News and Interviews

Naben Ruthnum on His Delightfully Creepy YA Horror Debut, a Spooky Love Letter to the 90s

banner image with photo of author Naben Ruthnum, pictured with his light-coloured cat, and text reading Interview with Naben Ruthnum. Open Book Spooky week logo in top left corner, Open Book logo centred below text

Behind the facade of small towns lurk many things – something high schooler Vish knows all too well in acclaimed author Naben Ruthnum's first foray into young adult fiction, The Grimmer (ECW Press).

Vish's idyllic town isn't supposed to be a place where one's father goes to rehab, nor where casual racism makes life difficult for the few brown families who live there. But Vish already knows that "supposed to" rarely applies. Burying himself in books and music, he tries to find his way until something else that's not "supposed to" be possible happens: a sinister, pale man—a man who appears to be literally decaying—attacks him.

From this tipping point, Vish is pulled into a dark adventure under the guidance of the eccentric local bookstore owner and his plucky employee. Soon Vish gets a glimpse even further below his town's supposedly glossy surface, complete with witches, magic, and the undead. 

Against an absorbingly nostalgic backdrop of 1990s heavy metal and indie bookshops, and gruesomely, unflinchingly physical in its horror, The Grimmer is part Stranger Things and part coming of age tale, rendered with wit and heart by one of Canada's best prose stylists. 

We spoke with Naben about The Grimmer for our Long Story interview series with novelists. He told us about the ways in which he and Vish are similar (and not so similar), how social media has provided him with both "a cruel distraction" and a literary community, and his favourite part of the whole creative process for a new book. 

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.

Naben Ruthnum:

The Grimmer is a horror novel for young readers set in the 90s, saturated in demon magic, heavy metal fandom, cats, and used bookstore nostalgia. I started writing it a couple of years ago after re-reading some of the horror I’d read as a kid and teen, just after finishing up a couple of books for adults that didn’t let much light in.  


Is there a character in your book that you relate to? If so, in what ways are you similar to your character and in what ways are you different?

The Grimmer by Naben Ruthnum

The Grimmer by Naben Ruthnum


The protagonist, Vish, shares most of my interests and hobbies from when I was a teenager in Kelowna in the 90s. He’s a more appealing guy than I was, though, and he’s also had a much tougher entry into young adulthood, as his family struggles with some real issues.


Was there a YA book you read as a young adult that is particularly meaningful to you?


Robert Westall’s anthology Ghost Stories from Story Library, which contained everything from an excerpt from The Wind in The Willows to a Kafka story to more traditional ghost stories by Philippa Pearce and John Gordon.


How, if at all, does social media feature in your writing process?


As a cruel distraction, if anything! Made some good writer friends from it, though.


What's your favourite part of the life cycle of a book? The inspiration, writing the first draft, revision, the editorial relationship, promotion and discussing the book, or something else altogether? What's the toughest part?


Absolutely the first draft, especially when it reaches the point when you know you’re going to finish it, that it has the foundation needed to be a whole book. Making the thing up makes all the business around getting it out there worthwhile. Second to this stage is the editorial relationship, perhaps especially on The Grimmer, as Jen Albert at ECW really understood the original manuscript’s strengths and what it was going to take to make it really good.


Naben Ruthnum’s most recent works are the novel A Hero of Our Time and the horror novella Helpmeet. He’s written thrillers as Nathan Ripley and also writes for the screen. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Buy the Book

The Grimmer

The small-town mysteries of John Bellairs are made modern with a dash of Stranger Things in this spine-tingling supernatural horror-thriller

After his father returns from treatment for addiction, highschooler Vish — lover of metal music and literature — is uncertain what the future holds. It doesn’t help that everyone seems to know about the family’s troubles, and they stand out doubly as one of the only brown families in town. When Vish is mistaken for a relative of the weird local bookseller and attacked by an unsettling pale man who seems to be decaying, he is pulled into the world of the occult, where witches live in television sets, undead creatures can burn with a touch, and magic is mathematical. Vish must work with the bookstore owner and his mysterious teenage employee, Gisela, to stop an interdimensional invasion that would destroy their peaceful town.

Bringing together scares, suspense, and body horror, The Grimmer is award-winning author Naben Ruthnum’s first foray into the young adult genre. This gripping ride through the supernatural is loaded with vivid characters, frightening imagery, and astonishing twists, while tackling complex issues such as grief, racism, and addiction.