D. Melhoff says he wanted his recently-released GRIMM WOODS to remind us of Hollywood “slasher” films, but with a more complex villain. He has set his story at a holiday camp because “remote, helpless, isolated, etc.” helped him create the “tone” he wanted. Kirkus Reviews says the book is, "The literary equivalent of a slasher movie, one that garners its biggest frights with mere implication."
Melhoff is working on his next thriller, which he plans to finish by the end of the year. When he’s not writing, he studies and practices Spanish and hopes to be able to carry on conversations—also by the end of the year.
Q: You have described GRIMM WOODS as a thriller or a horror story. What makes it a thriller?
D. Melhoff: From day one, I wanted GRIMM WOODS to feel like a Hollywood slasher film—in fact, the first draft was a screenplay, not a novel. A lot of elements are reminiscent of those films, including the setting (a remote summer camp), the characters (horny teenage counselors), and the antagonist (an unknown terror in the woods). While the story draws on these familiar components, I also didn’t want the antagonist to be a typical 2D slasher villain, so that area required more thought and exploration.
Q: What turned you to writing horror stories? Who is your favorite “horror” author? Why?
D. Melhoff: Writers write what they like reading, and I’m no exception. If I had to name a favorite author, I’d say Stephen King, although Thomas Harris would be a close second. You can’t top Silence of the Lambs.
Q: Why will readers care about your characters? Are they bigger than life or just ordinary people?
D. Melhoff: The main character, Scott, isn’t very likeable at the beginning. He’s arrogant, irresponsible, selfish—the list goes on. But throughout the story, he’s forced to make decisions that reveal his true nature is really that of a protector, which gives him a significant bump in likeability (according to the book’s Kirkus review, at least). Most of the secondary characters are one-dimensional murder props, but that’s par for the slasher course. Again, it was the tone I was going for.
Q: Does the concept of villain versus hero apply to GRIMM WOODS? What makes a compelling villain?
D. Melhoff: Oh, yes. In fact, the concept of “who’s a villain vs. who’s a hero” is one of the central themes in the book. More specifically, it explores the idea that sometimes bad things are necessary in order for good things to happen. A compelling villain is one whose idea of good vs. bad is the opposite of your protagonist’s.
Q: Is humor helpful in telling your story?
D. Melhoff: You need a healthy dose of humor and suspense in any story, regardless of genre. Think of your favorite thriller novel—chances are you can pick out funny characters, situations, or lines. Conversely, with non-thrillers, moments of suspense create conflict and propel the story forward. So yes, humor is certainly helpful in telling my stories and making them more believable.
Q: Do you write strictly to scare, i.e., entertain, readers? Or do you embed a few messages along the way?
D. Melhoff: I write to thrill more than scare. In fact, I actually don’t like movies that make you jump, which most friends consider strange. In GRIMM WOODS, there aren’t embedded messages so much as interwoven themes. People can draw their own conclusions.
Q: How important is believability or credibility to engage your readers? How do you pull them into your story?
D. Melhoff: Suspension of disbelief is paramount. Readers can’t be thinking, “Why doesn’t someone do X” or “Why haven’t they tried Y?” If you can cross your t’s and dot your i’s to the point where your audience has no clue what they would do in a character’s situation, you’re on the right track.
Q: Do you use the setting at a camp to build suspense? Could you have told the same story in a city?
D. Melhoff: The camp was necessary given the tone I was going for—i.e., remote, helpless, isolated, etc. Placing it in a city would have resulted in an entirely different story, one that would have likely involved more of the crime genre.
Q: What’s next?
D. Melhoff: I’ve begun outlining my next project but don’t have a first draft yet, which I’m hoping to complete by the end of the year. It’ll be another thriller novel—i.e., nothing paranormal or supernatural.
Q: Tell us about D. Melhoff. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
D. Melhoff: When I’m not writing (aka procrastinating) I can usually be found eating or fumbling my way through a variety of Spanish workbooks. My goal is to be able to carry out conversations in Spanish by the end of the year. Duolingo says I’m currently 27% fluent, but whoever came up with that algorithm is an overly generous liar.
About D. Melhoff
D. Melhoff was born in a prairie ghost town that few people have heard of and even fewer have visited. While most of his stories are for adults, he also enjoys terrifying younger audiences from time to time, as seen in his series of twisted picture books for children. He credits King, Poe, Hitchcock, Harris, Stoker, and his second grade school teacher, Mrs. Lake, for turning him to horror. For more information, visit grimmwoods.com.
About GRIMM WOODS
A remote summer camp becomes a lurid crime scene when the bodies of two teenagers are found in a bloody, real-life rendering of a classic Grimm’s fairy tale. Trapped in the wilderness, the remaining counsellors must follow a trail of dark children’s fables in order to outwit a psychopath and save the dwindling survivors before falling prey to their own gruesome endings.
Drawing on the grisly, uncensored details of history’s most famous fairy tales, Grimm Woods is a heart-pounding thriller about a deranged killer who uses traditional children’s stories as tropes in elaborate murders. Set against the backdrop of modern-day Michigan, it’s a journey through the mind of a dangerous zealot and a shocking glimpse into the bedtime stories you thought you knew.
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Website ~an online hub for everything related to classic fairy tales, as well as the promotional site for D. Melhoff's thriller novel of the same title