Thursday, August 11, 2022

Q&A with Jason Rekulak



Jason Rekulak is the author of the new novel Hidden Pictures. He also has written the novel The Impossible Fortress. The former longtime publisher of Quirk Books, he lives in Philadelphia.


Q: What inspired you to write Hidden Pictures, and how did you create your character Mallory Quinn?


A: I wanted to write a novel with illustrations for an adult audience. I’ve been interested in the possibilities of illustrated fiction for a long time. Sometime back in 2019, I started talking to a pair of illustrators, Will Staehle and Doogie Horner, about collaborating on some kind of project.


They’re both wildly creative guys and I enjoyed spending time with them; I knew they would be the perfect partners for something. It took me a long time to figure out the right story for our collaboration.


I always knew I wanted the illustrations to function as clues to a mystery. They couldn’t just be decorative; I wanted the reader to be rewarded for studying them. I considered a lot of different ideas before landing on the story of a babysitter and a 5-year-old boy who likes to draw.


Mallory Quinn is the babysitter who narrates the story. I wanted her to feel like a fish-out-of-water in my story’s setting -- a very affluent and well-to-do New Jersey suburb -- so I gave her a blue-collar South Philly background. I have blue collar class roots myself (my dad was a construction worker) so I cribbed a lot of Mallory’s life story from friends and personal experiences.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Mallory and the Maxwell family?


A: It’s an unusual dynamic, because as a live-in nanny, Mallory is being welcomed as a member of the family – but at the same time, the Maxwells are obviously paying her, and Mallory is always aware that at the end of the day, she’s an employee who can be terminated. So she’s “like family” – but not really!

And Mallory is definitely out of her element from page one. She hasn’t had much exposure to an upper-middle-class lifestyle – she’s never lived in a beautiful suburban neighborhood where most of the houses have backyard swimming pools and tennis courts. So Mallory spends much of the book feeling disoriented (which doesn’t help matters when the supernatural activity kicks into gear).


Q: The novel includes artwork--can you say more about that, and how it came about?


A: Teddy (the 5-year-old child being cared for by Mallory) loves to draw, and every time Mallory finds one of his pictures, we see it reproduced in the novel. Like documentary evidence. At first it’s typical 5-year-old artwork: Birds and flowers and tractors.


But pretty soon Teddy’s artwork turns sinister. A man dragging a body through a forest. A man digging a grave. A woman being strangled. And then something even stranger happens: Teddy’s drawings start to improve! Soon he’s drawing at a level well beyond any 5-year-old boy. Almost like he’s channeling something or someone.


Mallory begins to suspect that the images are telling some kind of story, and she starts searching the drawings for clues. (And you, the reader, can search along with her.)


Q: Screenwriter and director Scott Frank said of the book, “Hidden Pictures is one of those rare gems that’s aware of the rules of the genre even as it breaks them and invents new ones.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’ve been a fan of Scott Frank for 25+ years (I’ve been a huge movie junkie since high school) so the mere fact that he was willing to read my novel and lend his name to a cover-blurb meant the world to me.


By now most people have seen his extraordinary adaptation of The Queen’s Gambit (the story of a female chess prodigy, based on a cult novel by Walter Tevis) but I highly recommend Scott Frank’s under-seen directorial debut, a little movie called The Lookout starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s a wonderful movie!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Too early to say very much but I’m writing another suspense novel with a few elements of horror, and once again the story involves unusual family dynamics. So I suppose there are a few broad similarities to Hidden Pictures – but no ghosts, no children, and no creepy drawings!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am grateful to every single reader who has been sharing their reactions to the book online…thank you!!!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jason Rekulak.

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