The House the Devil Built, the debut novel by Benjamin Hively, tackles religious bigotry in a small Louisiana town with a side order of the supernatural. When a gay couple moves into an old house in the town hoping to leave their troubles behind, they find out it can get worse. The local pastor shows up on their doorstep to welcome them, but quickly turns on them when he learns they are gay. Soon, the couple experiences a series of hate crimes, and the town’s sheriff is forced to protect them against the ire of the locals. But something sinister has possessed one of the gay men, and is about to take vengeful matters into its own hands.
While this fast-paced novel does tantalize with aspects of possession horror, this isn’t an “exorcism” story. The focus is on the varying ways in which the main characters, from kids to adults, are affected by the presence of a gay couple in their small town…and how the demonic presence plays them like puppets to expose and exploit their weaknesses.
Author Benjamin Hively took the time to chat with me about his writing and the main themes of his novel—bigotry and horror.
Boys, Bears & Scares: Hi, Benjamin. What made you first want to become a writer, and why horror?
Benjamin Hively: I grew up on horror movies. From Child’s Play to Leprechaun and everything in between, my mom was a horror junkie so she’d always cover my eyes on the gruesome stuff, but I was there for everything. I started writing screenplays when my school librarian told me about a children’s film festival, and from there I continued writing in different formats including short stories. Wes Craven was a hero of mine so I guess, in a sense, he inspired me.
BB&S: How did you come up with the idea for The House The Devil Built? What made you decide to use the horror genre as a way to tell a story of anti-gay hate?
Benjamin Hively: The Westboro Baptist Church kind of sparked the idea. Actually the preacher, Shlepp, in the book, is an anagram for Phelps (the preacher of WBC). The reason I chose horror is to avoid making this a “nonfiction” fiction book. To show that sometimes, the true horror is reality. Sure, you have the possession, which is scary as hell, but what’s scarier than discrimination and pure hate? Sometimes demons aren’t supernatural at all, they’re human beings.
BB&S: Did any horror novels or movies serve as inspiration for the plot of the novel?
Benjamin Hively: Of course The Exorcist was a huge inspiration, and I’m sure you can see a lot of inspiration from several books and movies in this. It’s hard in this day and age to find a truly original idea without seeing tropes from different places. The Amityville Horror is always a good place to start when researching for a haunted house type book.
BB&S: In the novel, the pastor believes that homosexuality is evil and will bring destruction to his town. One of the gay characters becomes possessed and pretty much does just that! Did you have concerns that the plot might be proving the pastor right, or were you relishing a demonic power taking over to get the kind of revenge the gay character, who was really a victim, couldn’t?
Benjamin Hively: That’s an interesting take on the novel, and I don’t want to give too much away, but I think the pastor is at fault for all of it. Although possessed, the demon doesn’t want revenge, he wants to prove a point. Which side is truly more evil?
BB&S: There seem to be hints that several of the other characters in the novel may also be gay and fearful of how family and peers would treat them if the truth came out. Are they gay, do they just disagree with the cruel treatment of the gay men, or do you want their innermost feelings to be left to interpretation?
Benjamin Hively: Some of it can definitely be up for interpretation. Some of it is blatant and in black in white. It’s an eye opener for everyone in the town when the gay men move in, that’s for sure.
BB&S: When the novel comes to a close, there are some questions left unanswered. Any chance you’re planning a sequel to The House the Devil Built?
Benjamin Hively: When I first started writing the novel, I wanted it to be a standalone, but the more the characters developed and the more questions I had for each one, I realized I wanted more so, to put it simply, yes!
BB&S: Okay. Time to get into your horror head with the quickie session. Who are your favorite horror authors?
Benjamin Hively: Peter Benchley, William Peter Blatty, Thomas Harris. It seems I have a hard-on for those authors that get their books made into movies!
BB&S: What are your favorite horror subgenres?
Benjamin Hively: Home invasion (The Strangers), slashers (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre), gore and torture, paranormal…anything but zombies.
BB&S: What scares you most in horror movies or books?
Benjamin Hively: Anything realistic. The ones that keep me terrified after the initial viewing is home invasion. I’m absolutely scared shitless that someone is going to break into my house and torture me.
BB&S: Horror mixed with comedy. Yes or no?
Benjamin Hively: If it’s done correctly like in Scream.
BB&S: Sex and nudity in horror. Yes or no?
Benjamin Hively: YES!!!!!
BB&S: Final girl or final guy?
Benjamin Hively: Final girl, of course.
BB&S: Who are some of your favorite scream queens?
Benjamin Hively: Heather Langenkamp, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jennifer Love Hewitt.
BB&S: Favorite iconic horror baddie?
Benjamin Hively: Freddy Krueger or Chucky!!
BB&S: What are some of your favorite horror TV shows?
Benjamin Hively: American Horror Story (depending on the season), Channel Zero, Hoarders. Haha. For real though, have you seen that shit?
BB&S: What songs or artists might be on your Halloween party playlist?
Benjamin Hively: Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Drowning Pool, System of a Down…but to equal it out, you have to put in some Britney Spears 😛
BB&S: Finally, back to your writing. Do you have any other horror fiction in the works? Are there any horror subgenres you want to take on in your storytelling?
Benjamin Hively: I’m currently working on a couple things. A short story collection with some disturbing materials tentatively titled Devious Things. And then I’m working on the second novel for The House the Devil Built dealing with conspiracy theories!
BB&S: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Benjamin!
The House the Devil Built is available digitally and in paperback on Amazon.