Today I am interviewing Cassandra Khaw, author of the new horror novella, Hammers on Bone.
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DJ: Hey Cassandra! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Cassandra Khaw: Hey! Glad you took the time out to interview me. Always feel fancy when someone decides I’m cool enough for that. Let’s see. I work business development for a micropublisher called Ysbryd Games. I really like chocolate. I am a lapsed journalist who has had the good fortune of seeing her byline appear in places like Engadget, The Verge, PC Gamer, and an assortment of other fabulous places. I really like reading.
My job involves me travelling a lot and that saps a ton of my energy. (You’d be amazed how exhausting sitting down for 20 hours can be, if it involves being claustrophobic and trapped in a metal can full of recycled farts.) When I can, however, I run, dance, and punch things.
DJ: What is Hammers on Bone about?
Cassandra: A ten-year-old boy asking a private investigator, who may or may not be a monster, to kill an abusive stepfather. Set in Croydon, it is both an experiment in Lovecraftian noir and also a discussion of domestic abuse, how readily invisible such things are, and how easily we mistake our neighbourhood monsters for something else.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Hammers on Bone?
Cassandra: Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century, Rin Chupeco’s The Suffering, ian Tregillis’ Something More Than Night, Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, John Carpenter’s The Thing. Loads of things.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Cassandra: Without giving too much away, John Persons is very much your classic “gumshoe,” complete with period-appropriate vernacular. He’s hard-boiled, hard-hearted, and hard to kill. Perfectly unsympathetic – except for his desperation to hang on to what it means to be human, to cling onto every molecule of that veneer.
It’s easy to think, “That’s not a problem I have” but if you really ponder it, many of us go through similar ordeals. Every day, the world eats at the core of us, whittling us to nothing. We’re pushed down, pushed aside, subjected to a thousand aggressions; made to fear, made to ache through jobs that leech at our soul.
Many of us get by. But some of us snap, some of us break.
DJ: Our main protagonist, Persons, also an “ancient and magical intelligence.” Could you delve a little more into his origins and how/what his magic is?
Cassandra: No! That’s what buying the book is for. Mwahaha.
DJ: What is the universe for Hammers on Bone like?
Cassandra: Multi-cultural; possesses a dwindling amount of natural resources, a fact that is simultaneously refuted and feared by its dominant species; is actually quite awesome. You know. Earth.
DJ: Aside from being a Lovecraftian-inspired horror story, Hammers on Bone is also a detective story. As a writer, was do you think it takes create good (“compelling”) detective story? Do you try to enhance any particular themes is the story, such as the mystery, suspense? Or perhaps there are writing techniques and tricks you perform to keep the reader turning the pages?
Cassandra: What do I think it takes to create a good detective story? A stunning amount of skill, obviously. Or a willingness to study proven formulas. Among others, the Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction plot is a good read, as are these twenty rules on writing detective stories. I don’t agree with everything, obviously. But that is universal for all writing advice.
As for what I do to enhance certain themes, I like olfactory imagery a lot. People underestimate how much smell affects us. We think we’re visual creatures, beasts of sound and tactile sensation. And we are. But we are also invested in scent. When I tell you that the room smells like “old sex left to crust on skin,” you immediately envision a sourness in air: sharp, a little rotten. When I tell you about a boy that smells of cold water and dark, rich earth, you picture the woods, thick and foreboding. Hammers on Bone is steeped in this, and I think it worked well to evoke the uneasiness I wanted to drape over the story.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Hammers on Bone?
Cassandra: Finishing it. No, really! I still find fiction a struggle in many ways – word output is hard. But while I’m getting more used to it, I inevitably feel a sigh of relief when I can tie everything together and call it a day.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Cassandra: I don’t know! I wish I did. Right now, it feels like everyone’s had a different takeaway. Some people are fascinated with the relationship between McKinsey and Persons, their shared animosity, the interplay of suggested violence. Others are jarred by the violence.
What I hope, though, is that it will make people think about whether the kid they encountered is really okay, if they were just “acting out” or whether the behaviour is symptomatic of something more dire.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Hammers on Bone? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across to readers when they finish it?
Cassandra: There are monsters in our world. Quiet ones, smiling ones, ones you go to the pub with, one you’d swear were the nicest people in the universe. There are monsters we can be friends with forever, because they keep their monstrosity behind closed doors, and because we don’t look. Because we’re so used to thinking the best of our friends and loved ones that we ignore the possibility they could be horrific predators.
DJ: This may have skipped some reader’s attentions, but Hammers on Bone is actually a novella. It seems to me that novella is gaining a rise in popularity again: what is it about the novella format that you like? Do you feel there is a particular advantage to telling your story that way over the novel?
Cassandra: This might sound like a cop-out, but I like the fact that novellas are almost a magic trick. You pick one out, you stare at it, and you think, ‘I can do this in an afternoon.’ And you do. You forget that many of them aren’t necessarily that much shorter than a novel. Your brain doesn’t throw the same roadblocks in your way. No preconceptions; no “I can’t do this because I don’t have enough time,” no “I don’t have the focus for literary pursuits like this,” no “boo books.”
Because, you know. Novellas.
At least that’s what I’ve been told by non-readers who have picked up EARCs of Hammers on Bone, surprised that they’d devoured it over a lunch.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from but Hammers on Bone that you can share with us?
Cassandra: “It takes a special kind of sharper to differentiate between two truths.”
DJ: Now that Hammers on Bone is released, what is next for you?
Cassandra: *looks at the pile of deadlines* A tie-in novella, two original novellas, more work on my debut novel, a ton of game writing work – *sobs*
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add? (Or add your own question).
Cassandra: I love hedgehogs. They’re so squidgy and cute.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** Hammers on Bone is published by Tor.com and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.
He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.
As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker than the expected social evils. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.
CASSANDRA KHAW writes a lot. Sometimes, she writes press releases and excited emails for Singaporean micropublisher Ysbryd Games. Sometimes, she writes for technology and video games outlets like Eurogamer, Ars Technica, The Verge, and Engadget. Mostly, though, she writes about the intersection between nightmares and truth, drawing inspiration from Southeast Asian mythology and stories from people she has met. She occasionally spends time in a Muay Thai gym punching people and pads.