Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Neil Olson Interview - Before the Devil Fell

Photo Credit: Jill Schwartzman

Neil Olson is the author of the novels Before the Devil Fell, The Black Painting, and The Icon, and the play Dealers. He lives in New York City with his wife.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
My first was a thriller with supernatural overtones called THE ICON, and like all my novels was threaded together from various sources. At the center is an ancient Byzantine icon of The Virgin Mary, believed to have healing power, and stolen by a German officer from Greece during World War II. My mother is Greek, and I’d heard stories of the Germans burning my grandmother’s village during the occupation. Then I saw a exhibit of Byzantine art at the Metropolitan Museum, including an icon that featured a hidden compartment. So here was an object of worship, that was also a work of art, and also a vessel for hiding something secret and precious. When I thought of who might want this object for each of these reasons—curators, collectors, the deeply religious, the sick and desperate, thieves—I had my cast characters, and my novel.

Tell us your latest news.
I’m working—slowly—on a novel about a 93-year-old witch reckoning with her past. And preparing for a bunch of readings and events for my latest, BEFORE THE DEVIL FELL.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
Too many to mention, including beloved teachers who weren’t hard enough on my embarrassing early efforts. Ursula Le Guin, David Mitchell, and Kate Atkinson—to name a few—taught me to let the “weird” into mainstream writing, and to put heart and depth of character into genre.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Meeting readers, as any writer will tell you. It’s a lonely process creating a novel, and it’s easy to think of sales abstractly. But meeting someone who knew nothing of you days before but took a chance on your work, and liked it, and wants to talk about it, what worked and didn’t, what it reminded her of, what writers you both love . . . there’s nothing better.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I want them not to be thinking of anything, especially what they expect the novel to be, but simply taking the ride.

In your new book; BEFORE THE DEVIL, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
Our protagonist returns to his spooky, ancestor-obsessed home town to take care of his mother and come to grips with a childhood trauma. Through the intervention of the witchy girl next door, he ends up investigating a series of strange deaths. I grew up in Beverly MA, near Salem and Gloucester. Not just a beautiful place, but the center of American witchcraft, and inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft. I didn’t know any witches—unless you count my Greek grandmother, who knew things none of us could explain—but that creepy atmosphere was omnipresent, and fascinating to a kid. I’ve bled together the gentle, homeopathic traditions of herbal remedies, prayer circles, and the like, with more sinister interpretations of witchcraft, and leave the reader to guess which kind of magic the locals represent. Or if there isn’t a purely human explanation for the deaths.

For those who are unfamiliar with Will, how would you introduce him?
Will is professor of myth and folklore, and your classic insider/outsider. He grew up in this town, but his logical mind and early escape from the place has shielded him from knowledge of what the Seven Families really are. He discovers things as we do, and resists fantastical explanations as long as he can. He’s smart but combative—for reasons that are reveled—and obtuse about some things. Thus needing his paranormally inclined neighbor and childhood friend Samantha to help him.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Don’t trust first reactions or easy explanations, in literature or in life. Things are not as they seem, as my wife often says.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
My cat. Without her—and her predecessors—I would be famous by now.

  • The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman—who says we’re the only intelligent life on earth?
  • Ghostwritten, David Mitchell—his debut, and an obvious template for Cloud Atlas.
  • The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead—also his debut, pleasingly odd.
  • Transcription, Kate Atkinson—intriguing, melancholic; not her best, but well worth reading.
  • Rules of Civility, Amor Towles—improbable, but I just love the voice.
  • The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish—it took 75 pages, but then I was all in.
  • The Carrying, Ada Limon—I don’t read enough poetry, but these are beautiful, and tough.
  • The City and The City, China Mieville—mind bending, how did I miss this guy for so long?
  • Precious Monsters, Kelly Link—billed as YA, but these sad, scary, funny tales are for everyone.
  • Your House Will Pay!, Steph Cha—coming mid-October, don’t miss it!
Who was the last person you ate dinner with?
My wife. Last night and every night.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
This kind of question gets tougher as you get older, but it’s always better to have loved, to have experienced the magical thing. We’re mortal, and everything is taken from us in the end, so you might as well live as fully as possible.

Which is the best vacation you’ve ever had in your life
Two weeks in England and Scotland with my father—a trip he dreamed of his whole life—and discovering his Hall ancestors’ origins in a parish west of Coventry. His Halls are not really the Halls of my novel, but there are many parallels.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Alas, a couple of incidents which I am not prepared to go into here—one involving murder, the other an enormous theft—have taught me that we don’t always know and cannot always trust those closest to us.

What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I got nothing.

Where can readers find you?
I’ve been a social media hold out, but am about to change my ways—stand by. They can find me in the flesh as follows:

10/8/19 Copper Dog Books, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA. 6pm
10/10/19 Shakespeare & Co. 939 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY. 6:30pm
10/15/19 R.J. Julia Wesleyan, 413 Main Street, Middletown, CT. 7pm
10/29/19 Bronx River Books, 37 Spencer Place, Scarsdale, NY. 6:30pm

Will Connor returns to his hometown, a village north of Boston, to care for his injured mother. He’s kept his distance from the town since high school, but once home he finds himself reexamining a horrific incident that took place during one of his mother’s “spirit circles.” His mother had embraced the hippie generation’s fascination with New Age and the arcane, but the unexpected death of a close friend put an end to the meetings of the modern-day coven.

Or did it?

As Will looks deeper into his family’s history he discovers that her practices weren’t so much a passing fad but the latest link in a long tradition of New England witchcraft, which still seems to hold a strange power over the town. Will hopes that unearthing the facts about the death will put his questions to rest, but there are those willing to resort to violence to keep those secrets buried.


“Hauntingly atmospheric and relentlessly suspenseful, this dark and compelling mystery reveals a shocking bedrock of buried secrets—and shows what can happen when traditional New England witchcraft meets the light of modern day. Before the Devil Fell will keep you guessing on every unpredictable—and unsettling—page.” —Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of The Murder List

"Before the Devil Fell is a suspenseful, atmospheric and eerie tale of small-town secrets and a dangerous bond that links families through the centuries." —Megan Chance, author of A Drop of Ink

“Neil Olson is an unassumingly subtle writer, and Before the Devil Fell is not the kind of thriller that goes boo, but the kind that makes you think—about human nature, daemonic nature, and a lot that lies between.” —Madison Smartt Bell, author of Behind the Moon

"Heavy with foreboding from the very first page, Before the Devil Fell is a novel you'll want to read with the lights on! Like most truly terrifying novels, this book is as much about the evil of which mankind is capable as it is about the supernatural. Don't miss this tense, dark, deftly written novel - it's a perfect addition to fall reading lists!" —Alyssa Palombo, author of The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel

“The paranormal elements are subtle, gradually creeping in around the edges with unsettling effect. Both mystery and weird fiction fans will be pleased.” —Publishers Weekly

“An appealing, atmospheric yarn.” —Booklist

“Equal parts engaging and creepy, this twisty tale deftly examines how secrets and regret can continue to reverberate through generations. A suspenseful story that examines how families haunt each other in life and death; possibly too creepy for late-night reading.” —Kirkus Reviews

You can purchase Before the Devil Fell at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you NEIL OLSON for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson.


  1. "What do you when you have a day off?" I boogie to a disco beat!

  2. I go to the casino on my day off

  3. I spend time with my husband. Thank you

  4. I'm retired...every day is time off!

  5. Every day is a day off. I do many things like read, sew, sweepstakes, go for walks, etc.