Scott Kenemore: Finding Horror in Historical Fiction

In this author spotlight, Scott Kenemore, author of Zombie Ohio and The Grand Hotel, shares his experience of writing Lake of Darkness, how he uses historical research to write horror in historical fiction, and more.
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Scott Kenemore is the author of Zombie Ohio, The Grand Hotel, and, most recently, Lake of Darkness (Skyhorse; May 5, 2020) a novel of cosmic horror set during the First World War. A graduate of Kenyon College and Columbia University, Scott lives in Evanston, Illinois. 

Scott Kenemore

Scott Kenemore

You can visit him at scottkenemore.com.

In this author spotlight, Kenemore shares his experience of writing Lake of Darkness, how he uses historical research to write horror in historical fiction, and more.

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Lake of Darkness cover

Name: Scott Kenemore
Book title: Lake of Darkness
Publisher: Skyhorse
Release date: 5/5/20
Genre: Horror; crime fiction; historical
Previous titles: Zombie Ohio and The Grand Hotel

Elevator pitch for the book: A police officer on the South Side of Chicago during World War One must race to stop a serial decapitationist whose strange powers hint of something "other"—something that reaches across from unknowable distances to claim the lives of the innocent in the most gruesome of ways.

What prompted you to write this book?

Between 2004 and 2009, I had a job working in community development on the South Side of Chicago—in neighborhoods like South Shore, Chatham, Kenwood, and Bronzeville. Specifically, I worked for organizations that were advocating for fair housing practices and trying to correct the legacy of redlining. 

In a job like that, you learn about the history of buildings all over the South Side of Chicago, and you uncover so many intriguing stories about the city's past—stories that are largely lost in the public consciousness today—concerning how these neighborhoods changed during inflection points like the Great Migration and the world wars. 

(5 tips for building a house or setting that comes alive.)

As a horror writer, when I learn about interesting places—and eras—I tend to start thinking about the harrowing stories I can set within them.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

The basic idea for Lake of Darkness had been gestating in my mind since about 2005. I started actually writing it in 2016. I can usually write a novel in a year, but this one took more like three. 

I wouldn't say the ideas for the book "changed" as I went along per se, but I did a lot of research and reading, and tried to be very, very careful representing the time, place, and people where I wanted to set this story.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

That I am lousy at picking titles? Seriously, though . . . I wanted to call this book, The Secret’st Man of Blood—a line from Act 3, Scene 2 of Macbeth. Macbeth speaks these words as he reflects upon the tendency of murderers to be revealed by supernatural events. My wonderful editor at Skyhorse was like: "We dig this book Scott, but that title is a non-starter." 

(10 things Shakespeare can teach us about writing thrillers.)

And so, Lake of Darkness.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Reading Chicago historians like Timuel Black, Herman Kogan, and Lloyd Wendt, I learned so many fascinating things about the open vice districts that existed in one form or another from the mid-1800s through the early twentieth century. There were opium dens operating openly in certain Chicago neighborhoods in the late 1800's, for example, and then the Levee District, which became the consolidated vice district, was basically a Wild West town within Chicago that more or less did what it wanted up through the 1910s. 

The history of vice in the city to Capone is just so, so endlessly unbelievable and interesting. I suppose the biggest surprise is that Capone gets all the attention, while being only one cog in a machine that existed long before him.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope fans of cosmic horror will get the kind of eerie, bewildering buzz that I personally hope for whenever I sit down to read cosmic horror. I also hope readers will get curious about the vibrant, bewildering, and largely lost history of pre-Capone vice that existed in so many of Chicago's neighborhoods.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

I would advise writers to aim to make the kind of art that is meaningful and amusing to them personally. So much about writing is unknowable, but you (probably) know what you personally find impactful, novel, and cool. So let that be your guide!

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If you’re an author who would like to be featured in a future post, send an email to Robert Lee Brewer with the subject line “Author Spotlight” at rbrewer@aimmedia.com.