Review Fix chats with author Christopher Graves, to find out everything about his newest novel, “Sinner.”
SINNER focuses on a direct descendant of the 19th-century vigilante gang, the Bald Knobbers, Ezekiel Woods, Jr. He has been indoctrinated into a world ruled by violence and a literal interpretation of the Bible his entire life. Now, over a hundred years later, Zeke continues his ancestors’ crusade, spending his days camouflaged as an aloof middle-aged grocery store sacker and his nights in a farmhouse cellar, preparing captives’ souls for their ultimate destiny: redemption or death. His latest abductee, an indomitable Texan working her way through a third-life crisis, chooses another option: escape. Zeke must recapture this lost sheep or face a consequence far worse than any worldly fate: that God has forsaken him.
Review Fix: How did you get started in writing?
Christopher Graves: As a performer, I’ve been creating things forever, but I believe my true start to writing came when I attended the Blue Zone Artist’s retreat in Costa Rica back in 2012. One of my challenges during the program was to create 10 minutes of some of the original content that would be presented to a group of artists. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and wrote the first draft of a scene that would later become part of Sinner.
Review Fix: What inspired this book?
Graves: A few months before the Blue Zone trip, I had flown down to Little Rock, AR to look after a close friend’s 2-year child while she was in the hospital for a week. On my last night, I was startled awake by a pair of angry voices arguing outside the bedroom window. My focus darted around the room trying to process it all-where I was, who the voices were, etc. Suddenly my eyes landed on what appeared to be a large man, casually slouched in the doorway. The terrifying part for me was the fact that figure seemed so at ease like he wasn’t worried about anything. The paralyzing fear I felt for the 10 seconds it took for my vision to adjust and realize it was only a shadow, was still incredibly visceral for me when it came time to create that original content in Costa Rica.
Review Fix: What authors did you read as a kid? How did they affect you?
Graves: Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Thomas Harris, David Lozell Martin were some of my favorites. I’ve gravitated toward suspense/thriller stories for as long as I can remember. I think coming from a pretty dysfunctional background resulted in a kind of addiction to the adrenaline surges that go with escaping from danger. So, reading books with dark, twisted plots allowed me to experience the terrifying rushes from a safe distance.
Review Fix: Why do horror stories still matter?
Graves: I think Stephen King said it best: “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” His words are definitely true for me. Horror stories can be a kind of therapy.
Review Fix: Could this be a film one day?
Graves: I’d love it to be. It was initially a screenplay, actually, winning Best Psychological Thriller Script at the New Hope Film Festival in 2014. Afterwards, I decided to write the book of Sinner because I thought there was more to the story than a 90-minute movie would allow for and I was inspired to explore that idea.
Review Fix: What are your end goals?
Graves: My expectations for this first book are to establish my brand as a writer of authentic, relatable characters who claw and fight to survive in terrifying scenarios that could really (and do really) happen. Moving forward, I plan to continue writing books and screenplays that scare people the way I love to be scared.
Review Fix: What was your research process like for this?
Graves: Research was pretty extensive and continual for Sinner. Oddly enough for someone who just wrote a book about a fundamentalist zealot, I didn’t grow up with much direct exposure to organized religion, so I did a lot of reading and cross-referencing of the KJV bible. I also had a great consultant who is well-versed in the area with the first-hand experience in organizations similar to those referenced in Sinner. For background on the Bald Knobbers, I read a couple of really fascinating books, Bald Knobbers: Vigilantes of the Ozarks Frontier and Bald Knobbers: Chronicles of Vigilante Justice.
Review Fix: What did you learn?
Graves: I learned that the infamous Bald Knobbers were initially a group of locals determined to bring some justice and order into a series of lawless towns, but that as with many organizations, power brought corruption and in this case, ruthless vigilantism. I also discovered is that the gang originated just 60 miles from the Missouri town where I was born and that a prominent member who shares my same last name. So the pending Ancestry.com profile is gonna make things…interesting next Thanksgiving!
Review Fix: How would you describe your writing style to someone who’s never read you?
Graves: I come from a performance background, so I’d say my style uses cinematic imagery and grounded dialogue to create relatable characters who tell terrifying stories that people can imagine actually happening.
Review Fix: What makes this book unique?
Graves: Firstly, the main character speaks almost exclusively in verses of scripture quoted directly from the KJV Bible and through flashbacks of his fundamentalist childhood, I show readers how being indoctrinated with a violent, twisted interpretation of God’s will, now not only emboldens him but actually compels him to act.
Secondly, the connection to the Bald Knobbers and the savage inspiration they provided through three generations of consistent extremism, is not something I’ve ever read about before.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy it the most?
Graves: I believe lovers of disturbing, suspenseful thrillers, like, Lie to Me, Kiss the Girls, Dark Places, and Room, as well as readers fascinated by stories with cult-like religious elements, will really like Sinner.
Review Fix: Bottom line, why must someone read it?
Graves: As an extreme example of nurture vs. nature plays out, readers will witness the creation and evolution of a modern day serial killer who is driven by a primal connection to his Bald Knobber ancestors. At the same time, readers will root for a dominant, colossally resilient female character through her relentlessly-paced journey of horror.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Graves: In addition to producing/ shooting a short film and developing a second season of my comedic web series, With Friends Like These, I’m currently working on writing my next book, Dodging Bullets, which is a gritty suspense thriller about escaping domestic abuse and just how far a mother will go to bury her past.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Graves: My personal journey has taken me from poverty-stricken small town, Missouri, to welfare reliant inner-city Seattle, Washington, to cotton-picking in rural West Colombia, Texas, to initiating million-dollar redemptions for high net-worth clients on Madison Avenue, to representing worldwide brands on international network television, which is how I currently make my living. As a result, I’ve become a student of human behavior who sees the world through many different lenses and I’m psyched to get to bring some of those perspectives to the horror world.