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INDIE FRENZY features Michelle Muto

January 5, 2012

Michelle Muto

Michelle Muto lives in northeast Georgia with her husband and two dogs. She loves changes of season, dogs, and all things geeky. Currently, she’s hard at work on her next book. 

With movies, we often get glimpses of things that went on behind the scenes. Have you ever wondered what was going through an author’s head? Who or what was their inspiration? Who’d play the lead roles if the book were made into a movie? Does the author have a playlist that corresponds to the book? What research did they do?

Today, I’d like to give you a little glimpse of just that for my latest book, Don’t Fear the Reaper.

Cover art: A lot of people will recognize the cover as artwork from the fabulous Claudia McKinney at PhatPuppy art. What few people know is that the girl holding the raven is her daughter.


Inspiration: I was tired of agents telling me they wanted something darker, more dystopian. I couldn’t think of anything darker or more dystopian than having my character commit suicide in the first chapter, or later, visit her body in the morgue. But how to pull it off? I needed to relate to my character somehow. Without it, I didn’t think the story would feel real, believable. I was far from suicidal. What I drew on was loss — my parents’ deaths years ago and more recently, that of my beloved dog, Jack. Harder still was the idea I could sympathize with my main character. To do that, I had to relive the deaths of everyone I’d ever loved and lost. I poured through photos and keepsakes, letting the pain back in after years of trying to bury it. I came across a poem that I’d written ten years after my father died of cancer in a hospice center – Tell Me About Heaven. The title of that poem made it into the book.

That simple line, my grief, and the desire to know if my loved ones were okay —  and what I’d do for such knowledge fueled so much of the story. Don’t Fear the Reaper was the hardest book to write. I’m so glad I have The Book of Lost Souls as a fun, light series to run in tandem with Reaper’s because wow. It’s so emotional for me. By the way, those agents? Although they responded with the most humbling of praise, most thought Reaper was too dark and not something they felt they could successfully represent during these ‘economic times.’ In an odd twist of fate, The Book of Lost Souls was considered too light.


Casting Call! Oddly, my main character, Keely, wasn’t the first one who I saw clearly in my head. It was Banning, her Reaper. If Don’t Fear the Reaper was ever made into a movie, I see Simon Baker as Banning and Claire Foy (Season of the Witch) as Keely. While writing the draft, I modeled Banning to look just like Simon Baker. To this day, I still don’t know who I’d chose to play Daniel, the demon sent to escort Keely to hell.


Research: The strangest research I did for Don’t Fear the Reaper was calling the local morgue and asking them all sorts of questions. They even offered to give me a tour. I also did a lot of research on exsanguination. Yeah. Talk about squick factor! But, I had to be sure the opening chapters and the later scene where Keely’s visits her own corpse would seem realistic.


