James Newman’s Odd Man Out is a gripping, scathing, terrifying story of a boy singled out for his sexual orientation while staying at a summer camp (1989). Aside from its no holds barred attitude to the subject manner and expression, it’s told with impressive tact and a pacing to be admired.
“I wanted to tell a horror story about something that could happen in real life. When you’re a kid who’s the target of bullies for whatever reason – whether it’s because you wear glasses, or you’re overweight, whether it’s you have a bad complexion, or because you are transgender – those old monsters we read about in scary stories and see in bad B-movies just don’t cut it anymore. I was bullied quite a bit, and I can remember dreading going to school worse than anything in the world.
"For some time now, I’ve wanted to write something that would leave the reader shaken. Something that would affect a reader the way Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door affected me the first time I read it. I wanted to write something that, as strange as this might sound, readers wouldn’t necessarily enjoy, per se.
“At the same time, there had to be a reason for wanting to do that to someone who would slap down their hard-earned money to buy my book. I didn’t want to shock just for the sake of shocking. It couldn’t be exploitative. My goal was to write a story that would hopefully piss people off a little bit, and instill in them the desire to do something good for someone else. To stand up for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves.
“I’ll leave it up my readers to decide if I succeeded with Odd Man Out,” said Newman.
To read Odd Man Out is to recognize the plausibility of the situation, especially from a look back at harder times for people with differences. It also speaks to a closed-door reality that has been growing and bubbling just beneath the surface much more recently.
“I absolutely think Odd Man Out relates to our current sociopolitical climate. Not only is bullying a serious issue – although these days I think it’s more prevalent online than in the locker rooms and hallways, like it was when I was a kid – there’s the sad fact that it isn’t just teenagers who are bullying people these days. We live in a country where disdain for “the other” is encouraged – certain politicians base their whole campaign around it, in fact. We elect people to positions of power despite the fact that they’ve been caught on tape harassing women, calling them repugnant names, and bragging about touching them without consequence. These days, it’s the grown-ups you have to look out for, the ones who should know better. That’s just horrifying beyond words. What are we teaching our children?” said Newman.
As real as the situation bleeds from the pages, it read like something real, though perhaps something blown to an extreme. The scenery certainly fits to what I understand of summer camp (I have no personal experience) and it was no trouble sliding into the imagined space. A piece of this is likely that James Newman has summer camp experiences and to pull from, as well as personal toil with bullies.
“I loved it and hated it at the same time. I loved when we went swimming, loved when the group would walk a few blocks together to a local theater (I remember I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom during one of those outings, so that’s obviously one of the coolest moments of my childhood), but I absolutely hated the sports stuff. One of my most vivid memories from that time in my life was playing softball along with the counselors. Among them was a big, oafish dude who probably shouldn’t have been participating in the game with his pre-teen wards in the first place. He was up to bat at one point. I’m sure he was showing off, swung the bat and hit a pitch as hard as he could. The ball struck one of my fellow campers in the thigh. As long as I live I will never forget how she screamed. We all gathered around her as she writhed on the ground and the counselors tried to help her . . . and there was already a perfectly round, hideous black bruise on her inner thigh. I think you could even see the grooves in her flesh from the stitches in the ball, although my memory might have embellished that idea.
“It was awful, though. Doesn’t need much embellishing. I felt so sorry for that poor girl, although I recall thinking as we stood over her, ‘Glad that didn’t happen to me.’
“I guess that’s the attraction of the horror genre, isn’t it? It’s what all good horror is about, when you boil it down to the bone: Glad that didn’t happen to me,” said Newman.
James Newman’s summer camp experiences were not those in the story, nor did he borrow from any summer camp stories I've heard, read or seen. Horror writers, screen and page, have often used the summer camp as home to situations of terror (though typically mindless slasher stuff). This story was not the norm and there was nothing so simple as a dude with a machete.
“When it came to me, I knew this was the idea I had been looking for. I knew this story needed to be something that could happen in real-life, especially in era in which it takes place. My biggest problem was working out the logistics of how something like this could happen on the counselors’ watch. That was a little tricky,” said Newman.
Odd Man Out, broken down without giving much away, is the tale of a bully and a hive mind in the heat of the moment, succumbing to ignorance and insecurities.
“As painful as it could be, while writing Odd Man Out I found myself thinking about how it felt to be targeted by bullies when I was a child. That sense of complete helplessness, of knowing it would only make things worse if you dared to tell a teacher/counselor/etc. I’ll think about how it felt to be ignored by them as they found a more enticing victim -- that exhilarating sense of relief diluted only slightly by the sick pangs of guilt that came with laughing along while they tormented someone else.
“I’ve certainly done the same in my other work, expounding on my own personal fears to create a sense of terror. For example, The Wicked there was one question on my mind the whole time I wrote that one: ‘What would I do if something happened to my children?’” said Newman.
Moving to the future, James Newman has two collaborations on the way.
“Sometime within the next year or so my fans should see the release of a novel I wrote with my buddy Mark Allan Gunnells. It’s called Dog Days o’ Summer, and it’s one of the coolest things I’ve written in a while. Coming-of-age with werewolves . . . what’s not to like?
“Mark Gunnells and I met a few years ago, and really hit it off. He’s a terrific writer who’s quickly becoming a fan favorite in the genre, so it was an honor to work with him on Dog Days. Mark and I wrote the bulk of Dog Days during the summer of 2014, following a serious accident I had. Nothing like a bad accident to give you plenty of time to read and write!
“And speaking of collaborations, I just started writing a novel with Adam Howe that we’re both really excited about. It’s called Scapegoat, and the best way to describe it is “John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness meets Race With the Devil meets Judgment Night meets The Wicker Man, with a hint of Hulkamania and cheesy ‘80s cock rock.
“Adam’s one of the best writers to come along in many years, in my opinion. My wife gave me copies of his collections Black Cat Mojo and Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet for Christmas last year, and I tore through them in just a matter of days. Adam and I started chatting back and forth on Facebook and via e-mail, and he eventually asked me to write a Foreword for his latest book, Tijauna Donkey Showdown. I was honored, considering I thought I had been going all fanboy on him this whole time. A couple of months ago he mentioned this idea he had for a religious thriller called Scapegoat, wanted to know if I might like to come onboard. I thought long and hard on that one for, I think it was 1.047 seconds. This project is shaping up to be a blast, and we can’t for everyone to read it!”
James Newman’s Odd Man Out is available now from Bloodshot Books in paperback and eBook and you should do yourself a favor and buy a copy.
James Newman was reached via email and I would like to thank him for taking the time to answer my questions.