5 Questions with Andrew Pyper on THE DEMONOLOGIST and the Shirley Jackson Award

[NOTE: This is part of a series of Q&As with the Shirley Jackson Award nominees.]

Andrew Pyper is the author of six internationally bestselling novels as well as Kiss Me, a collection of short stories. His first novel, Lost Girls, was a New York Times Notable Book and New York Times bestseller. This was followed by The Trade Mission, The Wildfire Season, The Killing Circle (a New York Times Crime Novel of the Year), The Guardians and, most recently, The Demonologist, which Amazon selected as one of the 20 Best Books of the Year. He lives in Toronto.

Andrew kindly answered a few of my questions about The Demonologist, which has been nominated for Best Novel!


Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the Shirley Jackson Award nomination! Will you tell us about your novel and what inspired you to write it?

Andrew Pyper: The Demonologist is the story of David Ullman, a professor of English at Columbia University who specializes in Milton’s Paradise Lost. A lifelong melancholic, David has always struggled to fully connect with the people in his life, including Tess, his adored only child. His life in turmoil, he accepts a strange invitation from a woman who’d visited his office on the last afternoon of classes and takes Tess with him. The terms? To attend at an address in Venice and consult on what the woman describes only as a “phenomenon.” The horror he encounters at that address changes everything for David. After returning to his hotel, intending to leave Italy at once, he finds Tess on the edge of the rooftop, where she addresses him in a voice not hers and reveals a secret only he knows of. Then she jumps. It’s a presumed suicide, though her body is never found. Upon his return to America, David begins to see signs that Tess may be neither wholly alive nor wholly dead, but in the possession of a demon – a figure from the poem he has read and taught all his life who is considerably more real than he’d ever imagined.

The inspiration for The Demonologist came from my desire to write a horror novel about emotion. Not one with emotion, but about emotion. In my research, I found a lot of interesting stuff about how grief or displacement or depression have always been a means by which the demonic can enter our personal world. This was the key for me. A protagonist who suffers from an emotional block, a man who loves but finds it hard, a man who’s been unable to fully connect with others his whole life. In this way, he would be a mirror for the demon: both are trying to feel – which is to say, both are trying to be human.

KC: What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing, and why did you first begin writing?

AP: I started writing as soon as physically possible: even as I learned cursive handwriting in second grade, I was using it to write stories. Why? I was lonely and odd and hungry for transformation (writerly universals?)

Influences are always a moving target, but I think the aesthetic bedrock for me was poured with Stephen King, Henry James, Margaret Atwood, Graham Greene, Alice Munro, all in variable and unequal parts.

KC: If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

AP: This may sound like a trick answer, but isn’t: the bible. It would be so wild to approach the primary text of Western mythology with innocence, unprejudiced, as a literate Martian might.

KC: What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award?

AP: It’s an honest-to-god enormous honor. In part because of the quality of the award’s previous winners (not to mention my amazing colleagues on this year’s shortlist) and in part because of my respect for Shirley Jackson’s work, it’s about as meaningful an acknowledgement of being headed in the right direction as I could hope for.

KC: What’s next for you?

AP: My new novel about twins, Detroit and near-death experience is being published by Simon & Schuster in February 2015. It’s called The Damned.