Horror author Rektok Ross joined us to discuss her new '90s slasher-inspired novel Summer Rental, favorite horror authors, why the '90s is an excellent decade for horror, and more! Read our full interview below, and grab your copy of Summer Rental now available.
Who are you excited about in the contemporary horror literature space? Give us your top 5 recommendations for our horror reading lists.
- I'm a huge R.L. Stine fan. I actually just sat on a panel with him at a book festival called YA by the Bay and can confirm he is just as nice in person as you could hope he might be! I'll always recommend any of his books, new or old.
- Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I think she's brilliant, and this was my favorite book of hers. It has a great female lead and a really compelling ax murderer mystery, plus the ending really makes you think.
- Kendare Blake writes really wonderful YA horror. I'd start with her book Anna Dressed in Blood. She's also an incredibly kind and supportive author in the horror community.
- I loved The Sun Down Motel by Simon St. James. It was genuinely spooky and fun!
- Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak was one of my favorite horror books last year.
Described as Mean Girls meets Scream, did you have that particular mashup in mind when writing?
It's funny because I always had Mean Girls in mind as far as the characters go because the characters in this book are similar to those in that movie—quite popular and mean—and the tone of Summer Rental is also humorous at times in the same way Mean Girls is. Similarly, I did always envision this book as akin to those great '90s slashers I grew up watching and loving, but I actually had in mind a different film from Scream. Summer Rental probably has a little more in common with I Know What You Did Last Summer plot-wise, and I was thinking of those films a lot while I wrote this. That said, when it came time to market the book, I realized that Scream was a far more recognizable comparison, especially for the younger generation and with the resurgence of the new Scream movies. I wanted potential readers to understand right away the type of book this is, and when you say "Scream," people immediately get it.
What's your favorite decade/era in horror and why?
One thousand percent, '90s horror. I love everything about the great '90s horror slasher films. We got films like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20, The Craft, and Urban Legend and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The teen horror books were amazing, too–works from the likes of R.L. Stine, and Christopher Pike, and L.J. Smith. I've actually written a bunch of guest posts and op-eds on why I love the '90s so much. Mostly, it's because the '90s films are FUN! These horror movies are entertaining, thrilling, and funny, and you can go to sleep at night after watching them. They are a wonderful way to have a cathartic release without inducing new trauma into your psyche. As much as I love '80s horror like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the first film in that series still gives me serious nightmares to this day.
Did you have any particular inspiration when you were writing Summer Rental?
Yes, absolutely. I talk about this a lot in the Author Letter I include at the end of the book. As I mentioned above, the book was heavily influenced by my favorite '90s slashers, as I really wanted to write a slasher of my own. I really tapped into the writing of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who I greatly admire, as well as some of my favorite authors, R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike. I also did a lot of deep digging to go back into the time period of my life in high school when I experienced some harmful toxic female friendships, similar to the characters in this book, as well as leaning into the similar experiences my stepdaughters had growing up.
If Summer Rental had a soundtrack, and legalities were not an issue, give us your ideal playlist.
I've thought a lot about this, actually, as I see most of my books as films with killer (pun intended) soundtracks. I definitely see this as a similar soundtrack to a movie like I Know What You Did Last Summer or Scream, so there needs to be lots of great indie rock. I'd love to have a banger like Hush by Kula Shaker or Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger, so I'd put something with a similar '90s nostalgia vibe on the soundtrack. There also must be some strong female artists on the soundtrack, like Taylor Swift–I'm a huge fan of hers—and Olivia Rodrigo and Lana Del Rey, to match the strong female characters, especially the main character, Riley March. Some songs that came to mind a lot when writing this book are Taylor's "Better Than Revenge" and also "Mean."
Are those songs what you listened to as you were writing, or is that a separate (or non-existent) playlist?
For writing, I listen to something else completely different. I often enjoy playing movie scores while I write. Since my end goal is to adapt my books to film, I love listening to scores because they pump me up and inspire me, reminding me of the possibilities of making your book into a blockbuster film. I also like them because I find classical music is less distracting when writing. Some soundtracks on my current playlist include Game of Thrones, Twilight, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and The Hunger Games.
Can you tell us the story behind your pen name, Rektok Ross?
I was a trial attorney for many years, and when I realized I wanted to write and publish books on the side, I had to get permission from my law firm to do so. They were amazing, and they're still super supportive to this day. They said yes with one condition: I had to write under a pen name. My brother helped me pick Rektok Ross. Ross is my mother's maiden name. She is the one who first instilled a love of reading and writing in me. Rektok is just Kotcher, my last name, spelled backward and with some letters combined. I love the pen name because it has no gender or ethnicity. Even though I've since left the attorney life to write full-time, I've kept the name as part of my author brand and a reminder of how far I've come.
Can you tell us anything about your first book, Ski Weekend, which is currently in development for a screen adaptation?
Ski Weekend is a survival thriller best described as The Breakfast Club meets Alive and is about a group of very different teens stranded in the mountains in a blizzard who have to fight to stay alive. It is very similar to man-vs-nature horror like The Ruins or Jaws. It is currently in pre-production, and my producers are absolutely amazing! It is a father and son-team—Oren and Miles Koules. Oren is one of the men behind the incredible Saw franchise. I feel very lucky to have such a great team who really believes in me and my work, and can't wait to bring this book to the big screen.
Would you like to see Summer Rental adapted for the big screen?
Absolutely! I think it would be an amazing addition to the horror movie space, especially the slasher genre. It has just the right amount of nostalgia I really think '90s horror movie fans will love, as well as some unique twists and turns we haven't seen before. I also love the strong female empowerment message behind it. It's an important story to tell.
Anything else you'd like to share?
I'm always looking to connect with others in the horror community, so don't be a stranger and feel free to follow along with me on my author journey on any of my social media at @RektokRoss! And here's the official synopsis for Summer Rental:
Riley March and her friends are headed to ritzy, remote Palm Key Island for one last blow-out party weekend before college. It’s the vacation of a lifetime: beautiful beaches, epic nightlife, and hot guys like Riley’s crush—superstar soccer player Sebastian Ramos. There’s just one catch. Everyone on this trip is hiding something. Riley is hiding her past in order to fit in. Sebastian is hiding his feelings for Riley. And someone is hiding what really happened to Jordyn Chang, a classmate who mysteriously died last summer.
Things take a dark turn after one of their friends goes missing, and a hurricane cuts the group off from civilization. Trapped inside their rental house, a killer stalks them one by one. No one is safe. Everyone’s a suspect. As the body count rises, Riley and her friends will have to confront the secrets they’ve been keeping if they want to stay alive…