Skip to Main Content
Header image

Jennifer Fawcett, author of Beneath the Stairs

By Kobo • July 05, 2022Author Interviews

Jennifer Fawcett grew up in rural Eastern Ontario and spent many years in Canada making theatre before coming to the United States. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. Her work has been published in Third Coast Magazine, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Storybrink, and in the anthology Long Story Short.

She teaches writing at Skidmore College and lives in upstate New York with her husband and son.

Kobo: What three adjectives would you use to describe Beneath the Stairs? 

Jennifer Fawcett: Atmospheric, haunting, layered.

Kobo: Beneath the Stairs can be categorized into several genres. What genre do you think best describes the novel?

JF: Beneath the Stairs straddles several genres: literary horror, psychological thriller, supernatural suspense. There’s lots of overlap in these terms, but the one that I think best fits the book is psychological thriller. Fear, like humor, is personal. I had lots of fun creating the creepy parts of this book, but for me, the tension is driven by the internal state of the characters.

Kobo: Why did you choose a haunted house as the setting for the novel, and how did that choice factor into the complex issues and characters that populate the novel?

JF: When I started writing this book, I saw an image of four girls standing in front of a haunted house trying to decide if they could be brave enough to go in. I knew well that mix of childish bravado and the dread of being left out would take them over that threshold because the summer I was thirteen, I had done it too. My friends and I had found out about an abandoned house in the shape of an octagon. It was supposedly haunted, so of course, we dared each other to go in. What thirteen-year-old can refuse a dare?

As soon as I entered, I felt the residue of something that had been left behind. It was like walking into a cold patch of water. I don’t know if there were ghosts or spirits in that house, but there was some kind of energy, like the house knew we were there. It felt both abandoned and alive.

Despite this, when I was writing this book, I still wrestled with the question of whether a place can actually be haunted. If human actions generate energy, it feels conceivable that this energy could be left behind. Or is it created by what we bring into it? That house was terrifying for me because somebody told me it would be. In the end, I’m not sure if it matters because the experience is always going to be driven by perception.

Beneath the Stairs is about what it is to be haunted, both literally and metaphorically. Haunted by our past actions, haunted by people we have lost who have left holes in our lives, haunted by missed opportunities. The house is a physical representation of the past and has been forever marked by what happened there, much like Clare and Abby are forever marked by what happened to them when they were kids.

Kobo: You have a background in performing arts and theatre production. Would you like to see your novel adapted for stage or screen one day?

JF: Yes, absolutely! I’m starting to work on an adaptation for the screen now. It’s been great to re-enter the world of the book but with a different lens (no pun intended). I’m still asking the same questions about how to create and maintain tension and how to pull a reader through the timelines of the story, but now the tools that I have to work with are different. When I wrote the book, I could see it in my head—the house, the characters, the little town of Sumner’s Mills—so now I’m working to put those pictures into camera shots and dialogue.

Kobo: What authors and/or other creative artists did you look to when you were writing this novel?

JF: I’m a huge fan of Tana French and return to her books frequently for inspiration. Some other books that have, and continue to, feed me creatively, are History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, Descent by Tim Johnston, and anything by Margaret Atwood, Gillian Flynn, or Rebecca Solnit.

Kobo: What is currently at the top of your TBR pile?

JF: I’m just starting The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson and already feeling fully immersed in his Southern Gothic mythic world of the bayou. I’m also loving Kim Fu’s short story collection, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, and after that I know I’m going to devour Catriona Ward’s Last House on Needless Street.

Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett

In this spine-tingling, atmospheric debut for fans of Jennifer McMahon, Simone St. James, and Chris Bohjalian, a woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.

View eBook    View Audiobook

Discover more chilling thrillers in The Dark Side

If you would like to be the first to know about bookish blogs, please subscribe. We promise to provided only relevant articles.