Music. Because every movie has a score, right? Clearly, Blue Oyster Cult’s iconic 1976 song Don’t Fear the Reaper made the list – it’s the title of the book. What you might not know is that it’s the last song in the playlist. Random author fact: I need complete silence while I write the first draft, so I don’t usually come up with a playlist until I’m well into second or third drafts. While BOC’s song has the strongest influence, there are others that I found oh-so-fitting. The opening chapter’s song is My Immortal by Evanesence. And yes, just for the record, the sequel will also have a classic rock title. 
Last but, not least, Dear Reader, you’d need a teaser. I don’t have a trailer for Don’t Fear the Reaper, so how about the first chapter?
I repeated my version of the psalm as I watched the ribbon of blood drift from my wrist. I’d hoped it would be a distraction—something to stop me from wondering what my sister’s dying thoughts had been. Exhaling slowly, I let the emptiness consume me.
Jordan had kept my secrets and I had kept hers. In the end, it came down to just one secret between us that took her life. Now, it would take mine. I should have said something, but nothing I said or did now could bring her back or make anyone understand what she meant to me.
Are you here, Jordan? Are you with me? Tell me about heaven…
I told myself Jordan was gone, never coming back, but her memories continued to haunt me. I had no idea if there even was an afterlife. If God existed, I was convinced he had given up on me. Not once did I sense he’d heard a single one of my prayers. I wasn’t asking for the world—I only wanted to know if my sister was safe and at peace. What was so hard about that?
She should still be here. It wasn’t fair.
I’d been the difficult one—much more than Jordan. For a while, I’d even gotten into drugs. Mom and Dad had worried I’d get Jordan into drugs, too. But I wouldn’t. Not ever. Besides, that part of my life had been over long before Jordan’s death. A small gargoyle tattoo on my left shoulder was all that remained of my previous lifestyle.
Mom and Dad started treating me differently after Jordan’s funeral two months ago. She and I were twins, so I understood how hard it was for them to look at me and not see her. Sometimes, they wouldn’t look at me at all. Mom went to the psychiatrist, but no one asked if I needed to talk to someone about what happened. No one asked if I needed sleeping pills or antidepressants. Yeah, sure. Don’t give the former addict pills of any sort.
Not one person saw the all-consuming suffering that gnawed at my soul. Why couldn’t anyone see? Jordan had been more than my sister—she’d been my Samson, my strength. I would have done anything for her, and yet, I’d failed her. I wasn’t the one who’d killed her, but I might as well have been. How could I ever live with that? My heart had a stillness to it since her death.
I shall fear no evil.
I couldn’t very well recite the first part of Psalm 23 because it said I shall not want, and I did want. I wanted to go back in time. I wanted my sister back. Clearly, goodness and mercy were never going to be part of my life ever again. In my mind, I saw myself walking through the iron gates of hell with demons cackling gleefully all around.
I didn’t want to die. Not really. I was just tired and didn’t know of another way to stop the pain. Doctors removed a bad appendix. Dentists pulled rotten teeth. What was I supposed to do when my very essence hurt, when the cancer I’d come to call depression made every decent memory agonizingly unbearable?
Before I’d gotten down to cutting my wrist (I managed to only cut one), I’d taken a few swigs of Dad’s tequila—the good kind he kept in the basement freezer. I’d used another swig or two to chase down the remainder of Mom’s sleeping pills in the event I failed to hit an artery or vein. Then I’d set the bottle on the ledge of the tub in case I needed further liquid encouragement. Instead of using a knife or a razor, I attached a cutting blade to my Dad’s Dremel. The Dremel was faster, I reasoned. More efficient.
It would have been easier to OD, I suppose. But I felt closer to my sister this way, to suffer as she’d suffered.
I recited the line from Psalms 23 again. It had become my personal mantra.
The words resonated in my parents’ oversized bathroom. I’d chosen theirs because the Jacuzzi tub was larger than the tub in the hall bathroom. Jordan and I used to take bubble baths together in this same tub when we were little.
Innocence felt like a lifetime ago. I searched the bathroom for bubble bath but came up short. Soap might have made the laceration hurt more so it was probably just as well. Besides, the crimson streaming from my wrist like watercolor on silk was oddly mesmerizing.
The loneliness inside proved unrelenting, and the line from the psalms made me feel better. I prayed for the agony inside me to stop. I argued with God. Pleaded. But after all was said and done, I just wanted the darkness to call me home.
I tried not to think of who would find my body or who’d read the note I’d left. I blamed myself not only for failing Jordan, but for failing my parents, too.
My lifeline to this existence continued to bleed out into the warm water. Killing myself had been harder than I’d imagined. I hadn’t anticipated the searing fire racing through my veins. I reached for the tequila with my good arm but couldn’t quite manage. Tears welled in my eyes.
Part of me foolishly felt Jordan was here. The other part feared she wasn’t.
Give me a sign, Sis. Just one.
I imagined seeing my parents at my funeral—their gaunt faces, red-eyed and sleepless. How could I do this to them? Wasn’t the devastation of losing one child enough?
No. Stop. A voice in my head screamed. Don’t do this. Don’t. Please…  
I shifted my body, attempted to get my uncooperative legs under me. I could see the phone on my parents’ nightstand. I could make it that far. Had to. The voice was right. I didn’t want to do this. I felt disorientated, dizzy. Darkness crept along the edges of my vision. Focusing became difficult. A sweeping shadow of black caught my attention. Someone stood in the bathroom—not my sister. A man. Had I managed to call 911? I couldn’t remember getting out of the tub. And why’d I get back in? Did I use a towel?
Mom is going to be pissed when she sees the blood I’ve tracked all over the bedroom carpet.
“I’m sorry,” I told the man in black.
“It’s okay, Keely. Don’t be afraid.” Not my father’s voice. It was softer, with a hint of sorrow. Distant. Fleeting. Later, I’d feel embarrassed about this, but for now I was safe from the nothing I’d almost become. My teeth clattered from the chill. My eyelids fluttered in time with my breaths. The tub water had turned the color of port wine. The ribbons, the pretty, red watercolor ribbons were gone.
Dull gray clouded my sight.
A voice whispered to me, and my consciousness floated to the surface again.
“—okay, Keely.”
Cold. So cold.  
“I’m right here.”
There was no fear in me as the man bent forward, his face inches from mine. He was my father’s age, and yet strangely older. His eyes were so…blue, almost iridescent. The irises were rimmed in a fine line of black, and the creases etched at the corners reminded me of sunbeams as he gave me a weak smile. The oddly. Dressed. Paramedic. A warm hand reached into the water and cradled mine. My fingers clutched his. I sighed, feeling myself floating, drifting. Light—high and intense exploded before me. No! Too much. Too much! I shuddered and labored to catch my breath, but it wouldn’t come.
Finally, the comfort of darkness rose to greet me.

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  1. Love this post! Don't Fear the Reaper is a beautiful book and still haunts me months after I read it.

  2. this looks the cover. I am heading over to B&N to pick this baby up 🙂

  3. What a great post. I love the playlist. I won this book a while back and still haven't gotten to it, but it's at the top of my TBR list.

  4. Wow! Such a thorough review of the book. Very impressed!

  5. Oh I love that cover! And I love the choice of Simon Baker for the casting call!

  6. Simon Baker is one of my favorites! Great opening. Definitely dark. I can see how this was so difficult to write. Thanks for sharing.

  7. This sounds so amazing! :DThank you so much for sharing the first chapter with us. 🙂

  8. Wow! So interesting and I LOVE that music list!! Looks like a book for me!

  9. How ironic that Don't Fear the Reaper was considered too dark by the very same publishers who wanted dark, dark, dark!I'm kinda jealous of the research you did at the morgue…

  10. Beautiful! On my list! Can't wait to read!Also… I've nominated you for a Kreative Blogger Award! Because my TBR list loves you. :)

  11. Don't Fear the Reaper is such an amazing unique book! I can't wait for the sequel! 🙂

  12. First of all – YAY I CAN SEE YOUR BLOG AGAIN ASHLEY! WOO HOO!!!Second – LOVE that cover, and how cool is it that it's the artist's daughter? When the morgue offered Michelle a tour, did she go? I'm not sure that's something I'd be up for. *shudders*

  13. Don't Fear the Reaper looks like one I would love. Have Fire coming, will have to check this out after I get it.

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