It's weird to imagine that a fucked-up novel like Scott Heim's We Disappear could be partly autobiographical. The parts about holding a boy captive in the basement are not, thankfully. The dying mother who makes up stories of her own kidnapping isn't either. But Heim's long-awaited third novel does feature a meth-head narrator named Scott returning home to Kansas to be with his dying mom, Donna, who obsesses about missing children. Those parts are not far from what happened in real life.
It took Heim over 10 years to release We Disappear. His first book, Mysterious Skin, was a haunting queer coming-of-age tale that was later turned into a Donnie Darko-like film by Gregg Araki. That was followed by the unrequited horror story of In Awe, which mostly disturbed readers and left critics cold. Heim retreated from writing for a while and ended up facing real death and demons of his own. We Disappear is a more mature, subtle creation, ambitious in every thread it weaves. I talked to Heim as he prepared for his first book tour in ages.
How much true crime television did you watch while putting this book together?
Well, I've always watched that sort of TV show—not just when writing this book. Right now, my favorites are Forensic Files and Investigative Reports, that sort of thing. Whenever Bill Kurtis is the host/anchor, I tend to love the program.
I assume that you had meth or drug problems of your own. Did these contribute to the long break between your novels?
Good guess. I went through a long, long period of depression and writer's block, and then my mother began getting sick; soon after, my boyfriend and I started having problems. All of this was fuel for the terrible fire of drugs. Looking back now, that time of my life is all somewhat of a blur. I certainly wasn't getting any creative work done during that period. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones, because I managed to pull myself out of that world before it was too late. And although I never thought I could write about those days, and those particular problems, I figured out a way to work it into the narrative of We Disappear.
You say that you listen to music when you write, mostly moody instrumental stuff. Is there a certain kind of music you can't listen to?
Well, I certainly wouldn't be able to get creative if country-western music was playing in the background.
[Kevin Sampsell is a writer, publisher of Future Tense Books, and an employee of Powell's Books]