This guest post is adapted from a letter author Peter Stenson wrote connected to his new novel, FIEND, which is published today by William Heinemann in the UK. The novel is published by Crown Publishing in the US (both are imprints of Random House). It is the story of the journey he had to travel before he got to a place in which he could write the novel.
FIEND has been described as “Breaking Bad Meets The Walking Dead”, and is currently sitting very near the top of my To-Be-Read mountain. Expect more on the blog very soon.
I’d been kicked out of high school and had run away to San Francisco with a hundred dollars to my name. I had a pretty healthy addiction to opiates going and was still a year away from being able to vote. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire.
It was New Year’s Eve and I don’t remember exactly how I made my way to a hotel downtown, but I did. It was full of Phish-type kids who were there for some concerts. There were lots of dreadlocks and cocked hats and sagged pants and patchouli. There were even more faces made concave from malnutrition and narcotics. I stumbled around looking for somebody I knew or at least a place to sit down. Everything was red and gold and seemed to slither. Hundreds of other kids did the same thing. I was struck by the idea that some fundamental aspect of our being—whatever the hell it was that made us human and alive—was missing.
Fast-forward six months. I’d relocated to Washington and was living in a halfway house for adolescents. Life was beginning not to suck. I was sober, my parents spoke to me, I was holding down a job, and I was learning that I could find joy outside of chemicals. The main newfound joy was spending my afternoons in a small used bookstore. I’d go there after work and sit in the literature section poring over the cracked spines of books. I spent what little money I had purchasing said books, oftentimes devouring them that same day. I had my quintessential love affair with literature (albeit a little later than most) sitting on that red carpet, huffing the musty pages of those novels. And it was there that I realized I wanted to be a writer.
Both of these memories have stuck with me ever since. I’ve been sober now for a decade and can’t so much as imagine traveling to a city without a hotel reservation, never mind running away two thousand miles. But I’ve never forgotten that moment when I conflated addict and walking-dead as one, nor the accompanying realization that these kids, like myself then, would do anything and everything to keep the high going.
Fiend is born out of that memory and those realizations. I wanted to tell a story of addiction, and strangely, the most honest way I could portray the kind of addiction I knew was to set the story against the background of zombies. I also made methamphetamines a “cure” of sorts so that quitting would not be an option—and so I could see what depths my characters were willing to sink to in order to stay alive.
And as for my other memory, the one about spending every afternoon for six months sitting in a shoebox of a used bookstore, I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about the thought of my book stacked on your shelves. To be amongst the novels that helped give me a purpose—well, I know I’m supposed to be a writer, but the words are failing me here. Because I can’t express how much that means to me.
Here’s the synopsis for the novel…
When Chase sees the little girl in umbrella socks savaging the Rottweiler, he’s not too concerned. As someone who‘s been smoking meth every day for as long as he can remember, he’s no stranger to such horrifying, drug-fueled hallucinations. But as he and his fellow junkies discover, the little girl is no illusion. The end of the world really has arrived. And with Chase’s life already destroyed beyond all hope of redemption, Armageddon might actually be an opportunity — a last chance to hit restart and become the person he once dreamed of being. Soon Chase is fighting to reconnect with his lost love and dreaming of becoming her hero among the ruins. But is salvation just another pipe dream?