JANELLE JANSON: For the readers who have not heard of your bazillion new releases, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
PHILIP FRACASSI: Sure, I’ve been writing my whole life. I dabble in screenwriting (have a couple movies produced—one for Disney, one for Lifetime) but my focus is horror fiction. I do mess around with other genres. I’ve written a sci-fi novel, a thriller, some literary fiction, but horror is my home base. I have (somewhat unfortunately) had a slog of releases in 2022 and coming up in 2023, but that wasn’t by design, believe me. Just kind of got crowded! But it’s been an exciting time and I’m thrilled to have released my debut trade novel this past October (A Child Alone with Strangers) and super excited about the two novels coming next year (Gothic and Boys in the Valley).
JJ: Boys In the Valley, A Child Alone with Strangers, Gothic, Beneath a Pale Sky, Commodore, Don’t Let Them Get You Down, Altar, and Shiloh are the books I’m familiar with. Which of these was the most difficult to write?
PF: First off, thanks for reading all those! I’d definitely go with A Child Alone with Strangers. First, it’s a big book (600 pages), which means it took longer to write, longer to edit, and was a pain in the ass to proofread! Plus there are a lot of characters, tons of action sequences, horror, crime…it’s full of stuff. So that one took a while to get right. About three years all-in. By contrast, I wrote the first draft of Boys in the Valley in four weeks. That one just poured out of me.
JJ: Well, I devoured Boys in the Valley, and A Child Alone with Strangers is an absolute masterpiece. In this interview let’s focus on three books: Boys In the Valley, Gothic, and A Child Alone with Strangers. How did these incredible books come to be published?
PF: Starting with Boys: I was first approached by Paul Miller, who owns Earthling Publications, for a novel. And at the time, Boys wasn’t going to be shopped to trade presses, so I happily sold it to Paul. It was released on Halloween 2021, in an edition of five hundred copies that sold out day-of-release. Cut to February 2022, and Stephen King retweets a review of the book (review by Sadie Hartmann) saying he’s gonna buy it! Which was nuts. By leveraging the attention from King, my agent was able to get an offer on that novel in a matter of days, and we subsequently sold it to Tor Nightfire for a July 2023 release. Nightfire then sold rights to Orbit UK, so it’ll get a worldwide release, which is amazing.
Gothic, like Boys, was initially sold to Earthling as well and was published in November. This time in a smaller edition of 235. Those sold out within twenty minutes of announcement, which is crazy. I then sold the trade rights to Cemetery Dance, who are putting out their edition on February 3, 2023. Super excited about that.
A Child Alone with Strangers is a bit more complex. I had an offer pretty quickly from Skyhorse, but we shopped it for nearly a year before committing to that publisher. They ultimately put the book out this past October, and I hope folks are able to find it and enjoy it. The response so far has been unreal, so I’m pleased about that.
JJ: As you know, A Child Alone with Strangers is one of my favorite books of the year. Can you give us a brief description?
PF: The quick, spoiler-free version is this:
Nine-year-old Henry Thorne is kidnapped and taken to a remote farmhouse in the deep woods by a band of very nasty criminals. Henry, they discover, has telepathic abilities—he can see feelings and thoughts. They also discover that they aren’t alone in the deep woods, and there’s something out there that wants them out of the house. And when Henry and this “entity” team up (so to speak), it’s bad news for the kidnappers.
JJ: Where did you come up with the idea? It’s a brick! How long did it take you to write? And thank you for writing it.
PF: The idea was multi-faceted and came in waves. I knew I wanted some old-school horror tropes (telepathic kid, creepy house, creature in the woods, etc.), and the idea of a kid with these powers being kidnapped was interesting to me. The other stuff kind of built on that.
For many reasons, this book took a long time. Frankly, longer than it should have. I had a very clear vision for the story, but it was my first genre novel so I was treading on new ground. My first agent forced some changes on me that I ultimately wasn’t comfortable with, so a lot of time was wasted going back-and-forth on ideas that ultimately were discarded.
I’d say it took about a year to write, then another couple years to edit. It was a massive undertaking, but I’m completely satisfied with the final product.
JJ: Moving on to Boys in the Valley: How did you come up with this possession story? Did any possession books inspire you?
PF: If memory serves, I was reading an
article about an orphanage in the early 1900s, a boys-only establishment run by priests. The article was essentially about the abuse the children went through and how many of them “mysteriously” disappeared. That was the acorn. The possession thing was just something that came to me as a means to an end. I knew I wanted to tell the story of that orphanage and what happened to those kids, so it all just flowed from there.
JJ: Both Gothic and Boys in the Valley were limited edition hardcovers from Earthling Publications. What was it like working with them?
PF: Earthling has been amazing to work with. Paul Miller has been running that press for twenty years or so, and they put out such beautiful books. And Paul is very “writer-friendly.” You’d be surprised how many publishers are not. What I mean by that is he respects the writer’s vision, both for the manuscript and the design of the book itself. It’s very collaborative and professional. A dream press.
JJ: What’s the best advice a writer has given to you? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
PF: The best advice I’ve ever been given is the same advice I offer to new writers: Perseverance is key to finding success as a writer.
JJ: You have quickly become one of my favorite writers. How would you describe your writing style?
PF: I’d say my stuff is very character-driven and somewhat prose-heavy. Some horror readers want the action to be fast and furious, but I tend to take my time both with the style of prose and the development of character and story. Visceral. Emotional. I’m looking to leave a mark.
JJ: This is a Dark Matter Magazine interview, so I have to ask: Do you have any future plans to write science fiction?
PF: Yes! I have a handful of sci-fi stories coming out next year, almost exclusively through Interzone magazine. And I have a novel called Observe which is currently being shopped to some major publishers. I like to infuse my sci-fi with horror, so the stories are often a hybrid.
JJ: Tell us about your podcast!
PF: Right, so I host a podcast called The Dark Word, which is essentially created for new writers. Each episode I have a new guest—all writers—and we talk nuts and bolts of writing, publishing, agents,
marketing…all the stuff I wish I’d heard more about when I was first breaking in. And the guest list (I will pat myself on the back here) is pretty damn amazing.
JJ: Any announcements you’d like to make? Any new projects?
PF: I’d ask folks who want to be first in line for my upcoming announcements to join my newsletter, which is done through my website: pfracassi.com. They can also join my Facebook fan group called Fracassi Freaks. It’s run by some great guys, and I spend a lot of time there spilling beans and offering exclusive content.
As for projects, I’m working on the novel set to publish with Tor Nightfire and Orbit UK in the summer of 2024. The book is tentatively called Brothers. It’s a historical horror piece that I think will scare some people. Aside from that, a bunch of stuff in the works that will keep me busy for the next couple years and beyond. Stay tuned!
Gothic, from Cemetery Dance, will publish February 3, 2023. A new hardcover edition of Boys in the Valley, from Tor Nightfire, will publish July 11, 2023. A Child Alone with Strangers, from Talos, is available now and can be purchased wherever books are sold.