In 2006, Norman Partridge released Dark Harvest through Cemetery Dance. The book became an instant Halloween classic, and was re-released in trade paperback by Tor the following year. It was one of Publishers Weekly's 100 Best Books of 2006, received the 2006 Bram Stoker Award for Long Fiction, and won the 2006 International Horror Guild Award for Long Fiction. Later this year, Tor will be bringing out a mass market paperback edition of the book, and Partridge's new collection from Cemetery Dance, Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season, will include a prequel to Dark Harvest.
Set in 1963, Dark Harvest is the story of a small Midwestern town stalked each Halloween night by a (literally) homegrown butcher known as the October Boy. Teenage boys roam the streets on that night, but they're not looking for the typical tricks and treats - they're looking for a chance to come face-to-face with the knife-wielding nightmare, and for the opportunity to write their own ticket out of the town once and for all.
In today's installment of Interview 5.5.5., Partridge discusses the runaway success of the book, and how it came to be.
BG: Did you know while writing Dark Harvest that it was going to strike such a chord with readers?
I knew it was striking a chord with me, and that’s what I went with. From the start I wanted to try something different with Dark Harvest. Basically, I wanted to tell a campfire tale in novel form. I tried to recreate that experience, which was such a strong influence on me, so the reader could almost see me sitting there on the other side of a fire as I spun the story. And then I wanted to go one step further and pull the reader into the tale, lock them down in that nameless little town for a night with the pumpkin-headed October Boy and those who were hunting him. In that respect, I really tried to make Dark Harvest a book that would be almost impossible to put down. When readers tell me I managed that, it’s really the best compliment I can get.
You really capture the essence of Halloween night in this. Homicidal pumpkin men aside, how much of your own Halloween experiences informed this? What were your childhood Halloweens like?
I grew up in the sixties, which was the heyday of Halloween. Parents didn’t tag along with kids back then. The streets were packed every year, and it really was like a wild free-for-all carnival for kids. My buddies and I would start out with empty pillow-cases and fill them up with candy, homemade popcorn balls, all kinds of good stuff. Add to that the costumes and the excitement of the night, and it was something pretty special.
Of course, my hometown was blue collar and a little on the rough side. You had to watch yourself, and a big part of Dark Harvest comes from those memories. Trouble was never far away, and not just in the form of bullies or JD’s in street rods. The Zodiac Killer committed his first murders just a few miles from my neighborhood. He became our legendary boogeyman, and the next year the streets were literally empty on Halloween night. The holiday wasn’t the same after that. I had chance to write about those years and the Zodiac murders in an essay for my forthcoming short story collection from Cemetery Dance, Johnny Halloween.
What other influences helped shape this book?
Besides campfire tales, I’d say the other big influence was movies – both the drive-in Creature Features I remembered as a kid and teen movies like Rebel Without A Cause. That’s the element of Dark Harvest a lot of readers identify with, because the tropes of those coming-of-age movies are universal – straining against the bonds of a small town, fighting authority, looking for a way out and a better kind of life. Everyone can identify with those elements, and it’s one reason Dark Harvest seems to resonate with younger readers, which was something I never really thought about while writing it. One of the best e-mails I’ve received was from a kid who said Footloose would have been a much better movie if the October Boy was in it. Hey, you’ve got to love mail like that.
Any possibility of a Dark Harvest movie?
Dark Harvest was optioned for a couple years, but it never went into production. With the mass-market paperback coming out this year from Tor, it’d be nice if it receives some new interest from Hollywood. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Any chance of sequels or prequels to this book?
There’s a prequel in Johnny Halloween. It’s called “The Jack o’ Lantern,” and it takes place several years before the events of Dark Harvest. The story features the genesis of one of the novel’s main characters, but I can’t say more than that. I will say that it’s a dark piece of work, and I hope readers enjoy it.
Coming on Day Four: Lesser Demons