Melody E. McIntyre’s Interview Questions for Scott Leeds
Scott Leeds lives in the Pacific Northwest and his debut novel, Schrader’s Chord comes out September 5, 2023 from Tor Nightfire. It’s a gripping tale about a man who returns to clean up his father’s estranged estate and inadvertently opens a portal to the underworld when he and his friends play four cursed records. It’s a fun, scary horror thriller and I was happy to read and review an ARC for The Horror Tree, and now I’ve had the opportunity to interview Scott Leeds himself.
Please introduce yourself. Tell us about your background, how you came to writing and horror. Schrader’s Chord is your debut novel, but did you write before this?
Hello! I’m Scott Leeds.
When it comes to writing and horror, I suppose I’ve been obsessed with both for as long as I can remember. As a child, I filled countless notebooks and drawing tablets with pictures of ghosts, monsters, and gothic castles. On weekends (when my parents weren’t working), I would dictate stories to them while they feverishly wrote them down (and, naturally, when I was done, would have them read the stories back to me).
I suppose I’ve spent my life writing in one format or another (and even tried my hand at plays for a while), but novels and short stories have always been where my heart hangs its hat, so I’ve spent the majority of my time in that arena.
I’d completed a few novels before I wrote Schrader’s Chord. Nothing I’d be comfortable publishing, but I think there are a few ideas in those pages I’d like to resurrect at some point in the future.
I want to tell you that Schrader’s Chord was such a delight to read — if a horror novel can be “a delight”. I wanted to ask about the inspiration for this book. Where did the ideas come from? How did they develop?
Thank you very much! I absolutely think horror novels can be a delight to read, and I’m so flattered Schrader’s Chord fit that category for you!
I suppose like many novels, the inspiration for this one came from several different places. I know I wanted to write about a record store. Having spent many years as both an employee and patron of record stores, they’ve become a sacred place to me. And you couldn’t ask for better characters! But more than that, I wanted to write about music. Those that make it. Those that love it. And those that do both. And anyone who has dealt with an obsession for collecting records (or books, or paintings, or anything that lends itself to collecting) knows that we will often place ourselves in both financial and emotional straights just to score another trophy for our shelves. Obsessive people lend themselves happily to the horror genre. They’re the ones that will willingly do the stupid thing that sets the horror in motion; simply because they can’t resist…
I also wanted to write about death. Specifically, I wanted to write about how death can disrupt families — both biological and ‘found families.’ Death is a scary enough concept in our day-to-day lives, but when it happens to someone close, we give it much more space in our heads than we normally would. We feed it…and it grows. Suddenly, this creepy, abstract concept that we only think about every once in a while, is now front-and-center in our minds, clear and crisp and real.
After mashing all those things together (and adding a villain in the mix), I got Schrader’s Chord!
Can you talk specifically about the inspiration behind the four records that when played together open a portal to the dead? It reads like a true urban legend. Were there particular legends or ideas that inspired you?
When I was about nineteen, my close friend and I worked at Toys ‘R’ Us. We had recently gotten a hold of The Flaming Lips album, Zaireeka, which is comprised of four discs that are meant to be played simultaneously in order to achieve the desired sound of the album. Since the security area of Toys ‘R’ Us had no small shortage of display model boomboxes (most of them branded with a children’s property; in our case it was Dora the Explorer, Spongebob, Mickey Mouse, and another one I can’t remember), we had found the perfect spot to set up and play Zaireeka.
It became a core memory for me — a true moment of fun and discovery — and I suppose I wanted to write about that experience, with a healthy dose of evil added into the mix, of course!
I read on Tor Nightfire that you were outwardly wanting to be a musician, but secretly wishing to be a writer. How did you make that transition? Do you still play and perform music?
The problem with being a musician (specifically, a musician that plays in bands), is that it’s a group activity. Depending on the number of band members, you’re dealing with several schedules at a time, to say nothing of the fact that there are several different levels of passion for the music you’re making. This is especially true in high school. You may be in it for the love of making music, but someone else may be in it for social reasons. Maybe one of the guitar players just needed an excuse to get out of the house. Maybe the bass player is only doing it to get out of playing football.
