An Interview with ‘Husk’ author J.Kent Messum – October 19, 2015



By: Kat Harlton

Penguin Books

Husk is the latest offering from award winning author J. Kent Messum, a serial killer thriller aimed at readers with a love for the future, the unknown, and the dark side of humanity. It explores themes of death, technology, class systems and morality, questioning how far we would go as humans for the ultimate commodity of eternal life.

A graduate of Toronto’s York University Fine Arts Program, Messum and has worked as a session musician, freelance writer, producer, internet radio station disc jockey, bartender, office gopher, music teacher, movie grip, laborer, contractor, and a few other things he’d rather not admit. He’s been involved heavily in both the music and film business for well over a decade. He writes incessantly, putting to paper as many stories and ideas as his time will allow.

Recently I had the chance to catch up with Jamie and delve deeper into Husk and his creative process behind it.

 What inspired you to want to tell this story specifically? What do you hope it offers your audience?

I was inspired by humanity’s fascination with immortality, something that I think stems from our innate fear of death. In the West, we’re entering an era where the idea of overcoming death is being examined more scientifically and computationally, rather than being dismissed as an impossibility.

As a species we’re fast moving into the future, and we don’t often have time to properly question our progress or consider the consequences of our actions. Technology is evolving rapidly, times are changing before our eyes, and we don’t know if it will be to our long term benefit. I’m both curious and concerned where our advances will lead us down the road, particularly in the realms of life, death, and an afterlife.

I’m hoping the audience will consider the ramifications of where society may find itself ten or twenty years from now if things continue unchecked. The novel takes readers on a ride through this possible future via the perspective of the main character ‘Rhodes’, as he negotiates an altered New York City in the time between his Husking sessions (renting out his body and mind to the digitized consciousness’s of the rich and powerful). I’m offering a look into a world where a person’s own self might not be theirs alone. How would you feel if you were forced to temporarily give away the use of your brain and body in order to make money and survive?

Is there a specific message in your novel that you want your readers to grasp?

There are so many operations at work right now that are potentially threatening our future (privatization, financial crimes, the widening wealth gap, corrupt politics, war). Every day we’re being sold upstream a little bit more; a curb on our civil liberties here, a harmful backroom business deal there. There will come a day where we’ll be forced to address the fallout from decisions that were made by people in power without the consent/approval of the general public. Our very notions about what constitutes modern life may be turned on its head. The same goes for death… death is supposed to be the end, the great equalizer, but what if that was conquered? What if the growing inequality on the planet surpassed even the biological end of life?

The message I want readers to walk away with is this: There may be no limit to how much someone is willing to take from you. Greed is a growth industry, and some people have insatiable appetites.

Are there authors who have influenced your writing style, or who you consider a creative inspiration?

I’m a big Cormac McCarthy fan, completely fascinated by his literary prowess and acute sense of darkness. Others I consider influential are Thom Jones, Denis Johnson, Dennis Lehane and Chuck Palahniuk. I particularly enjoy reading authors who go where other writers fear to tread, those who tackle tough subject matter and controversial topics. Inspiration is a tricky thing, as I tend to get inspired by all kinds of art forms when it comes to stories (books, films, visual art, and music). When writing, I find listening to instrumental movie soundtracks quite helpful in setting the tone and atmosphere.

Was there a specific character or part of the story-line that you found particularly challenging to write? If so why?

Generally speaking, probably the whole thing! What was toughest though was the speculative world-building. There was an awful lot to consider when imagining New York City 10-20 years from now. I wanted things to feel the same, yet different. I also needed it to feel completely believable. It was important to get the politics right, the advancements right, people’s fears and anxieties right. I did a lot of research on our emerging drone technology (which features prominently), economic and social projections, and the psychology of people under duress.

But whether it’s building a fictional world, creating characters, or developing plots that are compelling and well-paced, writing a novel is a large undertaking. There is a lot of stress and work involved. The romantic ideal that books just magically come together, or that writing is bliss, is highly inaccurate. It has been my experience that good writing is blood, sweat, and tears. It’s incredibly hard to make storytelling look easy on the page.

I’ve read that your novel has been optioned for film/tv, how did that process happen? Are you working with the producers in any format? Or on the script?

Incredibly, Husk got optioned before the book even hit the shelves. The novel garnered some hype and interest going into publication and Warp Films (a multi-award winning film production company from the UK) approached my literary agency, wanting to option it for an international returnable TV series. Although there is the possibility I’ll be a consultant on the TV show when it goes into production, I feel strongly that the material is in very good hands. I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

What’s next? Are you considering making this a series? What’s next professionally?

I’ve already finished a third novel and have a fourth in progress right now. Both are stand-alone books and both are thrillers, although they deal with considerably different subject matter. The one I recently finished has a paranormal angle, it’s about a lonely boy who moves to a rural town in Kansas and is befriended by an entity that haunts a weeping willow tree in his schoolyard. The one I’m working on at the moment is about a new kind of addiction that surfaces in California and begins to spread over America.

‘Husk’ was originally supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but I’ve had a lot of ideas for a sequel lately, not to mention a lot of request for one. It may turn into a trilogy. In general, I like to keep busy. The social bug bit me a long time ago and I rather enjoy appearing on discussion panels or being in front of an audience to talk about fiction or the writing process. And I’m always working on an article of some kind at any given time. If I’m not busy, I’m basically bored!

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