By the time an otherworldly being, both mysterious and deadly, blows into the small Idaho town of Ferdinand on a chinook wind and begins sowing chaos and fear, the narrator of David Blair’s debut novel “Firebug,” already has plenty of other problems to deal with.
Blair is a Whitefish screenwriter, script doctor, producer, director, performer, and now novelist. “Firebug,” his first published novel, was released in late May by Wicked House, a small publishing house focused on horror.
Blair tells the story of “Firebug” through Daniel Patrick, who is known to his family and friends as Dan, Daniel, and Danny. But to some of the less forgiving folks of Ferdinand, he’s still known by the nickname Firebug, in a less-than-loving nod to his reputation earned years ago as a sort of local deviant with an unhealthy appetite for setting things alight and watching them burn. To some degree, Daniel is able to put his obsession with fire behind him as he gets older, but in the early pages of “Firebug,” it becomes apparent that he has found a new fixation.
In the early portion of the book, Daniel is one semester into college, where he has been drinking. Constantly. What started out as a college kid having a good time morphed into a college kid experimenting with hallucinogens and drinking his life away. Early in “Firebug,” Daniel, who narrates the book from an unknown point in the future, is being picked up by his parents from the University of Idaho so that he can go home for winter break. It quickly becomes clear that Daniel won’t be going back to college any time soon, even once his Christmas break has ended. His parents are on a rescue operation that deeply embarrasses and frustrates Daniel, and soon the fighting and arguing begins.
It’s a heavy set of circumstances, and that’s before the aforementioned creature and its bloody appetite comes into the picture and begins to terrorize the people of Ferdinand, leaving Daniel and a patchwork group of allies to try and stop it. But to his credit, Blair still manages to put together a novel with a heart, a sense of humor, and steady pacing and satisfying character relationships. Some of Blair’s creative influences – like the writer Stephen King, and the filmmaker Stephen Spielberg – pay off in this tightly written, touch over 200-page novel in which a flawed but sympathetic young man with a sarcastic and sometimes foul-mouthed sense of humor, seeks to understand and confront the monsters in his life.
If he had to put a label on “Firebug,” Blair said he’d call it something along the lines of a “coming-of-age supernatural thriller.” He wanted the book to take on some of the atmospheric feeling of Christmas movies and comedic holiday horror flicks like “Gremlins.” And yes, there are pieces of Whitefish tucked into this fictionalized version of Ferdinand, which Blair notes is a real town in Idaho. Mostly though, Ferdinand is drawn from Grangeville, Idaho, where Blair grew up.
During his early years, Blair was already writing, but he said the experience of seeing “Jurassic Park” at the age of 13 made him want to make movies, and he has pursued that career, directing films including “Roulette,” “Your Musical is Cancelled: The Musical!,” “The Sighting,” and “The Triangle.” He also helped write “The Free Fall,” which is on Hulu, and “Trim Season,” a horror thriller that unfolds after a group of young people discover a marijuana farm with dark secrets. “Trim Season” is on the film festival circuit now and Blair expects it will hit theaters soon.
As Blair recounted recently, writing novels is work that he has tried to balance with filmmaking. “Firebug” is his second novel after an unpublished, lengthy dark fantasy he wrote over a period of two years ending in 2011. That same year he started writing “Firebug,” which he spent the next four years working on in between life events and other jobs. Finding a home for “Firebug” wasn’t easy, and again, life, including for gigs working on scripts for projects in the U.S. and overseas, kept taking Blair in other directions and away from trying to get his novel published.
He was considering self-publishing before he heard about Wicked House, which a friend told him was a new publishing house specializing in horror, and accepting unsolicited manuscripts. He sent them a copy of “Firebug,” but after a couple of months went by with no response, Blair, who says he’s built a little bit of a callus around his heart to protect from the unavoidable let-downs of the creative life, started to think that they weren’t interested.
“I’m so well-acquainted with disappointment and rejection at this point in my career, just between writing and filmmaking and everything,” Blair explained, laughing. “Disappointment is just kind of part of the game.”
But while getting breakfast in a diner with his partner Jake Carr last October, Blair said he got an email from Wicked House expressing interest, and just about lost his mind with excitement. A book that he had started more than a decade ago was finally going to see the light of day.
“Firebug,” started out as an idea for a scene, which Blair said he eventually wrapped the rest of the book around. The creative epiphany came to him while having a glass of scotch and throwing the Frisbee to his dog in the backyard. In that foundational scene as it appears in the book, Daniel and his father are hanging up Christmas decorations and lights on an unseasonably warm day. The family dog Chloe starts barking at nothing. But then other dogs in other yards start barking, too.
“In those backyards, dogs of various breeds both large and small, were behaving exactly as Chloe had: snouts in the air, baying at some unseen menace. I spun around to see if I had a view into the golden’s backyard and could plainly see him, standing almost dead center, snarling and barking at the wind as if it were a burglar attempting a break-in,” Blair writes.
As Blair explained, there’s something particularly meaningful about “Firebug,” because so much of his creative work up to this point has been collaborative in nature.
“This is the first thing that’s come out in this way that is just me, that has just my name on it,” Blair said. “I’m incredibly proud of that as well, and I feel like it’s something I want to do more of. I’m incredibly proud of ‘Firebug,’ and I’m incredibly proud of the path that I took to get it published, a lot of dead-ends and twists and turns, but I’m very proud.”
“Firebug,” is currently available on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats. It’s expected to eventually hit shelves locally at The Bookshelf in Kalispell and Bookworks of Whitefish.
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