Max Booth has some pretty cool jobs. The author of horror novels and editor of short fiction collections, he also hosts a semi-regular celebration/send up of Stephen King’s works, Castle Rock Radio. His novel The Nightly Disease is a surrealistic, semi-autobiographical tale about a hotel night auditor who gets caught up in some grisly happenings, and a trippy conspiracy involving some owls (who, as Twin Peaks taught us, cannot be trusted). The book is a wonderfully constructed piece of personal pulp, and one of the easiest reads you’ll ever discover if you’re a die-hard horror fan.
We had a chance to catch up with Mr. Booth, and what followed was a breezy convo regarding writing, inspiration and Creepy Uncle Steve…
Birth.Movies.Death: Tell me about your entrance into writing. How did you decide that you wanted to become a writer?
Max Booth: Like a lot of writers, I began when I was really young. When I was seven or eight, my dog died and we were really close. Her name was Penny – she was a rat-tailed little mutt who got plowed by a snowplow. It just depressed the hell out of me and I decided to make her live on by writing these adventures that we’d go on – exploring the woods, finding crazy artifacts, bodies sometimes. It was a way to make her live on after she’d gone.
I didn’t know how to type at the time, and I remember my dad becoming a sort of transcriptionist for me. I’d tell him what was in my head and he’d type it out. From then, I just never lost my interest in writing.
BMD: Now, regarding the Castle Rock Radio show you co-host (with wife Lori Michelle), Stephen King is obviously a huge influence. Which of his books was the one that made you go “yeah, this is what I want to do”?
MB: Well, I’d been reading a bunch of books before then, but the one of his that really made me want to become a writer was Misery.
BMD: [laughs] Seriously? Misery? That’s a weird choice, I gotta tell you. The one where the writer gets hobbled.
MB: [laughs] Well, yeah. But I was maybe nine or ten, and it just seemed so romantic to me at the time: to be imprisoned in a bed and forced to do nothing but write. I can’t totally explain my thought process on that one, but its what I truly wanted to do.
BMD: And what other writers attracted you to want to tell stories?
MB: Before that, my main interest was stuff like RL Stine and Christopher Pike. I grew up during the late 90s and early aughts. Those were the main horror guys around for people my age.
BMD: I remember my cousins out in Pittsburgh showing me the Fear Street books for the first time, and I just fell in love with their covers. They were like the YA equivalent of trashy VHS horror covers at the video store. I’d save up money and buy one a week, and had stacks of them.
MB: Yeah, you couldn’t beat those covers. You don’t see those types of covers much anymore.
BMD: Tell me about Castle Rock Radio. How did that begin?
MB: A while back, I pitched an article for a website I write for called LitReactor. It revolved around me reading every single piece of short fiction Stephen King had ever written in a month, and then writing about how doing that impacted me. So, I became fascinated with reading some of King’s lesser-known or loved pieces of work. Take The Cat From Hell, for instance. It’s about a guy trying to swallow this evil cat whole. I had so much fun describing these bizarre plots that I just wanted to keep doing it.
That evolved into Castle Rock radio, where my spouse and I just pick a random work by Stephen King, read through it, and then make a bunch of jokes about it. It’s kind of like We Hate Movies, but with King novels.
BMD: Now where does The Nightly Disease come from? It seems rather personal.
MB: About six years ago, I got a night shift job at a hotel. Immediately, I started noticing just how fucking crazy people would be between 11 PM – 7 AM. I started this Facebook page titled “Confessions of Hotel Night Auditor”, jut to let out the stress I would feel every night from dealing with drunks and entitled pieces of shit. That eventually evolved into writing longer pieces. I didn’t know it was going to turn out to be a book at the time, because the novel doesn’t exactly have a straight-ahead plot or anything. It’s rather disjointed – a man who takes a job at a hotel who is basically me. It’s 80% non-fiction disguised as fiction.
BMD: That’s what I was going to ask next. You’re a King expert – so you know that even his most outlandish protagonists (such as Jack Torrance) have a bunch of autobiographical details worked in. I was curious how much of that approach existed in your work.
MB: The good majority of it consists of scenes that have happened with me in the middle. A lot of the dialogue is verbatim from my life. When my spouse read it, she laughed and said that anybody who knows me and reads this is going to be unable to tell which parts are fiction and which aren’t. So much of it is just me working out my frustrations with the hospitality industry, and how people treat those behind the front desk like shit.
Whenever money is being exchanged for goods or services, the person paying for the services thinks that, just because money has exchanged hands, that they can treat those accepting the money like shit. Like they bought this strange privilege. That drives me crazy.
BMD: So why horror? Why filter these frustrations through this genre?
MB: Well, it’s the genre I’ve know all my life that I’m most comfortable with. I remember watching Dead/Alive when I was young and just being hooked. You can add anything to it, and it allows you to really get all your frustrations out of you.
BMD: What do you want people to take away from your books?
MB: I want to entertain people. If they put the book down and they don’t want to tell everyone about it, then I failed. I don’t want to change lives. I just want them to have a good time while they’re reading, and that’s what The Nightly Disease is all about.