Nat Cassidy writes horror for the page, stage, and screen. You’ve probably heard enough about him thanks to his long-winded and self-fellating answers below, so let’s just wrap this up, yeah? He lives in New York with his wife, the actor Kelley Rae O’Donnell.
What first attracted you to horror writing?
I had been assured that it would make the screaming stop. But it has not made the screaming stop.
The screaming has only gotten louder.
So much louder.
Beyond that, though, I was always predisposed to be a horror writer. Horror has been my favorite genre for as long as I’ve been conscious. Even when I was 5 or 6 years old, the best way to get me to pay attention was to tell me a scary story. (Fun tangent, since you asked for ‘em: I’m also an actor and my background is in Shakespeare. I’ve been reading—and obsessed with—Shakespeare since I was six years old, and it all started when my 1st grade teacher, whom I hated and who hated me, tried to find a way to make me stop doing things like setting fires in her classroom. I mean that literally and figuratively; I was an absolute terror as a kid. But then one day, she was showing our class slides from a recent trip to Greece, and they included photos of an amphitheater where she said she watched a production of Macbeth. I don’t know why she started telling a bunch of 1st graders about the story of Macbeth, but to her credit she noticed how I finally started paying attention when she brought up things like regicide and witches and madness. So she basically dared me to try reading Shakespeare’s text as a sort of extracurricular project, since I thought I was such hot shit. It worked—it got me to put my energies into something challenging, and it sparked a lifelong love of language and storytelling. More than that, though, it proves that even at that age, and even when it comes to my other disciplines, I’m still all about horror first and foremost. Horror is my skeleton key.)
I’ve postulated about the reason(s) for this predilection in other interviews. A lot of it might come from being raised by a single mother who was also a horror fan, and who suffered from a progressive, degenerative disease throughout my childhood. On top of that, we’re also Jewish, with my grandmother emigrating from Poland when she was a child in 1929, and the specter of the Holocaust always hung over everything. My mom, in particular, was always desperate to try and understand how and why the Holocaust happened, how and why we lost extended family, how and why our line managed to get out in time. That’s a lot of heavy shit to process, but our shared love of horror novels and horror movies facilitated that processing. Horror is existentially cathartic in its way.
Beyond that, though, I also think it’s because, as far as I’m concerned, ultimately EVERY good story is a horror story. Because what is horror if not the potential of losing something you don’t want to lose? Whether it’s your love, your comfort, your understanding of the world … or the eyes right outta your skull? Horror just means stakes, and stakes are the bedrock of good story telling. Why would anyone NOT be a horror fan? And why would anyone who wants to tell stories NOT tell horror stories?
I guess it depends on the medium. At the moment, my most notable novel is probably my debut, Mary: An Awakening of Terror, which came out in July of 2022. But I also humbly(?) think my next book will give Mary a run for her money. It’s called Nestlings and it’s due out from Nightfire on October 31st this year. I’m really, really proud of it and am tremendously excited for folks to read it. The elevator pitch is Rosemary’s Baby meets ‘Salem’s Lot; it’s about a young couple who, after a run of atrocious luck, win a housing lottery and move into a fancy New York apartment building, but soon discover the building and its residents aren’t what they seem. But it’s also about the past few years of the pandemic, about paraplegia and postpartum depression and identity and motherhood and Judaism and, because it’s definitely still a horror novel, Manhattan real estate.
I’m also a semi-retired horror playwright (ie, I haven’t written a play in a couple years, but I still keep a running list of play ideas to write one day), and a few of my scripts and/or productions achieved a nice amount of notoriety in NYC and around the country. I won some nice awards in New York. I got to write the libretto for a world premiere opera (about the end of the world, naturally) for the Kennedy Center. I wrote some original scripts for Shakespeare Theatre of DC and helped raise over a million dollars for arts education. I had one play that caused someone in the audience during a production in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to scream “FUCKING AWESOME” at full volume during the climax. Those all feel pretty notable to me.
I’m an actor, too, and I work a lot in TV, usually playing the Bad Guy of the Week on various network procedurals. “Most notable” depends on what you watch. People have recognized me as dirtbags from Bull, The Good Fight, Blue Bloods, Law & Order: SVU, High Maintenance, Quantico, FBI, to name a few. Weirdly, a disproportionately high number of people have recognized me from a very brief appearance I made on the show The Affair, in which I only had a few lines and was barely visible. I never really understood how people even knew it was me.
Oh, and I’m a songwriter, as well. Some of my songs have won me free food and drinks at various bars and clubs throughout the Tri-state area. That felt pretty notable at the time.
What are you working on now?
At the moment, I’m doing some light revisions on a feature horror screenplay I wrote last year, as well adapting a couple of my plays for film.
I have a historical horror TV pilot and bible that was packaged by Paramount (with some incredible people attached) that I got to pitch around to the networks and am hoping to take to market again (our first go-round was during the pandemic-related bottleneck about a year ago), because it’s a fucking awesome project and the true events it depicts just keep getting more and more relevant. And then I have another horror pilot and bible that’s in the beginning stages of that whole process.
I’m also like 5 chapters into the next book I want to write. I say “want to write,” despite the fact that I am, literally, currently writing it, because, with the delivery of Nestlings to Nightfire, I’ve fulfilled my contract with them and now it’s time to try to get a new one. Ideally, I’ll get to work with them again, because I absolutely love Nightfire, and ideally I’ll get to continue writing this book in particular because it’s, to put it mildly, absolutely fucking bonkers in all my favorite ways.
