Interview With Author David Oppegaard
What happens when good people make one bad decision? This is the question author David Oppegaard explores in his new thriller, Claw Heart Mountain. I got to chat with David about writing horror, how life experience influences writing, his path to publishing, and more.
Tell us a bit about Claw Heart Mountain?
Claw Heart Mountain is a thriller novel wrapped in a delicious chocolate coating of horror. A group of college students on vacation encounter an overturned armored van at the foot of isolated Claw Heart Mountain. The van has been abandoned and is full of cash. The students decide to take the cash and are soon pursued both by a killer hired by the criminals who want the cash back and a persistent sheriff’s deputy. If this isn’t enough trouble for these students, they also discover the mountain itself is haunted by a hungry creature called the Wraith.
What inspired your book?
That’s a good question. It’s been several years since I started writing Claw Heart Mountain so it’s hard to dust off exactly that moment of inspiration. I can tell you I love mountains, I love monsters, and I love horror. I was also going through a phase where I was reading every single damn Lee Child/Jack Reacher thriller and I can definitely credit those books for inspiring the character of Bannock and the novel’s thriller elements. I also started writing it in the dark days of the Trump “presidency” and I was fascinated by people who always crave more (more money, more attention, more everything) despite having what appears to your average soul as an already satisfying and abundant existence.
What do you find most important to writing a great horror story?
Characters you care about if/when they die and situations/settings that are genuinely unsettling. I’m a fan of the slow build in the first 1/3 of a story-I find it helps heighten nearly every aspect of a narrative. I occasionally get knocked for this in online comments but I liken these complaints to restaurant patrons who complain about a great meal taking twenty minutes to reach their table. Just settle down, people. Every chapter can’t be an elaborate kill scene. Have a cocktail and settle in. We’re going to have fun.
I read on your site that you wrote your first novel at fifteen. How has your writing changed over the years?
You might be surprised by how little my process has changed over nearly thirty years, actually. I tend to have an idea for a story and start writing to see if the idea has “legs” that allow it stand and knock around. I started writing my first novel (an epic sci-fi coming-of-age story about a Trindle named Zill Capper first escaping his home world during an invasion then returning after many adventures with new friends to help liberate it) by writing a short story. I realized after about 15 pages this was going to be a longer story than normal. So, I kept going. I soon realized what I had what was obviously several separate chapters. A year later, I had 400 pages and a complete novel. Then I started revising and revising and revising this novel, which showed a remarkable amount of focus for a 15-year-old-boy and was probably a greater indication of (relative) future success than writing the first draft alone. You need to love the editing grind (or hate-love it).
I don’t remember outlining much for my first book. Maybe I didn’t even know it was a thing. I still only do the most barebones outline-I make a numbered list and with each number summarize what will happen in the chapter in one sentence. I go off-road (or off-outline) fairly often and periodically update/redo these outlines. Sometimes I only know what will happen for the first 100 pages and trust I will unearth the rest of the story as it develops. My process has not been perfect and it took me a while to get there-I’ve got six traditionally published novels and 15 or so unpublished. I think it’s a mix of my love for writing and stubborn pride that’s allowed me to bury so many beloved projects and keep trucking…
I also read that you have worked as an optician, a receptionist, a standardized test scorer, a farm hand, an editorial assistant, a trash picker, a library assistant, a seasonal bookstore employee, and as a child minder on a British cruise ship. How has this variety of experiences impacted your writing?
I think having a lot of different jobs helps give you a lot of different viewpoints on life. I’ve worked with a variety of people all who had different stories to tell. At the heart of these jobs, above all else, was a sense of desperation, ennui, and hunger that I can still feel, even now when I’m relatively well-established in life. I use this dark energy to fuel a lot of my characters and writing. People are struggling all the time and everywhere, even up in that mansion on the hill.
What was the path for publishing Claw Heart Mountain?
Rocky! My longtime agent told me he didn’t think he could sell it. So, after some painful deliberation, I parted ways with him and found a new agent (who happens to also live in St. Paul and is a good friend). My new agent, Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary, sold Claw Heart Mountain after it made the rounds for about a year. CamCat Books has been AMAZING to work with.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Keep writing. Keep reading. Don’t be fake. Don’t try to be cool or overwhelm the reader with how smart you are. Strive for authenticity, make people care, and have fun, because there’s no guarantee anyone but your closest friends might read what you write.
Where can people order Claw Heart Mountain?
Imagine the thrill of buying a book directly from a publisher! WOOOOO!
Where’s the best place to follow you?
My author website is www.davidoppegaard.com and I’m having fun on Instagram at @author_david.oppegaard
Someday, I might get up to a 1,000 followers and finally rule the world!