Are you familiar with Impractical Jokers? Did you know that Murr is also an author with four published horror novels co-written by bestselling author Darren Wearmouth? Now you do! We got to talk with James Murray about his newest release, Don’t Move, about a fun little church camping trip in the forests of West Virginia. Here’s a brief synopsis:
Megan Forrester has barely survived the unthinkable. Six months ago, she witnessed a horrific accident that killed her husband and son, and lives with the guilt of knowing she could have done more to save them. Now, Megan hopes to mend the pieces of her broken spirit by attending a local church group’s annual camping trip. But the church group members — riddled with dark secrets of their own — make a catastrophic navigational mistake, leaving them stranded in an untouched canyon in the West Virginian national forest. Isolated from any chance of help or rescue, Megan and the others quickly realize why this side of the canyon has never been surveyed by humankind: it’s home to a terrifying prehistoric arachnid that patiently stalks its prey through even the slightest movement or vibration in the forest. And it’s desperate for a meal.
On to the interview!
HB: Those who aren’t familiar with your Awakened trilogy may not know about your fondness for horror. Can you tell us about your love for the genre and the authors and/or filmmakers who have most inspired you?
Murr: I’ve been a fan of horror and thrillers for as long as I can remember. Growing up, almost every weekend was bookended by tickets to a new scary movie or trying to speed-read through whatever horror books I could find at the local library—needless to say, I wasn’t the coolest kid in school. But hey, looks like all of that paid off! Of course, I’m a massive fan of Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and James Patterson. And not to mention the classic slasher films from the 80s and 90s like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, I swear I’ve seen them all.
HB: Horror and comedy are often likened in that both genres hinge on audience reaction and often delve into the absurd. Do you feel that your time in comedy has informed the way you approach horror? As a follow-up, do you think there are any lessons from comedy that horror creators should take to heart?
Murr: Oh, absolutely. Before we were ever on Impractical Jokers, the other guys and I had an extensive background in improv. It trained us to think on our feet and solve problems in unexpected ways. This especially helps when I’m writing and trying to get inside the mind of a character. I always try to imagine what I would do in the face of a deadly creature and use that as a jumping-off point for our character’s actions. Horror and comedy are essentially two sides of the same coin. They’re both about subverting expectations. If you’re comedy-minded, it helps to think of the scare as the punchline to the setup, just like in a joke.
HB: I’m seeing a bit of The Descent and Arachnophobia (duh) in the groundwork for Don’t Move. Are there any other major inspirations behind the novel?
Murr: I’m happy you said that because The Descent is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. We wanted to capture that deep sense of survival-at-all-costs even in the face of horrible sadness. That indestructible spirit is what makes us human. You’re starting to see more of that tragic backstory in current horror, too, like in Midsommar and A Quiet Place for example. In all of our books, we try to include a few fun Easter eggs for fans to pick up on as they read. Case in point, the ending of DON’T MOVE features a few familiar elements from Jaws, another classic movie that Darren and I both grew up loving.
HB: There seems to be a very real trauma and recovery theme at the center of Don’t Move. Was it difficult to incorporate the headier themes of grief and loss into a giant monster story?
Murr: I imagine most (if not all) of us have experienced grief at some point over the course of our lives. I think it’s what makes the book feel so real. Darren and I wanted to set up a main character that had already been emotionally tested and whose background made her someone you immediately find yourself rooting for. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was difficult to incorporate it into the story. If anything, it really helped us as writers better understand Megan and the decisions she would make, knowing that this huge dark cloud had been consistently hanging over her head for the last nine months. All great monster stories incorporate some elements of loss. Otherwise, it would be a triumphant tale with no struggles. We just happened to make Megan’s losses more on the extremely tragic side. Sorry, Megan!
HB: You seem to have a flair for creature features. What are some of your favorite creatures on screen or page? Are there any creatures you’d especially like to riff on in future books?
Murr: As a kid, I really loved the Alien franchise. The way the Xenomorph is absent from the screen yet ever-present in everyone’s minds is masterfully done. Our first trilogy, the Awakened series, featured a horde of creatures loosely inspired by the Xenomorph with their jet black skin and razor sharp claws. Also, the Meg shark from Steve Alten’s 1997 novel certainly haunted me as a kid growing up on the beaches of Staten Island. Swimming was never high on my list of beach activities after reading that one. As for future books, Darren and I are excited to explore the human equivalent in the form of evil, twisted minds. We have a new project in the works that heavily features a serial killer, so keep an eye out for that!
HB: Do you have any plans to produce horror for the screen, or would you prefer to keep your books separate from your work in film and television? Can we expect a Don’t Move adaptation in the future?
Murr: We certainly hope so! Each time Darren and I write a book, we try to imagine how it would play out on screen. That’s always our ultimate goal. Both of us are extremely visual writers, which helps when translating from a novel to a screenplay. We’ve already gotten some interest from a few production companies about DON’T MOVE as a movie, so stay tuned!
HB: Has Q read Don’t Move? If so, did it traumatize him as much as the tarantula punishment?
Murr: Yes, he has! Believe it or not, there are only two people in the whole world I can always count on to read the stuff I write. The first is my mother, and the second is Q. When I told him I was writing about a giant arachnid hunting down people in the woods, it took a little more convincing but he eventually came around! As far as traumatizing him, I can only hope!
Thanks to James S. Murray for taking the time to discuss Don’t Move with us, and stay tuned for our official review!