What is your writing routine?
Step One: Procrastinate
Step Two: Panic
Step Three: ???
Step Four: Turn in Manuscript
It’s weird. As a writer, I have a reputation as being prolific and I suppose, in some regards, I am. I try to write a book a year. I used to write like 2-3 full length plays a year. In addition, I write, like, anywhere from 6-12 full treatments for other projects/stories, and the occasional screenplay and teleplay, as well as a couple short stories. I’m also very committed to meeting deadlines, so when I set out to write something, I make sure I complete it. (Back in the day as a playwright, I would literally book a space, hire the actors, and THEN finish the script because I knew I had no other choice now.)
But I never feel productive. I feel like I’m always disastrously behind. And that might be because I’m utter shit at sticking to a routine.
I try! I get up every day hoping to write a certain amount of words at a prescribed time. But life always gets in the way, and so it feels like every writing session is this stolen, secret thing. (In fairness to myself, I suppose, juggling the schedule of an actor, voiceover artist, book writer, script writer, and also guy-who-also-works-for-money-to-live-in-a-stupidly-expensive-city, isn’t the easiest thing.)
I will say I DO find that if I write first thing in the morning—only grabbing some coffee first—it tends to set me on the path for a more productive day, no matter what other variables pop up later. It’s like the first thing you do predicts the day you’ll have, and if I force myself to write even just a few words, instead of just blithely scrolling through my fucking phone for half an hour while I wake up, it makes a huge difference. But also, some mornings you just gotta scroll and trust you’ll steal some time later.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
Honestly? Anybody that puts words down on the goddamn page. Writing is fucking hard, and so many external factors lead to things getting published and/or becoming successful. Same goes for any other medium, like film or TV. Anyone that just does the work, even if it seems like no one’s gonna give them the break, even if it feels like they’re just banging their heads against a wall, has earned my deepest respect.
That said, I guess I’d be remiss not to say I’m a Stephen King obsessive who’s read (usually multiple times) everything he’s ever published, even in limited release. His work ethic, the variety of his stories, his willingness to experiment even when he could just coast, all of it has made him one of my most primary influences and someone I admire in a foundational way.
Do you prefer all-out gore or psychological chills?
¿Por qué no los dos? Gimme ‘em both! I love when a horror story is a mixture of grounded characters, realistic responses, an organic sense of humor, simmering tension, and then also a healthy dose of insane, gory, surreal, horrifying imagery that I’ve never seen before and can’t unsee.
Kinda reminds me of that Tom Waits quote: “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” (Although I feel like adding that I also find things like clear writing and well-executed pop structure to be beautiful, too, so extra points when something is super easy to read and just pulls you along to a place you’re not sure you want to go.)
Why should people read your work?
Look at me. I’m obviously malnourished. Please keep me fed.
Also, I dunno, do you like it when horror stories are a mixture of grounded characters, realistic responses, an organic sense of humor, simmering tension, and then also a healthy dose of insane, gory, surreal, horrifying imagery that you’ve never seen before and can’t unsee? ‘Cause that’s what I’m selling.
Recommend a book.
I have so many books.
I read so many books.
I look at so many books.
My life has been a tiny island amidst an ocean of books.
And yet anytime I’m asked to pick out one book, suddenly I’m like, “What’s a book?”
I’m sorry. I have to punt and recommend several. I’m just garbage at questions like this. My go-to Top 5 Most Important Books in My Life that Weren’t Written By Stephen King are Beloved (Toni Morrison), Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy), Ghost Story (Peter Straub), Geek Love (Katherine Dunn), and I, Claudius (Robert Graves). That leaves a lot out, including a lot of newer books, but those five were pretty foundational to me at various impressionable ages. I also think the nonfiction books We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (Philip Gourevitch) and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William Shirer), were instrumental in shaping how I viewed the world. I was a fun kid, as you can imagine.
If you’re looking for newer recommendations, well … if it’s a book by Paul Tremblay, Stephen Graham Jones, Catriona Ward, Rachel Harrison, Clay McLeod Chapman, Sarah Langan, Tananarive Due, Kelly Link, Elizabeth Engstrom, Kathe Koja, Brian Keene, Victor LaValle, Hailey Piper, Cina Pelayo, Michael J. Seidlinger, Eric LaRocca, Philip Fracassi, Brian McCauley, Chuck Wendig, Mariana Enriquez, John Langan, Nathan Ballingrud, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Brian Evenson, Ronald Malfi, Alma Katsu, Josh Malerman, Caitlin Starling, Gabino Iglesias, Andy Davidson, Jennifer McMahon, Gemma Amor, Tyler Jones, Daniel Kraus, Erika Wurth, Adam Nevill, Ally Wilkes, S.A. Cosby, Gretchen Felker-Martin, Christopher Golden, Gwendolyn Kiste, John Hornor Jacobs, Rachel Moulton, Christopher Buehlman, John Darnielle, Jonathan Janz, RJ Joseph, Anne Heltzel, Jeremy Schipp, Tade Thompson, Laurel Hightower, Todd Keisling, Preston Fassel, KC Jones, S.A. Barnes, Paula Ashe, Grady Hendrix, Augustina Bazterrica, Scott Leeds, Alison Rumfitt, and AHHH SO MANY OTHER AUTHORS I LOVE THAT I’LL JUST KEEP NAMING UNLESS I STOP MYSELF I’M SORRY, you really can’t go wrong.
You know what, just read everything and everyone you can. Books—and especially horror books—fucking rule.
Buy Nat Cassidy books