Matthew Haase: The Devil’s Gospel centers very largely around a religious cult in small town America. These kinds of cults have appeared numerous times in American history. Were there any specific real-life inspirations for The Devil’s Gospel’s?
A.S. Coomer: As for the cult, there were no real-life inspirations for the Leaf Readers in The Devil’s Gospel. I’ve always been fascinated by cults though and when I lived in eastern Kentucky, I took hikes through Red River Gorge. So, when I first stumbled onto the white-haired goldenrod, a rockhouse plant endemic to RRG, the two sort of just naturally connected in my head. Biblical fanaticism and violence tend to go hand-in-hand and the idea of a darkly charismatic zealot believing in the supposed magical properties of a highly isolated plant was a fun starting point for a story. It wasn’t hard to imagine someone as delusional and full of faith killing for their ideology: it’s a very American religious experience.
MH: Did you come across any information in your research for The Devil’s Gospel that has led to other projects? If so, what was that information and what sort of project is coming from it?
ASC: Researching The Devil’s Gospel gave me a few ideas for other projects, most notably a sequel, but nothing definite has taken shape as of yet. I’ve been working on several other projects, three novels, two short story collections, and a few recording projects, but I do plan on coming back to the Leaf Readers and Dr. Kevin Ballard at some point.
Unrelated to the novel, I did write a poem, Indian Staircase, while hiking around RRG researching the book. This poem found its way into the 2016 Hessler Street Fair Anthology.
MH: What authors are a strong influence on your writing style? Is there a genre or form of writing you’ve always wanted to try your hand at?
ASC: This is a difficult question to answer without making a gigantic listing (which nobody really wants). You often can’t escape the writers that influenced you when you were younger; it’s like those bands you listened to in high school. There’s a comfort and body of knowledge associated with those sounds and words that stay with you and tend to transcend their original intentions. A lot of my favorite books and writers are like that for me; Hemingway, Sartre, King, Bradbury, Vonnegut, Burke are all writers I keep going back to, but the list of influencers is endless. Each new book I read shows me something new about perspective or story. Looking back, I can’t help but see the influence of James Lee Burke in The Devil’s Gospel, especially when it comes to setting description.
While I was writing my forthcoming novel, Memorabilia (11:11 Press), I was heavily influenced by more philosophy than fiction, especially E.M. Cioran’s The Trouble with Being Born.
As for genres or forms I’d like to explore, I think comics and graphic novels are pretty high up on the list. My first novel, Rush’s Deal, has a non-visual comic component to it that was a blast to write. I’d love to develop a relationship with an artist and work on something dark and stark visually-speaking with a strong story.
I’ve never boxed myself into a single genre. The Devil’s Gospel is an out-and-out thriller about parental expectation and religious fanaticism. Rush’s Deal is a coming-of-age story that’s very Faustian. The Fetishists is a subversive horror novel about dominance and power. Shining the Light is the autobiography of a musician who never existed that explores the junky genius mythos. Memorabilia is a literary rumination on sanity, creativity, & legacy. Of course, these books are about more than this, as most novels that aren’t airplane throwaways are, but I list them this way to show that I chase whatever ideas are interesting to me regardless of genre. Hell, to me, is doing the same thing forever. I get bored so easily.
MH: Were there any scenes or characters you wanted to include in The Devil’s Gospel that were eventually cut? Why?
ASC: There were a few scenes that I cut from The Devil’s Gospel, even though I liked them; they were taut and suspenseful. These ended up getting axed however because I completely changed the ending of the story. No spoilers, but the original closing left much more open to interpretation. To make the novel’s conclusion more satisfying to the reader, I did extensive rewrites, including adding a new character, Detective Stewart, and a more concrete resolution. I think the novel is much stronger for it.
MH: What aspects of the cult do you think is appealing to a modern American’s way of life?
ASC: Cults are particularly appealing to Americans because it’s a form of identity foreclosure. Our world of seemingly endless options and choices to be made can be overwhelming. There’s comfort in being told what to do and what to think. There’s comfort in believing that somebody knows what they’re doing and what they’re about and buying into their ideology is a million times easier than working things out for ourselves. Absurdity aside, I think faith is more about comfort than anything else. The universe does what the universe does, regardless of our concerns and needs. Buying into a mindset where you have some sort of cosmological importance and purpose can be appealing to even the sharpest of us if we’re lost enough. Cults are the American Xanax.
A.S. Coomer is a writer, musician, artist, and perpetual rain dog. His work has appeared in over fifty literary journals, magazines, anthologies and the like. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times in 2016. His debut novel, Rush’s Deal (Hammer & Anvil Books), came out December 11th, 2016. A new paperback edition of Rush’s Deal will be published in 2018 by Lit Fest Press. The Fetishists, his second novel, was published March 20th, 2017 by Grindhouse Press. His third novel, Shining the Light, was published by Atlatl Press on July 6th, 2018. His fourth novel, The Devil’s Gospel, was published by The Wild Rose Press on March 6th, 2019.
Matthew Haase is a senior at Ohio Northern University, studying Creative Writing and Literature. He enjoys writing fiction, poetry, and screenplays, and is the Creative Nonfiction Editor for Polaris Literary Magazine. Matthew has studied abroad in South Korea twice and has an unholy love of french fries and dumplings.