Writing is a solitary activity. Any frustration that comes with collaborating with a group of people with contrasting agendas vanishes the moment you start typing. You are the master of your little world, and your passion alone is responsible for the art you’re making. There’s true freedom in that.
That’s not to say I still don’t play music. I do! Constantly! But as a hobby more than anything else, and now that there is no pressure on the artform, it has become infinitely more fun!
Music is central to Schrader’s Chord. The late Raymond owned a record store and his workers, particularly Ana, are dedicated to the music store. You mentioned you worked at a Tower Records when you were twenty years old. How closely does the store in the book resemble your real life experiences at the store?
Pretty closely, actually. All record stores, whether corporate chains or mom-and-pop shops, have a similar vibe, like the way all hardware stores have a similar smell. In any given record store, you’re going to be dealing and talking with various music-centric archetypes: the jazz or classical snob (I don’t use that term negatively…I am one), the metalhead, the indie fanatic, the experimental/noise set, pop music devotees, mainstream rap and hip-hop enthusiasts, underground rap and hip-hop enthusiasts, country western fans (separated by era, of course…outlaw country fans and modern pop country fans rarely see eye to eye), and every archetype in between.
To keep the number of characters from becoming too unwieldy, I focused on only a few record store customers and employees, and even though the conversations in the book were never actual conversations I’ve had in real life, they certainly could have been (and still could be!).
In reading Schrader’s Chord, I was struck by the richness and depth of your characters. Do you have a process for developing characters? Any advice you can offer?
When it comes to creating characters, I stick to the most boring and constantly-repeated advice for writers, which is to write the truth. It’s as trite as the phrase don’t go to bed angry but, like that phrase, it really works.
I think there is a reason most (not all, but most) writers grew up as introverts. We tend to be very comfortable standing on the social sidelines, observing people like novice psychologists. This lack of engagement gives us the mental runway to study people unnoticed, filling up our writer’s toolbox for that moment we sit down and begin whipping up characters for our stories.
Also, another over-used (but no less true) phrase, is to read a lot. Emulate writers who create characters you connect to!
Who are your literary influences? Favourite authors?
Heavens, this could be a long list. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.
Without even thinking about it, my number one answer is Ray Bradbury. He is without a doubt my favorite writer of all time, and has been since I was young. I could go on at great length about Bradbury, but the key reason he’s my favorite is the love he put into his writing. The stories themselves are amazing, of course, but the love behind every syllable he wrote is contagious, and I can’t help but read something of his at least once per week, just to siphon off some of that love for myself.
As far as influences go, Bradbury is definitely number one, but there are so many others. For brevity’s sake, I’ll just stick with horror authors, including but not limited to: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, Charles Beaumont, Anne Rivers Siddons, Anne Rice, and Richard Matheson.
Oh, and Charles Dickens. Not a horror writer (although he’s written some pretty horrific stuff), but I’m a nut for Dickens. I couldn’t leave him out.
What are some books and authors you’ve read lately that you can recommend?
I’m very lucky (and honored) to be on an imprint like Nightfire, which has become a haven for so many diverse and interesting voices in horror. CJ Leede’s Maeve Fly, Nat Cassidy’s Mary, Chuck Tingle’s Camp Damascus, and Liz Kerin’s Night’s Edge are truly amazing novels. (Honestly, every Nightfire title I’ve read is good.)
As for other books, I recently reread Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon for, like, the tenth time, and still love every word of it. I also reread Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me, which is like a weighted blanket for the mind. I absolutely loved Whipple’s Castle by Thomas Williams (a Stephen King recommendation). Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez was a masterpiece. John Irving’s new novel, The Last Chairlift, was wonderful, and I’ve always got a P.G. Wodehouse book open, too. His stories are true vacations for the brain.
What are you working on now? What is next for you?
I just broke ground on my next novel. I don’t want to say too much (I’m afraid I’m more superstitious than I’d like to admit), but I’ll just say this: if you’ve read Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker or Death Is A Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury, you’re well-primed for what I’ve got coming next.
Where can we find you and your work?
I’m mostly active on Instagram (@scott_leeds), but I’ve got a Twitter account, too (@LeedsCommaScott), for copy and pasting info from Instagram. My work will be available starting September 5th, in bookstores!