Roger Keen, filmmaker and psychological thriller writer, discusses his work and the influences behind it.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing thrillers?
When I started writing, I was initially drawn to literary fiction, particularly American countercultural writers such as Kerouac, Burroughs, Henry Miller and Richard Brautigan. But I also liked classic crime and noirish fiction, ranging from Poe and Conan Doyle to Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. Later, I decided to write dark horror-type short stories, because there was a market for them in small press magazines, and literary stories were harder to place. The types of stories I liked to write were more psychological rather than supernatural, and more rooted in the real world than in the realms of Gothic fantasy. I was always interested in aberrant psychology and read about it widely, including true crime books, and in the stories I explored psychopathy, psychosis, obsession and various personality disorders. Characters such as Highsmith’s Tom Ripley appealed to me, as did Hannibal Lecter, and indeed Annie Wilkes in Misery!
I’ve attempted several psychological thrillers over the years, each with a central deranged protagonist, but such ideas really gelled with Literary Stalker, because the setting allowed me to indulge my propensities as a horror/crime book-and-film buff, and the backbone thread of an obsessed, enamoured fan, becoming progressively unhinged, made for an ideal psychological exploration.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your work as a filmmaker when writing fiction?
I went to art college from school, and at first I studied painting and then moved on to photography and film. After that I worked in television, but I always wrote in my spare time. The first paid writing work I did consisted of magazine articles and interviews, and focussed mainly on genre and surreal literature and film, which became something of a speciality.
When writing fiction, I sometimes use the world of film and TV as a setting, and I often plan out action scenes in a filmic way, thinking about viewpoints, angles, effects and eye lines as if they were to be filmed by a camera. Also I tend to put a lot of film content and references into my work – which is particularly true of Literary Stalker. One of the central ideas is that the novel-within-the-novel (The Facebook Murders) is a film pastiche, using the 1970s Vincent Price horror film Theatre of Blood as a template, and having murders enacted according to the plots of various other genre movies, such as Reservoir Dogs – also a lot of the treatment is deliberately ‘Tarantinoesque’, pastiching a pasticher. So, I’m having fun in a kind of ‘nudge-wink’ way with movies references, which others will pick up on.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I find the best kind of inspiration comes from unexpected things which happen to me in life, weird and uncanny coincidences, and the kind of quirky incidents that sometimes occur that make you say: ‘You just couldn’t make that up’. I usually write down such things without knowing how I’ll use them, and then, sometimes years later, I will find an opportunity. If I’ve got writer’s block, I don’t try to force myself to write but instead I’ll do something else to take my mind elsewhere. Country walking helps with freeing up the mind and regaining inspiration, I’ve always found. I particularly like the West Country, where I used to live, including Dartmoor and the Devon and Cornwall Coast. I also like the Cotswolds, which is less rugged and more ‘typically English’. I use the Cotswolds as a setting for a later section of the novel, involving ‘country stalking’, making a contrast to the earlier urban scenes.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I never have collaborated with another writer, and it’s hard to imagine doing so, but if I had to pick one writer from the past that I would hypothetically like to collaborate with, it would be William Burroughs. I’ve always admired his experimentalism and the way he plays with different genres in a postmodern way, be it hardboiled crime, horror, fantasy or science fiction. He himself has collaborated with several other writers and filmmakers, and David Cronenberg’s movie version of Naked Lunch is a weird mash up of both of their styles. It would certainly be an adventure to write something with Burroughs!
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Again on the subject of film, there is a non-fiction book that I’ve planned out and hope to get the time to work on soon. It’s a broad study of weird and countercultural film, concentrating on the 1960s and ’70s to a large extent but also going back into the distant past and the silent era to explore transgressive filmmaking there, and closer to the present, showing how these same tendencies have influenced science fiction and fantasy films – especially the cyberpunk sub-genre, in which writers such as Philip K. Dick played a large role. I’m also working on another novel that is more literary than genre-related, but continues with similar ideas that occur in Literary Stalker, such as nested narratives – novels within novels. All I need is more time, because so much other stuff gets in the way!
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
I’ve never written police procedural fiction, but I enjoy reading it a lot, and I also find it educational when it comes to working out noir/psychological plots in general. I’m a huge addict of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series of novels (and TV shows), and the latest – Two Kinds of Truth – is due out very soon, so that’s exciting. There’s also the new Stephen King, Sleeping Beauties, which is just out but I have yet to read. It sound intriguing, and it’s also a collaboration with one of his sons. His more famous son, Joe Hill, also has a new book out in November – Strange Weather – which again looks a bit different and enticing: a collection of four short novels. I met Joe at a convention in 2006 when he was largely unknown (alluded to in Literary Stalker) and I bought his first collection of short stories, which was extraordinary, so superior to the run-of-the-mill output; and the community of horror insiders all knew then he was going to become massive, like his dad. Which shows, amongst other things, that talent is in the genes!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just to say thank you very much for the support and the opportunity to ramble on a bit about myself and my interests. And good luck with your excellent blog!
Thanks for taking the time Roger. You can find out more about Roger and his work HERE.