Imagine Hamilton hosting beings of supernatural cruelty and running from fanatics that want to feed you to them.
David Neil Lee has tapped into H. P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu” mythos and skillfully poured it through the steel city’s streets. His newest book, “The Midnight Games,” resounds with ritual sacrifice, mystic powers, gods that descend from on high, and secret societies at war.
When we first got copies of “The Midnight Games” in the store, we were excited to sell a title from a local author. As you learn in our conversation below, David moved to Hamilton from B.C. in 2002.
Placing the story in Hamilton makes it easy to buy into the story a little sooner, but if you have any imagination, what David does with the setting keeps you flipping pages. We wanted to know more about David and his inspiration for this story. Here’s our conversation:
Could you tell us, what was your inspiration for this book? Why Ivor Wynne Stadium?
The east end Hamilton is full of overgrown alleyways and abandoned store-fronts and crumbling basements that never see the light of day. These neglected post-industrial spaces are filled with shadows and echoes of the past; plus, in their silence and emptiness, they begin to allow nature back into the city, and horror stories are all about our relationships with nature and our relationships with the past.
However, everyone has a different notion of the value of the past: how much have we tragically lost, or how much we are better off leaving behind. Ivor Wynne Stadium (which in recent years has been torn down and replaced with Tim Horton Field) is a major cultural focus in Hamilton’s east end, but not being a football fan, I think of it as a place where false gods are worshipped, which makes it an ideal setting to stage the worship of horrific false gods such as those in H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos.” The young protagonist of my novel lives near the stadium, and hearing these ceremonies late at night, thinks of them as “midnight games.”
Hamilton has been a steel-making city for a long time, and the domestic steel industry is in decline, so there is a pervasive culture here which looks longingly back towards an idealized past where kindly, paternal industrial entities would take care of you and your family for life, providing you showed up for work every weekday for 35 years or so.
There is a somewhat morbid sentimentality for that allegedly wonderful era. Similarly, in the Cthulhu Mythos, the Great Old Ones are powerful but repulsive creatures who ruled the world in the distant pre-historic past. A cult who want to bring them back, so they can hand over their lives and their volition to them, must also be a pretty morbid bunch. Lovecraftian horror seemed a natural way to dramatize and fictionalize what I feel is a very real aspect of the city and its culture.
Are you from Hamilton? If not what brought you to Hamilton?
I’m from Mission, a small town on the Fraser River in BC. During the 1990s, my wife and I were raising our two sons in Pender Harbour, BC. I was working all sorts of resource-related jobs, but I was writing on the side, and thought that with my background I should really be teaching community college, that sort of thing. Someone told me I needed an MA to do that, so I looked around at various programs.
I had done a BA in English at UBC, but my marks weren’t very good, so no one wanted me for their MA program except McMaster; they offered a Master’s degree in Music Criticism, and my writing and music background impressed them. We sold our house in Pender Harbour—that was about the only way I could finance anything—and moved to Hamilton. After two years, we bought a house near Lottridge and Cannon.
When did you consider writing an effort worth time and energy?
It’s a great feeling when you write something, and get positive feedback for it. That happened to me when I was eighteen. After graduating from high school I spent the summer hitchhiking across Canada and back, and I wrote it up as a monthly column for the local paper back in Mission. A lot of people in Mission told me how much they enjoyed it. Plus, the newspaper paid me $50!
What does your writing routine look like?
It varies, partly because at any given time I am working on more than one writing project. Before I began this PhD at Guelph, I had a job where I was laid off for two months every summer. During one of those layoffs I told myself I would write the first draft of a novel, and that I would write a thousand words a day. By the time I went back to work I had written a 55,000 word draft which–considering that I DO, after all, have a personal life and so forth—I thought was pretty good.
Where are your favourite places to write?
I have an office in our house where I do most of my writing. In the summer of 2013, however, we had our house re-roofed. My wife would get up and go to work every day and I felt I should be there for the roofers, so I wouldn’t leave the house while they were on the job. Instead of going out and doing errands, shopping, etc., I set up my laptop on the dining room table and just wrote for several hours a day.
Roofers are a noisy bunch, so I put on the ear protectors that I still have from my days doing small engine repair in Pender Harbour. The regimen of having to stay at home and not go out was really useful: this was how I wrote the first draft of The Midnight Games.
What were the three biggest obstacles you faced when writing “The Midnight Games” and how did you overcome them?
There were no obstacles. It was easy, in the sense of demanding a tremendous amount of work that I can do fairly readily. I wrote the book because Noelle Allen at Wolsak & Wynn had expressed an interest in publishing books about Hamilton. I had discussed it with her already, and she was very positive, so I knew I had an interested publisher. Then she asked for an outline, so I wrote up an outline, submitted it, and we signed a contract.
I guess a deadline could be considered an obstacle, because a deadline is a source of stress. But a deadline also makes you do the work. In 2011 I began a PhD in English at the University of Guelph, so I also had a lot of demanding university work to do, but instead of perceiving the novel as an additional workload, I chose to regard it as a welcome break from the university state of mind. My wife is supportive and our kids are grown up. So there are relatively few factors stopping me from sitting down and writing.
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Run with gods, monsters, and working-class heroes in “The Midnight Games.” You can get a copy here at the store.
[Some images are from David’s personal website.]