Interview with Alan Ryker, author of NIGHTMARE MAN

(The estimated reading time for this is 5 minutes)


You know the drill. Tell us a bit about NIGHTMARE MAN.

Nightmare Man is the tale of a man living a stressful life he never envisioned for himself. Jessie is an artist by training and temperament, but works as a debt collector to support his family. As if that weren’t bad enough, the stress brings on night terrors that leave him exhausted, as every night he battles a shadowy figure he calls “the nightmare man.” Jessie doesn’t think there’s any hope for his condition until he hears about a risky treatment. It fixes everything. End of story.

Kidding, of course. It makes everything worse. While the nightmare man used to only torment Jessie, after beginning the treatment, it seems to take on a life of its own. Jessie now has to figure out if the nightmare man is just in his head, if it’s something he’s calling forth from a dark realm, or if he is the nightmare man himself, and he has to do this before someone close to him gets hurt.

A character in your novella AMONG PREY also suffered from night terrors, so it seems to be a topic that interests you. Do you have personal experience with them?

Oh yes. Actually, I just went through a phase where I had them every night for about three months, which is my longest consecutive streak ever. I’ve suffered from night terrors ever since I was a teenager. Sometimes I’ll only have one a month, sometimes I’ll have them every night. The first hour of sleep is when they typically occur, but if one is violent enough to bring me completely out of sleep, the clock starts over. It’s exhausting.

What’s it like to have a night terror? Some of the experiences in NIGHTMARE MAN are pretty extreme. Are they taken from your life?

I wrote the night terror scenes from deep within Jessie’s POV to try to give the reader a real taste of the fear and confusion. For those who don’t know, a night terror is a nightmare with your eyes open. It’s a parasomnia disorder, similar to sleep walking in that you can freely move, but they’re violent. Sometimes I don’t see anything, I just sense things trying to stab me through the mattress. Sometimes I see creatures or people. Sometimes I get completely lost in that world, that mix of the internal and external, so that what my mind imagines is just as real to me as my bed or my nightstand. Sometimes I know that what I’m seeing couldn’t be real, that I’m having a nightmare, and yet it’s almost impossible not to react.

There’s a scene in the book where Jessie can’t get out of his bedroom door and bashes against it until he thinks he’s knocked it open. Later, he sees that the door is still shut in the door frame, but he’s knocked the frame entirely out of the wall. I did that once, thinking my tormentor had locked me in, when really I was just trying to push the door out when it opened inward.

It’s scary, because I could really hurt someone. My wife knows not to come into a dark room if she hears me moving. It’s also scary because my eyes are open, I’m moving around, reacting to my environment, and yet I’m misperceiving so much and thinking with such strange logic. So how trustworthy are my perceptions and my logic at any given moment? Would I know it if I had things completely wrong? Because often in a night terror, just like in a dream, the craziest things make sense.

Every piece you’ve published with DarkFuse so far has had at least one prominent character suffering from anxiety, some diagnosed, some not. Why does this condition interest you so much?

One guess. Yes, I also have issues with anxiety. I think a lot of writers do, but I also think it’s a symptom of the age we live in. These are anxious times. Honestly, I think that’s largely what compels me to read, watch and write horror. I find that the surreal and foreboding tone found in horror fiction, the doubt, the stress—it’s all thinly veiled metaphors and direct parallels to the real world. I think there are a lot of people for whom this is their problem with horror. They might think they don’t like the gore or violence even as they enjoy violence in other genres and media. What bothers them about horror is that it hits a little too close to home and creates anxiety, which unlike chills and thrills isn’t really even vicariously pleasant.

You suffer from night terrors and anxiety issues. The next logical question has to be: are you Jessie? Are you your protagonist?

Only in the way that all my characters are me. They always start with some of my traits, then veer away and become their own people. Jessie probably stuck a little closer. With bad luck and less doggedness, I could pretty easily imagine becoming bitter and broken like Jessie. I hope that the reader will be able to imagine the same thing. I think people with passions that take a backseat to other concerns will be able to empathize.

What will fans of your other work enjoy about NIGHTMARE MAN?

It’s fast-paced and exciting, but with character at the heart. Character is what fiction is all about for me. If I can’t believe in the characters, it doesn’t matter how intense the action is. And I don’t think you have to write massive tomes to get at believable characters that are easy to empathize with and have distinct voices. I can’t stretch work out. It’s not in my nature, but I also don’t think it results in stronger fiction. Luckily there are readers who agree with me, who are looking for something involving and entertaining at the same time. I think they’ll like Nightmare Man.

Finally, can you let us know what’s next for Alan Ryker?

DarkFuse is kicking off 2014 with my novel Dream of the Serpent. It was one of the most intense writing processes of my life, and I think that comes across on the page. Seriously, it’ll be excruciating for some readers. But in a good way! God, I love horror.

Download Nightmare Man for your Kindle HERE.

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