own teenage friend group, all of whom she’s estranged from, including her ex-husband. I’ve taken someone who’s now responsible for a teenager and thrust her back to her own high-school years. Surrounded by their teen friend group, everyone slid back into that period—back to the bickering and the jealousies and the inside jokes . . . and the unhealed wounds and untold secrets. All of that was planned out before I started.

Did you have a favorite character to write and/or one that was more challenging to write than the others?

Teenagers are always fun to write, and I would have loved to give Madison a point of view. When the adults revert more to their teen selves, she’s often the most mature of the bunch. The trickiest to write was Sadie. She’s wrong in so many ways, but she’s not a villain. In her own mind, she’s in the right.

Your novel is set by the woods and horror, as well all know, loves the woods. What are some of your favorite forest-based books, stories, and/or movies?

Isolated settings are great for horror. I’ll go with books. Two recent favorites with wooded settings would be Jackal by Erin E. Adams and The Hunger by Alma Katsu.

How did you decide to set the story on an island specifically, instead of just in a remote area? Did you have to do much research regarding weather and/or topography?

I wanted to go with an island. It’s the sort of setting where civilization can be mere miles away, and yet you can be completely cut off from the world, which in a horror novel means you’re cut off from help. For regional research. I live on the coast of Lake Erie, and I know that for people who’ve never seen the Great Lakes, it can be difficult to imagine the scope of them. Superior is the biggest and deepest, and the landscape is very raw and rugged, which is what I wanted.

The strange happenings on the island have occult vibes. Were you always interested in the occult or did you research it specifically for this novel?

I’ve been including various aspects of the supernatural (myth, folklore, occult) in my writing since I was a child, and it’s threaded throughout many of my books. So everything here just pulled on that knowledge.

The cover design and the title lettering are absolutely stunning. Who did the design and how did you feel the first time you saw it?

The cover was done by Ervin Serrano. I’m thrilled with it. There were two variations—as there often are—and while I liked the other one, I instantly chose this one. It captures the tone of the book perfectly.

Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?

I had a very busy 2023, so it’s not quite done. I’m wrapping up my Stitch in Time series (time-travel, ghosts, mystery, romance) with book 3, A Castle in the Air, coming out at the end of October.

What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.

Favorite recent read would be Translation State by Ann Leckie. I love her work, and I devoured this latest one this summer. It’s set in the same world as her Ancillary Justice series, but a few hundred years after that trilogy ended.

Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!

Hemlock Island hits shelves on September 12, 2023.

You can find Kelley Armstrong online at...

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