Reading Group Guide

a novel by

Chase Novak

I don’t think it will be too surprising to learn that I am very taken with Rosemary’s Baby. Ira Levin’s novel is a model of economy and understatement, with the added pleasure that it lends itself to multiple interpretations. I appreciate the care (and ease!) with which the everyday world of New York City is presented in this novel—no haunted castles, no super powers. Here evil is conjured by rather sad, nosy neighbors and a husband driven by actorly ambitions. In his film adaptation of Levin’s novel, Roman Polanski barely deviated from the narrative strategies of the novel. Often, movies suffer when the filmmakers adhere too closely to the source material, but in the movie version of Rosemary’s Baby everything is done just right—the actors are brilliant and Polanski’s work is imbued with the hard-won knowledge that catastrophe lurks around every corner. Roman Polanski made another truly terrifying film, aptly titled Repulsion, in 1965. Here Catherine Deneuve plays a manicurist who lives with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. The Deneuve character is repulsed by sex, and because she is so beautiful men are naturally drawn to her, which plunges her constantly into states of madness. The torments inflicted on her by her own mind are so powerful that the audience actually feels a bit of relief when some poor guy wanders in close enough to be brutally slain. The control of the filmmaker is so masterful here that an apparition in a mirror or a sudden crack in a wall is as startling and upsetting as being suddenly grabbed in the dark.

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I don’t think of novels as belonging to one genre or another. (Genre is about categorizing books, not writing or reading them.) But here are a few of the ones that are normally filed under Horror that grabbed me and would not let go: The Stand, by Stephen King; Dracula, by Bram Stoker; The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H. G. Wells; and The Other, by Tom Tryon. I suppose it could be said that I am a fan of “literary horror” novels, though Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, routinely cited as a perfect example of how to blend high style with mounting fear and unease, leaves me restless and dissatisfied, and frankly a bit bored. Compare Henry James to, say, Edgar Allan Poe, and you realize that what makes tales of monsters, ghosts, hauntings, and curses great is the writer’s ability to venture as deeply into the darkness as humanly possible, and to go there without protection, without reservation, without hope.



How did you come up with the name Chase Novak? I know someone whose first name is Chase and I always liked that name and I just seized upon it. And Novak is my mother’s maiden name, from back in the day when people had maiden names. It’s almost an androgynous-sounding name. It could also be a woman’s name, right? Yes, it could. And that was in the back of my mind as well. Because when I first conceived of having this book come out, I thought my identity would remain much more secret than it turned out to be. I didn’t think there would be a picture, I didn’t think that my name would be anywhere near it, so I thought Chase Novak would have much more of an independent life than he’s turned out to have. Did you write Breed as Scott Spencer or as Chase Novak? I wrote it as Chase Novak. I moved away from Scott Spencer’s desk. Chase didn’t even use Scott Spencer’s computer for this. He went to a separate part of the house and did it on his own. I really felt right off the bat that Scott Spencer couldn’t write that book. And I’m not sure why I thought that, except that it didn’t really fit in with any of my other books and I didn’t want it to. And I just wanted to be free of that and free of myself and do something completely different.

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What are the advantages to writing under a pseudonym? I think the dream of having a second identity is not that uncommon, and this was an opportunity to grab a little piece of that dream without giving up my primary identity. Just walk away from that for a little while and do something completely different. And I must say, it was extremely liberating and very entertaining to just take on another persona and write a different kind of book with different kinds of goals for the book, and just have a lot of fun telling a classic story. Is Chase Novak a faster writer than Scott Spencer? One of the goals I had for the book is that it would move quickly. I’m not asking someone to sit down with the book for a week and make that sort of commitment. I wanted the book to go and go and go, not unlike the experience of seeing a movie. So in order to create that sort of momentum, I felt I should write with that sort of momentum. I think it got written in about a third of the time I would spend with Scott Spencer’s novels. Speaking of movies, you’ve also written screenplays. Was that a help in writing this novel? It was more influenced by my experience of horror movies. My nostalgia for a certain kind of horror movie that you don’t see much anymore. Obviously, there’s a lot of Rosemary’s Baby here, in the New York sociology of it. And I’m a great fan of those old Hammer films in which there is a kind of operatic sense of evil and doom. What I have very little interest in is these sort of slasher/serial-killer movies. When the body count gets up high, my interest starts going low. Are there any common threads linking Breed to your other novels? It’s probably more like my other novels than even I realize. If there’s one thing I can think of that connects this to Scott Spencer’s novels,


it’s that sense of the fatal decision, the fatal act that the action turns on and that leaves the lives of the characters inalterably changed. When David starts the fire in Endless Love, or in Waking the Dead when the main character’s lover is killed (in an explosion). I’m drawn toward that moment. But I suppose it’s not all that uncommon in fiction, how stories are built. In John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra, someone just throws a drink in someone’s face. You went to Comic Con in San Diego on behalf of Breed. How did you find it? It was an overwhelming experience. It’s massive. There are like 150,000 people there. And a large percentage of them are in costume of one sort or another. I got communication from the Comic Con people telling me what the parameters were of the costume I could wear. What kind of sword I could have. What sort of sword would not be allowed. So I had never gone to a literary conference in which it would be assumed that I might be carrying a sword. Will Chase Novak be heard from again? Yes, the story in Breed is going to continue. The next book will pick up with the lives of the children a few years later. I’m also working on a Scott Spencer book now, so we’ll see who gets there first.

This interview was conducted by Ken Salikof, the author of Spy In a Little Black Dress and Paris to Die For. He can be followed on twitter at @kensalikof. This interview first appeared on NY Daily News’s Page Views blog. Reprinted with permission.


1. On their way to meet with Dr. Kis, Leslie tells Alex that sometimes she believes life would be easier if they had less money. Why does she say this? Do you agree with her? 2. Leslie and Alex undergo the fertility treatment in Slovenia as a sort of last resort. When in life have you wanted something desperately? Did you put yourself in a less than desirable or risky situation to come closer to your goal? Would you have done the same as Leslie and Alex? 3. In Part Two, we learn that the Twisden residence is falling apart and many family heirlooms have been sold off. Recall that Alex had insisted on not adopting because he felt he owed it to his lineage to have a child by blood. What does the derelict state of the house say about his decision? Has he managed to preserve his heritage? What has he lost or gained? 4. Adam’s parents tried to instill in him a fear of what can befall a child at night, but instead they made him more terrified of the click of his bedroom door’s lock each evening. Did your parents tell you cautionary tales as a child? Which scared you the most? What dangers do you think they were trying to shield you from? If you have children, what warnings do you dispense to keep them safe?

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5. Alex believes it is language and memory that make us human. Do you agree? Why or why not? What faculty would you have to lose to make you feel less human? 6. Safe in Amelie’s apartment after the incident in the park, Leslie observes Adam and Alice playing video games, carefree, and wonders, “How can they listen to those sirens and not be reliving what happened right before their eyes? Where do they put their experiences? How do they live?” Do you feel Adam and Alice fully grasped what happened to Michael and their father’s crime? What do you think enables children to compartmentalize experiences? 7. The last scene in the book is powerful and gruesome. Was it what you expected? Did it make for a satisfying ending? 8. Breed is gory and shocking, but it’s also darkly humorous. How did the humor affect your reading? Imagine the book without any of its comedic elements. How would your reading experience have been different? 9. The author is hard at work on Brood, a sequel to the book. What lingering questions do you hope it will answer for you? 10. What message did you take away from Breed? If this book is a commentary on modern parenting, what do you think the author is trying to say about it?


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