An Interview With Chase Dearinger On His Debut Novel

Horror Tree
6 min readApr 16, 2024

In the desolate hills of Eastern Oklahoma, the residents of Seven Suns are haunted by more than their own personal dramas. Bones crawl from the earth, shape-shifting entities slip into different skins, and a theoretically impossible black cougar roams the countryside. Chase Dearinger intertwines the complicated lives of a pseudo-step-father, a troubled teen, and a reluctant sheriff as their stories come together to face This New Dark.

Chase Dearinger is an Oklahoma native who now lives in Kansas with his wife and two daughters. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in magazines around the country, including Bayou, The Southampton Review, Short Story America, and Heavy Feather Review. He currently serves as the Chief Editor of Emerald City, a quarterly online fiction magazine, and directs the Cow Creek Chapbook Prize, an annual poetry chapbook contest. He is a professor of creative writing and literature at Pittsburg State University. This New Dark is his first novel.

I sat down with Chase to talk about his writing process, reconciling literary and genre fiction, and the inherent horror of liminal spaces.

Carrie Lee South: What drew you to the horror genre?

Chase Dearinger: When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with horror movies. I think that had a lasting impact on me. I know a lot of kids feel a lot of magic about Santa and Christmas, but as a kid, Halloween and that dark side of the imagination was always appealing to me. I was just sort of thrilled with the idea that something could scare me so much. It feels almost transgressive, in a certain way, to be scared. Of course, as I got older and started to write and read more of it, I found that horror was a good tool for reflecting my dark worldview.

CLS: When did you start reading in the genre, what would you say were some of the books or stories that really shaped you as a writer?

CD: When I was a teenager, I started getting into Stephen King, but that was the end of it for a little bit because I went to college. Of course, being in college as an English major, especially if you’re studying writing, they really push literary fiction on you. I kind of lost touch with that a little bit and read lots of really dry John Cheever stories about divorce.

The thing is, I fell in love with a ton of literary writers. One big one would be Joyce Carol Oates. I think when I discovered Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Faulkner, and those Southern Gothic writers, I was like, wait a minute, here’s a way back into horror, you know, via what they’re calling literary. Southern Gothic was my ticket into horror from there, and professors couldn’t really say anything, you know? College was, overall, a fantastic experience. One in which I really fell in love with literary fiction. Which, in turn, made me a better writer. So those limitations were frustrating but also great for me in a lot of ways.

CLS: I feel like a lot of genre writers have a similar story, where we loved horror or sci-fi as kids and teens, then went to college and had to shift our focus, and then found our way back to it. This New Dark certainly falls into that Southern Gothic literary territory, but it does lean into more supernatural elements as well. When would you say you found your way back to genre fiction?

CD: I was working on This New Dark for my dissertation for my PhD, and it was much more of a tightly structured series of stories, and less of an all-out novel. I remember while I was working on my revisions, I thought, I just want to write a horror novel. That was kind of my big deciding moment. I just like a lot of genres and I like bending them.

CLS: I can see that short story lineage in This New Dark because we have three main point of view characters: Randy, Wyatt, and Esther. Each of them has these complicated family relationships, and they’re each going through their own journey into self-acceptance. What’s your opinion about how that character-driven search for identity melds with the horror?

CD: I thought that if these characters were going to change over the course of a couple of days that they were really going to have to confront something that was worth it, something that brought them all together in some way too. That was really important to me, to bring them together and have them make choices that they may not normally have made. There are morally ambiguous characters who, in the face of something much worse than themselves, become better in some cases. I think horror is a good lens for these characters to understand what’s happening in their lives as they come unraveled.

CLS: I also found it interesting that the only first person POV character is this sinister, eldritch entity. Could you explain that choice a little bit?

CD: I just didn’t feel like I could capture him without his voice. I find him to be, regardless of everything, a little sympathetic, and I thought that his voice would carry that. He says early on that it’s his story to tell. I like that idea, even though it’s not really his story.

CLS: The story is set in Seven Suns, Oklahoma. I’m from Arkansas so I have to ask, are you familiar with the Ozark Howler? Was the black cougar that Wyatt’s obsessed with at all inspired by this cryptid?

CD: No, there’s actually a famous black cougar in Oklahoma that makes appearances here and there, and there’s trail cam pictures of him. I guess you’d call him a cryptid because the authorities say that it doesn’t exist and that there is no black cougar, and there’s not one in Oklahoma. I wanted to bring that in.

CLS: Speaking of settings in horror, I just checked out your piece on Electric Literature. We talked a little bit about Southern Gothic elements, so I’m curious, do you consider the South a haunted place? What makes it such fertile ground for these kinds of stories?

CD: That’s a good question. I like to think of the South as haunted, but my thought process was that this place wasn’t necessarily just the South, it has qualities of a variety of locations. You can say the South is haunted because of slavery, because of its history, but the part of the country where eastern Oklahoma exists feels haunted to me because it kind of represents a liminal space in a way. It has a history, but it also doesn’t have a lot of history. It’s very much the West, but it’s also very much the South, and also somehow also the Midwest. I don’t know that it fits in, and that makes it kind of spooky to me. I spent a lot of time there, camping and backpacking. It has a sort of desolate, empty feeling because nobody really wants to be in the hills of eastern Oklahoma. Except for the people who are stuck there, you know?

CLS: I love that concept. What is it about a liminal space that is so frightening to you?

CD: I just feel like there’s something so uncanny about a liminal space — the fact that people are supposed to be there, but people aren’t there. I’m particularly bothered when you see corners at hotels or airports, where there’s like one or two chairs, sitting. That really bothers me, because you know no one has ever sat there. And then if someone did sit there, it’s upsetting too. Like why did they choose this place? I feel the same way about Oklahoma. It’s kind of a place and not a place at the same time. Of course, its history is haunted in its own way with what’s going on with Native Americans in the state, so I don’t mean to say that it’s just this human-less vacuum where no one ever lived, but part of that tragic history is responsible for carving up and creating these empty spaces.

CLS: Are you working on anything now?

CD: I’m currently about halfway through the second draft of another novel, and it’s pretty crazy so far. Also set in Seven Suns, Oklahoma. On this one I thought, “How can I crank up the weird a little bit more?”



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