The Big Thrill Sits Down to Discuss TOGETHER WE ROT with Skyla Arndt
A teen girl looking for the truth about her missing mother forms a reluctant alliance with her former best friend…in exchange for hiding him from his cult-leading family.
Wil Greene’s mom has been missing for over a year, and the police are ready to call the case closed—they claim she skipped town and you can’t find a woman who wants to disappear. But she knows her mom wouldn’t just leave…and she knows the family of her former best friend, Elwood Clarke, has something to do with it.
Elwood has been counting down the days until his 18th birthday—in dread. It marks leaving school and joining his pastor father in dedicating his life to their congregation, the Garden of Adam. But when he comes home after one night of after a final goodbye with his friends, already self-flagellating for the sins of drinking and disobeying his father, he discovers his path is not as virtuous as he thought. He’s not his father’s successor, but his sacrifice. For the woods he’s grown up with are thirsty, and must be paid in blood.
Now on the run from a family that wants him dead, he turns to the only one who will believe him: Wil. Together, they form a reluctant partnership; she’ll help him hide if he helps her find evidence that his family killed her mother. But in the end they dig up more secrets than they bargained for, unraveling decades of dark cult dealings in their town, led by the Clarke family. And there’s a reason they need Elwood’s blood for their satanic rituals. Something inhuman is growing inside of him. Everywhere he goes, the plants come alive and the forest calls to him, and Wil isn’t sure if she can save the boy she can’t help but love.
Skyla Arndt recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her debut thriller, TOGETHER WE ROT.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
The majority of the book you see today came to life during revision. My initial spark was only a glimmer of an idea—a religious boy possessed by something decidedly otherworldly and the rebellious girl here to save him. From there, it took numerous revisions to slowly flesh out the characters and the horrifying world they both inhabit.
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
As with anything you choose to dedicate your time to, you should only work on things you truly enjoy. In the case of TOGETHER WE ROT, it was my first time falling in love with a story I’d created. Authors often tout different projects as being the “book of their heart” and for me, this book was precisely it. I poured so much of myself into this novel and in doing so, I’d created a story I was happy to rewrite again and again. I went through several significant rewrites and had fun diving back into the world each time.
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
When first conceptualizing this story, I had WINTERWOOD and THE DEVOURING GRAY as comparative titles in mind—between the frozen backdrop of Ernshaw’s novel and the terrifying forest of Herman’s, I knew I wanted to base my book in a setting that was both atmospheric and haunting. Beyond literature, I also drew inspiration from the horror movie Hereditary and the song “Boys Will Be Bugs” by Cavetown.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
I really wanted to write a genre-blended book; toeing the line between horror and humor, thriller and romance. While the plot itself is rather dark and the subject material can be heavy at times, the key to the balance lies in the cast itself. My two main characters, Wilhelmina and Elwood, are a world away from one another. Wilhelmina is headstrong, fiery, and impulsive and Elwood would much rather hide under the bed most days than fight anyone. The sharp contrast between them coupled with their long, complicated history makes for a lot of back-and-forth banter.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
At its core, TOGETHER WE ROT is a darker take on the “coming-of-age” genre—it’s all about learning who you are independent of your family’s expectations. Throughout the duration of Elwood’s character arc, I really played into the emotional and physical “metamorphosis” from childhood to adulthood. It signifies what it means to grow up in a cruel world where you’re suddenly changing with no idea what awaits you on the other end.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I do not have anything currently contracted that I can share, but I can say the draft I’m working on is also YA with horror/thriller aspects.
Skyla Arndt has always loved the creepy, crawly side of life. When she was younger, she thought that love might translate to hunting Bigfoot, but luckily for him, writing proved easier. TOGETHER WE ROT is her debut novel.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.
Together We Rot with Skyla Arndt