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DF Interview: Mike Carey brings the chills in Rowans Ruin
By Byron Brewer
Two Mikes – Carey and Perkins – are swiftly becoming masters of the macabre with works like Lucifer, The Stand and Hellblazer. Now, they’re going those one better, together, in a new creator-owned 4-issue limited series launching this October from BOOM! Studios.
In Rowans Ruin, a young woman house-sitting in an English home finds it has some scary stories behind its well-maintained facade. Inspired by the likes if The Conjuring and Nailbiter, Rowans Ruin is a new take on the haunted house formula with nightmares, British history, and a little bit of Florida sun.
Dynamic Forces sat down with one of the Mike Squared Pair – Mr. Carey – and found out the inside skinny on this book and how it came to be.
Dynamic Forces: Mike, how did this new opportunity from BOOM! Studios come about?
Mike Carey: The prime mover in this instance was the other Mike – Mr. Perkins. We’d been talking for ages about working together again, but it was Mike who actually started to generate some serious ideas, and who arranged for the two of us to meet up and brainstorm when he was in the UK last year. We talked through half a dozen possible projects and this was the one that really inspired both of us.
And the timing seemed to be good in terms of making an approach to BOOM! I had good working relationships there and my series there, Suicide Risk, was just coming to an end. I enjoyed working with Dafna Pleban on that book and I hoped we’d be able to grab her as editor on Rowans Ruin if it was picked up. Sometimes things work out exactly as you plan them. God keeps score, though, so this is probably why that guy broke into my car and I got the stinky head cold.
DF: How does it feel to be re-teamed with Mike Perkins for the first time since 2005's Spellbinders?
Mike Carey: It’s always fantastic to work with Mike, which is why I keep doing it whenever I can. Along with Peter Gross he’s someone who has had a lasting impact on my storytelling. He was one of the first artists I ever worked with – on Caliber’s Doctor Faustus – and we’ve managed to team up at least half a dozen times since. Most of those times have been at Marvel, but there was also our Carver Hale series for 2000AD. And now there’s this.
The other thing is that Mike is a great friend. He’s someone who always had faith in me as a writer, even when I was starting out and still had a lot of rough edges to be filed off. When I didn’t even know how to format a script. That’s a priceless thing.
DF: Tell us about the storyline.
Mike Carey: The story centers on two young women – one American, the other British – who do a house swap via a website. It’s something that happens all the time, but in this instance the British house, Rowans Rise, has a unique history. There are incidents of violence and destruction going back many years, and it’s not at all clear what sort of agency is at work. The outbuildings around the house have bird bones mixed with their mortar, which centuries ago was a protection against magical attack. So what looks like the work – maybe – of a human stalker striking repeatedly across whole decades could be something very different.
DF: Who is Katie?
Mike Carey: Katie is the American girl in this equation, and our protagonist. She’s easy to like, or at least that’s how we see her – very intelligent, very resourceful, maybe a little brash and in your face but hugely good-hearted. And she walks into the middle of this mystery that’s been brewing for many years. Maybe you or I would walk right back out again, but Katie doesn’t believe in letting sleeping dogs lie.
From the moment she enters the house she feels there’s something wrong there. And the more she finds out about its past, the more convinced she is that it’s up to her – as an outsider, with no preconceptions about the past – to set it right.
She’s got at least one good reason for thinking so. Since early childhood she’s had a kind of sixth sense, a sensitivity to the emotional resonances of the places she visits. In the case of Rowans Rise there are a whole lot of other clues to tell her that there’s an inhuman presence here: Emily, the British girl who was on the other end of the house swap, seems to have been living under virtual siege, with the windows of her bedroom nailed shut and various magical wards on her windows and around her bed. But it’s when Katie discovers what Emily was keeping out that she really goes down the rabbit hole big-time.
DF: I know horror is one of your favorite genres. Was there any particular literature or film from which you got your inspiration for this tale?
Mike Carey: There are certainly spooky house texts that are in my mind while I’m writing. The Australian movie Housebound, for instance, and La Casa Muda. And to a certain extent Kim Newman’s amazing novel An English Ghost Story, although our story marks out slightly different territory. Maybe The Orphanage is in the mix too. I really love that movie, and particularly the elegant way in which it sets up its final reveal.
DF: Can you give us any hint at all, of course non-spoilery, about the hidden secret of Kate's British house and its dangers? Anything?
Mike Carey: We’ve actually worked very hard to make the solution to the mystery as non-obvious as we can. There is a mystery, and there is a reveal late in the story that changes your perceptions about everything you’ve been told. I can’t really say any more than that. It’s important that the reader picks up the clues in the same order that Katie does. It’s up to you whether you go along with her conclusions, and maybe you’ll see something – something pretty big, and pretty well signposted – that she doesn’t.
To be fair, this is a supernatural story and so there are aspects of the situation that you can’t assume in advance, you’ve got to just discover them. But I think we play very fair as far as that goes. By the second issue, you know everything you need to know about the house’s present. The past is part of what you’ve got to infer.
DF: Why do you enjoy staging so many of your stories in your native Britain?
Mike Carey: I think a sense of place is a really important thing in a lot of genre fictions – certainly in horror and dark fantasy. The more grounded in reality the story is at the points where it touches the real world, the more the audience will be inclined to accept the fantastic elements when they start to seep in.
I got into the habit when I was writing the Castor novels of using real places wherever I could. Almost the only research I did for those books was geographical research, visiting the settings where key scenes would occur and taking photos. Then Google street view came along and life became a whole lot simpler in that regard, but I’d still prefer places I knew over places I didn’t.
But sometimes it’s liberating to run up a location out of whole cloth. Fellside prison, in my next novel, is – for good reasons, I think – pure invention. And the California and Mexico scenes in The Dead Sea Deception were based on (respectively) a nodding acquaintance and the stuff you can get from guide books. In the end it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Rowans Rise needs to feel like a real place. Gin’at Dania, in the Adam Blake novels, needs to feel almost impossible.
DF: Finally, elephant in the room: how did it feel to have Lucifer opted as a TV series by FOX and will you be having anything to do with that? Any news on that front?
Mike Carey: I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the characters and the premise, but I don’t have anything to do with the series. I mean, I haven’t been consulted or anything. And there’s no real reason why I should be. Lucifer as a comic book was already a riff on what Neil had done in Sandman. Now there’s going to be a further riff. Adaptation works by using what’s already there as a jumping off point. You treat the source material with respect, ideally, but you can’t let yourself be completely bound by it. You’ve got to re-invent it for a new medium or a new context.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Mike Carey for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Rowans Ruin #1 from BOOM! Studios hits stores in October!
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